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NetFlix Sitcom, "Special" Adds Another Layer to the Gay Experience

Netflix show special

 

We've come a long way.  It appears gay story lines have become so commonplace that to make a show more unique an additional trait needs to be added to a gay character in order to gain viewer attention.  That's the case with the sitcom Special, in which the gay lead character, Ryan, has cerebral palsy; the show premiered this April on Netflix.  Ironically, revealing that he had CP is what causes Ryan angst, not the fact that he's gay.  Because of its premise I was afraid it might be too treacly for my taste, but I found myself quickly charmed by it its lead and the show's light and breezy sensibility - with touches of drama added to the mix.  Ryan has a wonderful shy smile and a quirky sense of humor.  Each episode is just 15 minutes long, so, like a bag of potato chips, it was easy to watch Season One's eight episodes in one sitting.  (Believe it or not, this was my first time binge-watching a show.)  Two of the actors in leading roles are openly gay, Ryan McConnell (the show's creator, who plays Ryan) and Augustus Prew (Carey).

 

 

August prew  netflix sitcom special
Augustus Prew as Carey



The show has somewhat of a Disney-fied sheen to it and brought to mind High School Musical in that it portrayed the world in an idealized way, e.g., Ryan is able to rent his own place in pricey LA despite having no income, the body-beautiful gay Hollywood boys are relatively friendly and approachable, and Ryan didn't seem to experience much discomfort the first time he had anal sex.  Also, his mother begins dating the next-door neighbor, a retired fire fighter who looks like he walked off the Silver Daddies website.

 

Patrick fabian  netflix sitcom special
Patrick Fabian as next-door-neighbor Phil

 

Happily, the show was recognized by the Emmy Awards committee, getting three nominations in the Shortform Comedy or Drama category: Best Show and two nods for Best Actress (Jessica Hecht, who plays Ryan's mom, and Punam Patel, who plays his best friend from work). 

 


Favorite Gay-Oriented SNL Sketches

Saturday night live title card

 

I've watched Saturday Night Live off and on since its first season in 1975-76 (when I was a freshman in college). Now finishing up its 44th season, the show is approaching 1,000 telecasts - which translates into more than 10,000 comedic sketches.  Despite this huge inventory I don't recall any sketches with a gay angle until the early '90s.  What follows are nearly two dozen that I get a kick out of, the majority being from the past ten years.  Some have an out-and-out gay storyline, others have a gay sensibility to them, or a character who's gay (or seemingly gay).

 

 

THE ACTRESS

From the latest season, guest host Emma Stone plays an eager actress who plays the role of jilted wife in a gay porn video.  The guy who plays her husband is a skeevy-looking character; the godson looks like Taylor Lautner (remember him?).  (Season 44, 2018-19)

 

Emma-Stone_SNL 2019

 

LAWYERS MEET BOSS'S 'GAY-FAMOUS' NEW WIFE

An established lawyer (played by Larry David) introduces colleagues from his law firm to his "gay-famous" new wife.  (Season 43, 2017-18)

 

Gay famous

 

OLIVE GARDEN

The director of an Olive Garden commercial shoot requests a lesbian kiss between Scarlett Johansson's and Leslie Jones' characters.  (Season 42, 2016-17)

 

Olive-garden-commercial-shoot-snl-bw0

 

LESBIAN MAKE-OUT SESSION IN KITCHEN

While her husband and his friends are watching the Super Bowl, oblivious to what's happening in the kitchen behind them, the sister of one of the friends (played by Kristen Stewart) seduces the dutiful wife who's preparing Totinos frozen pizzas.  (Season 42, 2016-17)

 

Lesbain totinos ad_snl

 

THE SECRET LIFE OF A DENTIST

This sketch, featuring Scarlett Johansson and Kenan Thompson, brought us to a memorial service for a dentist who, unbeknownst to his wife, composed deep club tracks.  (Season 42, 2016-17)

 

Keenan thompson and scarlett johnanssen

 

CHERRY GROVE LESBIANS

This sketch is a tune-in promo about a reality series on Logo about lesbians and their summer share at Cherry Grove.  And it contrasts life there with life in the Pines, the high-energy gay community next door.  (Season 40, 2016-17)

 

Cherrygrove

 

MICROSOFT'S GAY ROBOT

Human-looking robots are introduced at a trade fair and the audience is puzzled why they've been programmed to be overtly gay (played by Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney).  (Season 42, 2016-17)

