Mark Segal

In Portraying Gay Lives, TV is Coming of Age

Filed By Mark Segal | July 29, 2014 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Glee, Modern Family, portrayals, stereotypes, television, TV portrayals, Will and Grace

channel-surfing.jpgSummer is upon us, and with summer comes the dry rot of the television season. But if you're like me, you might have a lot of old TV shows from last season stored up on your DVR.

Recently, I unfortunately have had to spend some time at home on these beautiful days of summer due to a broken arm. But that time seems to have been well-spent because I discovered something that has sort of amazed me: a change in the portrayal of LGBT characters on scripted television series.

If you read this column earlier this year, I wrote about Glee and how the characters in that show usually are almost cartoonish -- one character always wears a bow tie, and the other one is always fashionably dressed and somewhat stereotypical. But, to give credit to Glee, the show took on serious LGBT issues, such as hate crimes in New York City and bullying in our schools. But on network and cable television, for the most part, the programs haven't taken on such topical and pressing issues.

Laying on the sofa and going through my DVR choices, I decided to check out two shows, both of which I've enjoyed in past episodes but hadn't been able to watch during the season.

The first was Major Crimes on TNT. It is a spinoff from a show called The Closer, and it deals with a major-crime unit in the Los Angeles Police Department. The show began with a young homeless boy who had to prostitute himself to survive on the street.

In a manner only fitting for TV, the captain of the department becomes his guardian and takes the boy in when he becomes a witness to a crime. And over the last two seasons, the captain has been nurturing him but we didn't really know if the boy was gay or not. In one of the final episodes of the season, he literally comes out to the entire police station.

In just one series, we have the issues of homeless gay youth, battered gay youth, and prostitution, all handled in a way that was realistic.

the-night-shift-gay-couple.jpgOn NBC, a summer-replacement show called The Night Shift takes place in a hospital in the southwest and focuses on veteran Army doctors. What's unusual about this show is that one of the doctors is in the closet and, in one of the last episodes, his boyfriend, an active-duty soldier, is rushed into the hospital and is in danger of having his leg amputated.

This prompted emotional scenes between the two of them and the exploration of whether or not he should come out of the closet -- a question that is rarely seen on a network drama. The situation aptly painted the picture of someone so deeply in the closet, the anger that that closet creates for him, and the emotional toll of trying to deal with the possible loss of his partner while every single person he works with watches this emotional scene.

So what we see is television beginning to come of age and to really look at dramatic issues of our life in reality rather than through the cartoonish figures on Will and Grace, Glee, or even Modern Family, where we are still stereotyped. It's easy to picture a gay man as a Los Angeles lawyer, but here we see a doctor who was in battle in Afghanistan and his partner the squadron leader, or a kid who's been abandoned by his mother and living on the streets, dealing with his sexuality.

What this makes clear is that the general public will see us as people -- with real lives and problems -- rather than just as a laugh.

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