In the last few years, LGBT representation on TV has improved significantly. There are more gay storylines in British soaps, stateside Smithers from The Simpsons is now out and proud, and on Netflix, Laverne Cox and Ruby Rose have been incredible on Orange is the New Black. But the joy of television is, there is always something new to explore; with that in mind, here are four TV shows with LGBT characters that you might have not heard of.
Cucumber and Banana
There’s a lot to love about Cucumber and Banana, a pair of interconnected series focussed on LGBT love, sex, and relationships in the age of Grindr and gay weddings. As the first British TV show focussed on queer life in over a decade, it’s a show that revels in the diversity of its cast; its trans character is played by an actual trans woman (in a British TV first), bisexual characters aren’t represented as confused or desperate, its main characters aren’t all young and conventionally attractive, and there’s an abundance of people of colour in a time when queer representation on TV is ostensibly white.
It’s also just a really good drama; with former Doctor Who showrunner, Russell T Davies at the helm of Cucumber and a diverse, young writing team guiding Banana. The two series are cleverly connected; you can see either independently and not miss much, but the two series’ existences help flesh out characters that wouldn’t have had as much screen time in a world where only one of these series was commissioned.
Where to watch it: Cucumber and Banana are available on All 4 for free.
Please Like Me
The only sitcom on the list, Please Like Me follows the life and misadventures of Josh (played by series creator Josh Thomas), who is dumped by his girlfriend and realises he’s gay. While exploring his sexuality, he’s also dealing with his Mum’s depression, his Dad’s new relationship, and the strange antics of best friend and housemate Tom.
Queer characters aside, Please Like Me is one of my favourite TV shows of recent years. Its characters aren’t just characters, they’re real people; Josh is a shy, socially awkward dork who’s not quite figured out how the world works, and I’ve never related to a TV character more. Please Like Me can also be commended for how well it tackles issues outside of sexuality; it tackles issues like depression and anxiety with the same big-heartedness it uses to depict Josh’s strange little life, and it tells its audience something I wish I’d been told sooner – nobody, no matter how old they are, has got everything under control.
Where to watch it: Unfortunately, the only legit way to watch Please Like Me is by buying the DVDs from Amazon. They’re worth it, though.
Like a lot of British television, normal US TV doesn’t have a great track record of showing queer people on TV. While there’s a greater number of LGBT folks on their network television, the most memorable (the couple from Modern Family, for example) often boil down to general stereotypes. Looking on HBO, however, portrays its central gay characters as people first; young (ish) people in San Francisco, struggling to live the life they really want, have the career they want, or be with the guy they really want. It maintains character diversity (two of the cast are Hispanic, and one of their partners is HIV-positive); it’s also full of bona-fide stars, with Jonathan Groff (Frozen, Glee, and more recently in Hamilton on Broadway) and Brit Russell Tovey starring. Both Groff and Tovey, coincidentally, are gay, which is oddly rare on a show about queer people.
As you’d expect from the broadcaster that brought you Game of Thrones, things (and by things, I largely mean sex) can get rather explicit, but it adds a certain grittiness and reality to the series that is lacking in things like Cucumber and Banana.
Where you can watch it: As with Please Like Me, it’s all on DVD. There’s only two seasons, though, and the discs are fairly cheap.