 

Microsoft-gayrobots-sketch-snl-1200x675

 

SARAH'S DESIRE

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler played two actresses who get acting directions to be more over-the-top in the their reactions to each other during a lesbian scene in a movie(Season 41, 2015-16)

 

Tina fey and amy poehler

 

GLORY HOLE RESTAURANT

A New York couple (Peter Dinklage and Aidy Bryant) take out of town friends from Columbus, OH to a trendy restaurant in the Meatpacking District that in the '70s and '80s was a seedy club whose attraction was its glory holes.  (Season 41, 2015-16)

 

Snl glory hole restaurant

 

WHISKERS R WE

This skit has two lesbians showing the assortment of kittens available at their shelter.  Kate McKinnon is paired with guest hosts that included Amy Adams, Charlize Theron and Tiffany Haddish.  (Season 40, 2014-15)

 

Whiskers r we snl with charlize theron

 

"DYKES & FATS" COP SHOW

TV promo for the buddy cop show Dykes & Fats (Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant) that is likely a tribute to the '80s show Cagney & Lacey(Season 39, 2013-14)

 

Dykes and fats_snl

 

'TARGET LADY' MEETS HER FIRST LESBIAN

Kristen Wiig played the Target lady innumerable times and in this sketch she had her first encounter with a lesbian customer.  (Season 38, 2012-13)  

 

Target lady snl

 

GAY SUMMER WEDDINGS

This parody pharmaceutical ad for Xanax for Gay Summer Weddings is prescribed to heterosexuals attending weddings of gay men who become depressed thinking how uninspiring their ceremonies were compared to those of their gay friends.  The ad concludes with a disclaimer that the drug is not needed for lesbian weddings.  (Season 38, 2012-13)

 

Xanax for gay summer weddings

 

CLASSY SEXY ELEGNACE

This sketch is an ad for a CD compilation of vapid club tracks, with titles such as You're on Blast and This Is My Catchphrase (Spread It). And the sales pitch is, "So if you're a gay man looking to bring something you can make fun of to a party, this is the CD for you!".  (Season 38, 2012-13)

 

SNL_classy sexy elegance_kristen wiig

 

LIZA TRIES TO TURN OFF A LAMP

This sketch, featuring Kristen Wiig, is included because of Liza's position as a revered gay icon.  Of course, I found it hilarious, but as I watched I noticed there wasn't a lot of laughter from the audience; this lack of appreciation was probably because it had too few gay men in it.  (Season 37, 2011-12)

 

Liza-minnelli-tries-to-tutrn-off-a-lamp-660x329

 

A RANDY LIBERACE

A series of Vincent Price holiday specials featured a randy Liberace (played by Fred Armisen) who laced his remarks with outrageous double entendres.  And a few of these sketches had appearances by Judy Garland (played by Kristen Wiig).  (Season 36, 2010-11)

 

Liberace fred armisen

 

JUST TWO REGULAR GUYS

Fred Armisen and Bill Hader occasionally appeared on Weekend Update as two regular guys who happen to be a gay couple.  One time they were Maine fishermen, another time goombahs from NJ.  (Season 34, 2008-09)

 

Bill hader and fred armisen snl

Gay fishermen from maine

 

DATING ANDY SAMBERG'S DAD

Jonah Hill confides to Andy Samberg that he's dating Andy's dad.  (Season 33, 2007-08)

 

Jonah hill and andy sambergs dad
 

HOMOCIL

A parody ad for Homocil pitched a drug for easing parental anxiety disorder when they're confronted with the reality that their child is gay.  (Season 26, 2000-01)

 

Homocil for parents_snl

 

GAY SUPERHEROES

The Ambiguously Gay Duo, from the early 2000s, was a cartoon about two superheroes (voiced by Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert).

 

The-ambiguously-gay-duo

 

SCHMITTS GAY BEER

This commercial parody from the early 1990s for Schmitts Gay Beer had Adam Sandler and Chris Farley surrounded by Speedo-clad eye candy.  (Season 17, 1991-92)

 

Schmitts gay beer_snl

 

STUART SMALLEY

Although it was never established with certainty that he was gay, self-help coach Stuart Smalley gave off a strong gay vibe (he was portrayed by SNL writer Al Franken, well before he became a US Senator).  In his sketches from the early '90s he interacted with guest hosts, with his session with NBA legend Michael Jordan likely the best known.

