Pride on Parade on TV
Perhaps the most notable indicator of LGTBQ+ progress in the year 2019 is not the NYPD finally apologizing for Stonewall half a century later or the social media attention given to various Pride Month celebrations across the nation or Taylor Swift belatedly jumping on the Pride-wagon but the fact that lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, queer and other characters have more or less become standards on TV shows. Twenty years ago it was surprising that mainstream audiences clamored for a program like Will & Grace. Twenty years later it's shocking that they still do with so many other gay-friendly content options. While series like Queer as Folk, The L Word and Transparent proved that shows explicitly tackling LGTBQ+ themes could succeed, other series such as Six Feet Under, The Wire and even Deadwood helped pave the way by including memorable characters as part of their ensembles and in worlds where audiences didn't necessarily expect to encounter them. On the other hand, the proliferation of high quality shows makes assembling some recommendations for Pride Month binges a little bit tricky... which is a good thing, though we've undoubtedly left out some great and relevant TV.
Tales of the City - Somewhat confusingly, Netflix just released a sequel/reboot/update to the classic limited series of the same name while somehow not securing the rights to said original. This is why we need services like Bundler! Although Armistead Maupin's novel had been out for over a decade and had already ballooned into a popular book series, the TV adaptation became a cultural sensation when it aired on PBS in 1994. We recommend starting with the original to get a sense for the characters played by Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis and to appreciate the nostalgia the new series taps into. Purists of serial narrative continuity can also scout out the second and third installments that are a bit harder to find on streaming platforms. (1993 Series on Amazon via Acorn; 2019 Series on Netflix)
Steven Universe - What, you didn't realize that kid's shows were exploring gender fluidity and sexuality now? In addition to being the first Cartoon Network show created by a woman -- the awesomely named Rebecca Sugar, who identifies as a non-binary woman -- the show won GLAAD awards for its unique combination of interstellar superhero sci-fi, offbeat humor and LGTBQ+ themes. Like a lot of acclaimed animated series, this one has been secretly and not so secretly enjoyed by adults who watch it with or without children of their own. (Select Episodes Free at Cartoon Network; Seasons 1-4 on Hulu)
One Day at a Time - Fans were devastated when Netflix decided not to renew the Norman Lear produced revival of a classic Norman Lear series. Updating the original story of a working single mom raising two kids in Los Angeles with a Latin twist -- or Latinx as the family's woke daughter Elena would correct -- the show explored a litany of contemporary social issues set to an old fashioned laugh track. However, the most resonant through-line of the series centered on Elena coming out to her family and subsequently coming-of-age as a gay teenager, which won praise for the sensitive depiction. Plus, we have it on good authority that this is a personal favorite our very own Bundler-in-Chief! (Netflix)
Orphan Black - A sci-fi drama about clones would be pretty dull if all the characters were exactly the same, so thankfully star Tatiana Maslany portrayed a wide range of the human spectrum. This included the hippie lesbian scientist Cosima in a performance that was way more nuanced than that description suggests. Yet the show went even further than that to include LGTBQ+ issues in the more geeky examination of controversial biotech issues around genetic engineering, evolution and eugenics. The most prominent non-Maslany portrayed character was the gay adopted brother of one of her clones, who in one particularly memorable episode develops incest-adjacent feelings for a transgender clone. With the release of a recent audio drama and rumors of a revival, this is a great time to catch up on the show your geeky TV hipster friends probably wouldn't shut up about five years ago. (Amazon)
Schitt's Creek - A strong contender for the funniest show on TV right now, this comedy from the father-and-son team of Eugene and Dan Levy has been relegated to semi-obscurity on the Pop network. While the junior Levy's David Rose is a self-professed pansexual who at various points in the series dates a woman and finds himself as part of an awkward "throuple" in addition to described dalliances with individuals of all gender identities and sexual orientations, his [minor spoiler alert] relationship with a not-quite-out-of-the-closet country boy is one of the more charming sitcom romances in recent memory. It's also both refreshing and surprisingly touching to see the real life father and son portray an accepting father-son relationship in an otherwise completely dysfunctional family setting. (Netflix)
Gentleman Jack - Part of the surge in interest for LGBTQ+ stories inevitably involves reexamining the past to see how these characters fared in less accepting (or perhaps slightly more) times. The 19th century British landowner and businesswoman Anne Lister kept a coded series of diaries documenting her relationships with other women. Sally Wainwright's recent adaptation of this story infuses the world of Jane Austen, the Brontes and George Eliot with some much needed diversity. The show avoids the Masterpiece Theatre style stuffiness or self-righteous revisionism, instead relying on emotion and humor, even allowing star Suranne Jones to break the fourth wall and quote directly from the decrypted diary. (HBO)