To say it’s been a mammoth year for queer representation on television feels like an understatement.
Over the last 12 months, TV has helped queer people all across the world feel seen. It’s given society a glimpse into LGBT+ subcultures, and it’s also explored the hidden histories that too often end up being forgotten.
That speaks to the power of television – as a medium, it has an unparalleled ability to tell stories that resonate and stick with viewers. Over the last year, we’ve laughed and cried watching some of the best LGBT-themed television out there.
As 2021 finally draws to a close, we look back on 10 incredible queer television shows that shattered stereotypes and left us reeling throughout the year.
1. It’s a Sin
In January 2021, when much of the world was living under coronavirus-related restrictions, It’s a Sin cast an unflinching gaze on the horrors – and heart – of the AIDS epidemic.
The emotional impact was swift. Social media was full of people sharing their devastation at seeing the show’s young queer characters have their lives torn apart by a rapidly spreading mystery virus. It’s a Sin showed in brutal detail just how random and painful life can be. It also brilliantly deconstructed the impact homophobia had on the spread of the virus – whether that was systemic homophobia or familial rejection.
The series was tied together by searing performances from Olly Alexander, Omari Douglas, Callum Scott Howells, Lydia West, Nathaniel Curtis, and the many other actors who made an appearance.
It hasn’t even been 12 months since It’s a Sin aired, but its impact has been significant and wide-ranging. It brought the realities of the AIDS epidemic to a generation who didn’t live through it. Above all else, It’s a Sin serves as a plea for empathy. It hit hard when it landed in January 2021, but it’s hard to see how its resonance will ever dim. – Patrick Kelleher
PinkNews spoke to Russell T Davies about It’s a Sin in January ahead of the show’s release. Read the full interview here.
A wave of heartbreak engulfed Pose fans in March when FX announced that the show’s third season would be its last outing.
The sadness was entirely justified – it’s difficult to think of many other queer television shows that have been quite as impactful or as groundbreaking as Pose. Over the course of three seasons, it brought queer ballroom culture to the fore – and crucially, it created a space for trans Black and Latinx stories that are so often overlooked.
With its final season, Pose didn’t disappoint. It captured the destruction caused by the AIDS epidemic, and it also explored the many ways in which queer people of colour are marginalised.
But that’s not all – Pose did something spectacular and subversive with its final season in providing some much needed happy endings. Too often, queer stories end in heartbreak and misery. Pose doesn’t exactly tie everything up with a neat bow on top, but it does show some of its characters going on to live full, empowering lives. That feels significant, even in 2021.
Pose may be gone, but it will never be forgotten. Over the course of three seasons, this show created a new model for what queer stories on screen should look like. It’s hard to imagine another show managing to fill the void left behind by Pose. – Patrick Kelleher
3. Sex Education
Netflix’s Sex Education is now in its third season, and it’s still smashing tropes and breaking new ground for queer representation.
It’s a testament to the quality of the writing that three seasons in, Sex Education still managed to feel fresh, original and exciting. The series has always been firmly committed to depicting LGBT+ characters with heart and integrity, and that only got better with the show’s third outing.
That was in no small part thanks to the addition of Cal, a non-binary student at Moordale Secondary School. They were played expertly by Dua Saleh, and their character gave Sex Education the chance to explore the impact rigid gender boundaries can have on those who don’t fit into the binary.
Sex Education also just keeps on winning because of just how sex positive it is – which probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The show demystifies sex, but it also celebrates it. It does a rare thing – it depicts sex as something to be enjoyed, something to be relished, and – perhaps most importantly – something to be discussed openly, both with sexual partners and with outsiders. It’s an important and timely show, and we can’t wait to see where it goes next. – Patrick Kelleher
4. Drag Race
As much as we’ve ended the year somewhat Drag Raced out, with an underwhelming third UK season and a seemingly never-ending list of spin-offs, 2021 kicked off with one of the strongest, most vital runs in the show’s herstory: Drag Race UK season two. Bimini, Tayce, Lawrence Chaney and co came along just when we needed them – in the grip of the you-know-what, they lit up our screens with unadulterated queer joy. With genuinely entertaining challenges and the queens allowed to explore important topics in the werk room, it was back to basics in all the best ways, without the heavy-handed twists and rushed feel that made its successor a bit of a damp squib.
2021 also saw the US leg of the franchise give us two of its most exciting winners to date: Symone, whose creativity, heart and humour made her truly one-of-a-kind, and Kylie Sonique Love, whose All Stars run is surely the Ru-demption arc to end all Ru-demption arcs. It was also the year that the show finally, it felt, began to listen to our cries for more trans representation. All Stars was the first season to cast two out trans women (with Kylie becoming the first American trans woman to win), while season 13 opened the werkroom doors to a trans man for the first time and as a result, the world fell in love with Gottmik. All in all, it was one of Drag Race’s strongest years in recent memory – so, RuPaul, please don’t f**k 2022 up. – Reiss Smith
5. The Other Two
The Other Two is that rare TV show that’s so funny it will have you howling with laughter, tears streaming down your face – and that’s something we all desperately needed in 2021.