 

Daily-Affirmation-Michael-Jordan---SNL-Image-2759998

 

LYLE, THE EFFEMINATE HETEROSEXUAL

From the early '90s came a spoof of a sitcom called Lyle, the Effeminate Heterosexual (Dana Carvey).  This turned the tables on the stereotypical fey gay man by ascribing those traits to a straight man (and we all have a few friends like Lyle).  (Season 17, 1991-92)

 

Lyle the effeminate hetero

 

 

Finally, perhaps you noticed that I didn't include Bill Hader's character Stephon as a favorite.  Although he was funny the first few times, I soon found his character tiresome, doing the same shtick (which included cracking up at what was on the cure cards) when he appeared on Weekend Updates.

 

Stephon snl

 


Remembering '30 Rock's' Gay Characters: Devon, and Jonathan, and D'Fwan - Oh My!

 

Jack and devon 30 rock

 

NBC's madcap sitcom 30 Rock aired for seven seasons (2006-2013) and won the Emmy for Best Sitcom in each of its first three seasons.  Starring Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin, the show's cast of characters were neurotic and quirky New Yorkers, all of whom worked on a weekly sketch-comedy show that was similar to SNL.  And like any worthwhile show, a number of its characters were gay.  There were three:  Devon Banks, who was a thorn in Donaghy's side (Donaghy was played to perfection by Baldwin); Jonathan, Jack's highly protective executive assistant; and gay stylist/reality star D'Fwan.  Jack was the alpha male and the three were often in a tizzy over him.

 

DEVON BANKS - Jack Donaghy's arch-nemesis (played by Will Arnett) was always trying to usurp Jack's leadership position at the NBC-like conglomerate. There was a lot of sexual tension between the two, and their fast-paced dialogue was full of hilarious double entendres (enhanced by Devon's breathy voice).  My favorite is when Devon, during a heated discussion, tells Jack that "you're going down" and Jack responds, "No, Devon, I don't do that".  Devon's partner's name was Cashmere (he was never seen).

 

Devon banks played by will arnett

 

JONATHAN - Jack's fiercely loyal executive assistant, who Devon once referred to as "that fancy little fellow".  He brought to mind Mr. Burns' second in command, Smithers, on The Simpsons.  Although he was usually shown in the background at his desk and had a few lines each episode, he had the most screen time of the three gay characters.  (He was played by openly-gay actor Maulik Pancholy).

 

Jonathan  jack donaghy's assistant on 30 rock
 

D'FWAN -  In the show's final season, D'Fwan became the star of his eponymous reality show (played by Titus Burgess, who later became well known for his role as Titus Andromedon on Netflix's The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt).  Convinced that Jack was closeted, D'fwan changed his mind when he saw him dance.

 

Dfwan 30 rock

 

OTHER GAY TOUCHES

KENNETH PARCELL - An NBC page from Georgia, he was more or less asexual, and is perhaps the 'Q' in LGBTQ (aka "questioning").  In one episode Jack used Kenneth to try to seduce Devon, who had a crush on Kenneth.

 

Kenneth 30 rock

 

COLEEN DONAGHY - Jack's hyper-critical, self-centered, mom was played by gay icon Elaine Stritch.  Another icon, Patti LuPone, appeared in one episode as the mother of one of the writers.

 

Elaine stritch 30 rock

 

LIZ LEMON (Tina Fey's character) - In one episode Liz, fed up with her poor track record with men, tried to be a lesbian but was rebuffed by one she had befriended.

 

30-rock-season-1-3-blind-date-liz-lemon-stephanie-march-tina-fey-lesbian

 

GRETA JOHANSSEN - As played by SNL alum Rachel Dratch, Greta was an all-business cat wrangler who had a crush on Liz.

 

Rachel dratch 30 rock

 


New Sitcom "The Other Two" - When a Straight Roommate Isn't So Straight

The Other Two - Comedy Central

 

A new sitcom premiered in the winter of 2019 on Comedy Central, called The Other Two.  Set in New York, it focuses on Cary and Brooke Dubek, the floundering twenty-something brother and sister of a 13-year-old YouTube singing sensation.  I decided to give the show a view because of its SNL/Lorne Michaels pedigree and was pleasantly surprised to find that Cary is gay.  What was even more surprising is that Cary's supposedly straight roommate, Matt, is always coming on to him.  An All- American type, with washboard abs and a great smile, Matt is amusingly nonchalant after each fleeting encounter with Cary.  While sitcoms with gay characters have become less of novelty, I can't recall one in which a straight character acts on his same-sex urges.   And the show isn't shy about showing them in a lip-lock or jerking off.

