Meet two shows that are totally gay with nary a drag queen or “you go girl” in sight.
Albie Grant is the de-facto leader of the United Effort Brotherhood, a fundamentalist polygamist Latter Day Saints sect living on the outskirts of Sandy, Utah. He’s been poisoning his father, leaving rattlesnakes in the bed of his brother-in-law and chief rival and doing all the things expected of a creepy fundamentalist polygamist leader trying to make his mark in the world. The one problem? He has a thing for picking up rough trade and hooking up with them in fleabag motels.
Meanwhile, in another fictional world entirely, women run the world. One’s the head of state, another’s a hot-dog pilot and don’t even get us started on the lesbian robots running around trying to figure out the true nature of love while plotting to destroy the human race.
There are two ways a television producer can go about introducing gay and lesbian themes into a show. The first is to introduce gay characters and depict their lives respectfully and honestly, but there’s another path that’s been embraced by two of cable’s most provocative shows: HBO’s Big Love and SciFi’s Battlestar Galactica. Call it “gay vague,” call it “queer”; these shows may feature gay characters in secondary and tertiary roles, but their entire ethos is steeped in questions of gender identity, sexuality and characters struggling to make their unconventional love acceptable to the intolerant folks that surround them.
Both critically acclaimed shows return to TV this weekend, and while you may not think that a drama about Mormons or a space opera with a name as cheesy as “Battlestar Galactica” could have any relevance whatsoever to the gay community, by subverting expectations of their respective genres and infusing them with a queer sensibility, they’re providing a whole new context to think about the lives of gays and lesbians.
They also frakin’ rock.
HBO (Sundays 9PM)
The continuing story of the Henricksons, a polygamist family trying to mainstream their lives while still staying true to “The Principle.” Big Love comes with quite a gay pedigree. Created by gay couple Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer, the show was also the launchpad for Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who earned his writing chops creating storylines for some of the younger characters on the show, who probably grew up reading children’s books like Elijah Has Three Mommies. Led by paterfamilias Bill, the Henricksons are just like your average American family in many ways, but they must live their lives in secret, since, despite mainstream perceptions, the Church of Latter Day Saints is wildly intolerant of the polygamist lifestyle.
The Gay Angle: The great conflict of the show is Bill’s struggle between wanting to “come out” as a polygamist and his attempt to disassociate himself from the freak show fundie sect he and one of his sister-wives grew up in. Creator Mark Olsen says:
“Whenever we develop stories in the the writers’ room, the question is always “What does this have to with marriage?” or “What universal truth about marriage is embedded in this story?” It’s always very much about marriage with a capital ‘M’, family with a capital ‘F’.”
The show has particular resonance in the wake of Mormon involvement in the passage of California’s Prop 8 and the show has referenced real-life events before, so it may make an appearance this season, but even if it doesn’t, the show’s exploration of the way discrimination and religious zealotry impacts every aspect of a family’s life make it a must-see.
Bonus Gay Appeal: Star Amanda Seyfried plays Bill’s daughter Sarah, who wishes she had a normal life and indie-star and gay icon Chloe Sevigny plays the show’s most uptight and neurotic sister-wife.
Sci Fi (Fridays 10PM)
Yes, it’s based on the schlocky 70s TV show, but Ron D. Moore’s “reimagining” of Battlestar Galactica is more a show about life in the age of terrorism than it is about spacesuits and robots. The basic premise is the old Robots Kill Humans thing, only here, the robots are fundamentalist religious zealots who believe in a monotheistic God and look like supermodel Tricia Helfer. After the robots, called Cylons, nuke most of humanity, the survivors, led by Admiral William Adama (Edward James Olmos), make their way across the reaches of space in search of a prophesied homeland called Earth.
As the show draws near its conclusion, the humans have formed an uneasy alliance with the Cylons, as they both have reasons to work together to find Earth. Unlike most macho boy’s sci-fi, women are in charge without being treated like cruel asexual beings. Mary McDonnell’s role as President Laura Roslin has had her airlocking Cylons, but also crying on the shoulder of Admiral Adama as she copes with her terminal cancer.
The Gay Angle: Cylons are unstoppable killing machines, but they’re also capable of love, compassion and kindness. The humans initially treated any Cylon sign of real emotion as artificial (and for the most part, still do), but over the course of the series, the audience has come to see that there’s little difference between man and machine; there’s even a human-cylon couple with a baby on the show. As the notions of “otherness” between the two rivals melts away as they live together, many of the characters have questioned their initial prejudice and treatment of the Cylons as ‘less-than-human.’
Bonus Gay Appeal: British hottie Jamie Bamber plays Adama’s son, Lee. He’s been naked at least once. Two of the characters on the show are gay, though one of them is now dead at the hands of her Cylon lover and the other one’s gay storyline has so far been relegated to a web-only mini-series.