The show follows gay aspiring actor Cary (Drew Tarver) and his sister Brooke (Heléne Yorke) as they try to make it in their respective fields. There’s just one problem: they’re stuck in the perpetual shadow of their hugely successful, very famous family members.
The Other Two built a sizeable fanbase with its first season, but it was only really with its second season that it became a complete sensation. One particular episode revolving around a gay couple with an age gap who are looking for a third sent gays everywhere over the edge – we won’t give any more information for fear of spoiling it, but we would highly recommend you watch the whole show right now if you haven’t already. – Patrick Kelleher
Ryan O’Connell’s emotionally searing, hilarious Netflix series Special came back for a second and final season in 2021 – and fans were overjoyed.
The series – loosely based on O’Connell’s own life and experiences as a gay man with cerebral palsy – manages to straddle the line expertly between being laugh-out-loud funny and deeply moving at the same time. Its second season took Special to new heights – the longer runtime and extra writers helped round out the show, making the storytelling more diverse and expansive.
The downside, of course, is that Special won’t be back for a third season. It’s a show that deserved so much more time and space to tell its diverse stories. – Patrick Kelleher
7. Love, Victor
For many of us, it would have been hard to imagine a show like Love, Victor existing even a decade ago. The show tells the story of Victor, a gay Latinx teenager who struggles to come to terms with his sexuality. Two seasons in, it just keeps getting better.
Longtime fans will remember that Love, Victor became a source of controversy before it even hit streaming platforms. The series was originally ordered by Disney+, but it was moved to Hulu (in the US) before the first episode was even released.
That decision was ultimately a good thing for Love, Victor – the result is that the show has been able to tackle bigger, more grown-up themes with its second season. The writing feels less constrained – there are conversations about sex and relationships that wouldn’t have felt possible on Disney+.
In 2021, Love, Victor remoulded the idea of a teen-oriented series by putting queerness at its centre. We can’t wait to see where the show goes next. – Patrick Kelleher
PinkNews spoke to Love, Victor star George Sear about tackling homophobia and parental acceptance in season two. Read the full interview here.
8. American Horror Story: Double Feature
It’s hardly a surprise that American Horror Story has gone off the boil in recent years. With Ryan Murphy seemingly on a mission to become a one-man Netflix, his greatest creation has felt neglected, with meandering plotlines and themes that just don’t hit quite as hard as they used to.
Double Feature felt like make-or-break. For the first time Murphy shook up the format, splitting the season into two separate stories, the implication that he was finally taking stock of criticism over his tendency to ruin strong concepts with weak endings. The first half of Double Feature, Red Tide, was a taut thriller with just the right amount of camp and some genuine scares. OK, so the final episode wasn’t perfect, but the preceding five episodes were up there with the best of them. The second half, Death Valley, didn’t hit the same highs, but you can’t win them all. – Reiss Smith
9. With Love
After finishing work on her heartfelt and hilarious sitcom One Day at a Time, Gloria Calderón Kellett turned her hand to With Love, a holiday-themed romantic comedy series.
The show was only released on 17 December, but it’s already made an impact. With Love has won rave reviews – and queer fans have been delighted by its progressive approach to sexuality and gender.
All of this is done through the lens of a bustling Latinx family. Kellett expertly shows how the family is steeped in tradition, but they also have a deep, irrepressible love for Jorge (Mark Indelicato). His sexuality is largely a non-issue.
The show also deserves praise for its representation of a bisexual character, played brilliantly by Crazy Ex-Girlfriend star Vincent Rodriguez III. There’s one hilarious and slightly horrifying scene where he’s grilled by Jorge’s family about his bisexuality – they run through all of the harmful tropes and myths we’ve all heard and one by one, he dispels them all.
With Love is a joyous celebration of family life, but it’s also an ode to queerness. All in all, it’s exactly what we needed in 2021. – Patrick Kelleher
PinkNews spoke to Mark Indelicato about his role in With Love. Read the interview here.
10. Feel Good
One of the small joys of 2021 was that the world was blessed with a second season of Feel Good, the semi-autobiographical comedy written and created by Mae Martin.
The show’s first season landed on Channel 4 in March 2020, just as the world was going into lockdown, and it delivered laughs in spades while also giving audiences a powerful exploration of queerness, addiction, sex and relationships.
Feel Good‘s second season, released by Netflix, delivered all of that and more. It’s side-achingly funny, but it also has a deeper meaning and significance – particularly around its exploration of Mae’s gender identity. Martin proved that they are a skilled and restrained actor, while their co-star Charlotte Ritchie blew us all away as Mae’s girlfriend George.
Sadly, Feel Good won’t be getting a third season – but perhaps that’s for the best. The show is going out on its own terms when it’s still at its peak. There’s something to be said for that. – Patrick Kelleher
Feel Good stars Mae Martin and Charlotte Ritchie spoke to PinkNews earlier this year about the show’s second season. Read the interview here.