 

From the premiere episode, here they are "innocently" watching TV (remember, this is a sitcom, not a XXX video):

 

The seduction1

Cary's glance
The seduction2  The pounce

 

The roommate is played by Andrew Ridings who in 2010 was in an off-Broadway play Over the Top where he played a closeted gay man (in the role of his boyfriend was Tanner Cohen, who starred in the 2008 gay-themed indie film Were the World Mine).  Cary's co-worker, Curtis, is also gay.  The actor who portrays him, Brandon Scott Jones, played a bitchy bookstore clerk in the Melissa McCarthy movie, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

 

Gay brother  the other two
Drew Tarver plays Cary Dubek

 

Of course, the show has more amusing gay-oriented stuff going on than just the furtive relationship between Cary and Matt (whose story arc appears to have ended after Episode 3).  And while the show is funny, at the end of each episode I felt oddly diminished.  Perhaps it's because of how it depicts the vacuous, social media-centric world that Millennials and Gen Xers live in.  Also, Cary is somewhat of a "sad sack", who, despite being in his 20s, acts like someone much older in the way he cringes at his peers attachment to social media.    

And although Cary's roomie may be gone, for the time being at least, you might catch Andrew Ridings, in a much more chaste role, appearing in a commercial for Dunkin' Donuts which began airing in May/June.

 

Dunkin donuts

 

The Other Two airs at Thursday at 10:30 after Broad City.

 

Other posts I've written about gay characters in TV sitcoms:

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Modern Family

Roseanne

Will & Grace


AIDS Quilt Used to Comedic Effect on "Modern Family"

AIDS.memorial.quilt.dcNearly 30 years have passed since thousands of quilts, each celebrating the life of a person struck down by AIDS, were sewn together and displayed for the first time on the National Mall in Washington, DC, to sobering effect.  The AIDS Memorial Quilt has always been a heartfelt symbol of loss and commemoration.  Therefore, I did a double take when I heard it referenced for comedic effect in the season premiere of ABC's well-worn sitcom, Modern Family.  It occurred in a scene in which mother Claire and daughter Haley were making a quilt out of old clothes.  Teenage son, Luke, upon hearing his mother telling his father that she and Haley were doing something creative together, remarks sarcastically, "Please, that's the saddest blanket since the AIDS quilt!"  

 

 

Luke.ModernFamily

 

At first I thought I should be offended by this snarky comment, but after thinking about it (during the commercial break) I decided I appreciated its edginess since the comment wasn't making fun of the quilt or AIDS.  In fact, Luke's comment suggests that he was aware of the AIDS quilt, a good thing, which his gay uncles, Mitch and Cameron, likely introduced him to.  This had me wondering if there have been other instances prior to this that the quilt was used for laughs?  I've heard jokes with reference made to concentration camps so I suppose enough years have gone by to include some aspects of AIDS in a humorous context.  And who knows how long it will be before a joking references are made about 9-11. 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Andre Braugher Plays the "Straight Man" in Gay Role on "Brooklyn Nine-Nine"

ImagesCA91N7Q2I'm not a big fan of Andy Samberg's, but I've been tuning in to his new Fox sitcom, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, because one of its characters, captain Ray Holt, is gay.  Played by Emmy Award winning actor Andre Braugher, it's quite a departure from his usual dramatic roles (e.g., Homicide; Law & Order).  He serves as a great foil to the man-child played by Samberg.  Braugher joins a small list of African American actors who have played a regular character who's gay, including Michael Boatman in 90s sitcom Spin City (as Carter Heywood); Matthew St. Patrick in Six Feet Under (as Keith Charles); and Nelsan Ellis in True Blood (as Lafayette Reynolds).

 

Carter_heywood

David_keith_sixfeetunder

True-Blood-lafayette-reynolds-15663678-500-290

 

Brooklyn-nine-nine-andre-braugherAlthough the focus of the show is on Samberg, it is Braugher's captain Holt who gets my attention.  I'm captivated by his soulful gaze and the comedic gravity he brings to the role.  And although viewers have been told that his sexual orientation kept him from being promoted to captain back in the 1990s, his orientation is only occasionally referenced.  However, it has also been established that he has a partner, whose name is Kevin (I think Edris Elba would be perfect in that role.)        

 

And although chances are good that the show may not live past its first season, I enjoy the show because its silliness is nicely tempered by the adult presence provided by Braugher.


Lily 2.0: "Modern Family's" Pint-Size Diva-In-Training

Lily_modernfamilyWhen the sitcom Modern Family debuted four years ago, Lily, the adopted Vietnamese daughter of Cameron and Mitchell, was a mere toddler who never spoke - a human version of baby Maggie from The Simpsons.  Then in Season 3, a new Lily, who was more animated and old enough to speak a few sentences, was brought on board.  Now in Season 4 she has blossomed into quite the sarcastic quipster - a tiny Dorothy Parker (or Fran Leibowitz), if you will. 

 

Lily_as_joancrawfordLily has certainly become her gay daddies' daughter, and brings to mind the Sondheim song Children Will Listen from Into the Woods.  (In one episode she tells her dads, who were running late, to "hurry up, ladies.")  And while Cam and Mitchell find her zingers amusing, at the same time they are a little bit horrified. 

 

Lily2After two seasons in which the original Lily was as expressive as a block of wood, Lily 2.0 may revitalize the show, which is going through a transition as Luke, Manny, Alex and Haley grow older and become less adorable.  One can only imagine the handful this "diva in training" will become as a teenager.  No doubt the religious right views Lily as a "demon seed". 

 

 


"Lesbian Kiss" Episode Airs on "Roseanne" (March 1, 1994)

Roseanne_lesbian_kissIn November 1992, during ABC sitcom Roseanne's fifth season, Sandra Bernhard's character Nancy was introduced as the first regularly occurring lesbian character in a TV show.  Sixteen months later on March 1, 1994 (at the end of Nielsen's February ratings "sweeps") Nancy's girlfriend Sharon, played by Mariel Hemingway, kissed Roseanne at a lesbian bar.  Roseanne went to Lanford's bar "Lips" to prove how "cool" she was; however, she became unnerved by this five-second kiss and realized that perhaps she wasn't as "hip" as she thought.  (Hemingway had also portrayed a lesbian in the 1982 movie Personal Best.)     

 

 

 

 

 

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Same-Sex Marriage Gets Its Due on "The Simpsons" (February 20, 2005)

Pattybouvier_thesimpsons On the February 20, 2005 episode of The Simpsons (titled "There's Something About Marrying") same-sex marriage was legalized in Springfield as a way to attract tourists.  This results in Marge's sister, Patty Bouvier, coming out and announcing her intention to marry her partner Veronica, a pro golfer.  When Homer learns how much he can earn performing same-sex ceremonies he becomes a minister and marries Patty (which is ironic since Patty, as well as her twin sister Selma, have nothing but contempt for Homer).  Alas, it was later revealed that Veronica was a man.

 

Having same-sex marriage as a storyline on a mainstream TV show (a favorite with young men) was an important milestone in the fight for legalization of same-sex marriage.  The attendant publicity brought awareness up a few more notches - anathema to the religious right, which frets whenever gay issues gain exposure.      

 

 

Samesexmarriage_weddingrings This episode of The Simpsons aired a little more than a year after Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to legalize same-sex unions.  And it just so happens that there is a city named Springfield in the state.  However, the show's writers have never indicated in which state their Springfield is located (there are 38 cities, towns and townships named Springfield in the U.S.).

 

 


Cher + Bette Midler + Elton John = WOW! (February 12, 1975)

Cher_1975_tvspecial Now this is what a TV special is supposed to be like!  On February 12, 1975, a Wednesday night, CBS pulled off quite a coup when Cher hosted a gala telecast with Bette Midler and Elton John as her guests (comedian Flip Wilson too) - three fledgling superstars, all of them gay icons, together on network TV.  They were all about the same age - Midler was just 29, Cher 28 and Elton was one month from turning 28.  Cher, however, was clearly the veteran as she'd been in the public eye since she and Sonny married and had a #1 song with I Got You Babe ten years earlier. Among the performances, Cher sang Bennie & the Jets with Elton and did a "Trashy Ladies Medley" with the Divine Miss M.  But perhaps the highlight was their medley of Motown hits (e.g. Proud Mary, Ain't No Mountain High Enough) shown in the following clip:   

 

 

 

 

This special was one of the highlights of my senior year in high school.  According to Nielsen the special got a 29.5 household rating/49 share and 40 million tuned in.  (Get Christie Love! was one of the shows that aired opposite it.)   

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