In a small number of years, TV has come a long way.
Throughout most of TV’s existence, queer characters mostly existed as the object of fear, or the butt of a joke – if at all. However, the past couple of decades have seen a rise in the quantity and quality of queer narratives we see on-screen.
Increasingly, LGBTQ+ creators are being given licence to tell their own stories, without the necessity to cater to straight audiences.
Russell T Davies’s London-set drama It’s a Sin has gone down brilliantly with audiences after its release earlier this month, telling a poignant story about young gay men during the 1980s Aids epidemic.
With a cast that includes Olly Alexander, Omari Douglas, Neil Patrick Harris, Callum Scott Howells and Keeley Hawes, It’s a Sin was praised in The Independent’s review for its “strong ensemble performance”.
For those who have watched and enjoyed It’s a Sin, here are 10 other great LGBTQ+ series that are well worth your time…
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Angels in America (2003)
Tony Kushner’s acclaimed two-part play, a dense exploration of the Aids epidemic with a smattering of supernatural elements, served as the basis for this bleak but glossy HBO miniseries. Perhaps more so than the play itself, this is a broad work – Meryl Streep and Al Pacino give turns that indulge their hammier inclinations – that’s nonetheless richly drawn and often profound.
The Bisexual (2018)
Acclaimed filmmaker Desiree Akhavan (Appropriate Behaviour; The Miseducation of Cameron Post) drew from some of her own experiences to make The Bisexual for Channel 4. The series, a London-set comedy about Leila (Akhavan), a woman who leaves a same-sex relationship and comes out as bi, is an honest, moving and smartly funny dismantling of several myths about bisexuality, and an interesting look at how biphobia exists even within queer communities. Though Akhavan is an American, The Bisexual has a quintessentially British vibe, and Maxine Peake is superb as Leila’s former partner.
Feel Good (2020-)
Canadian comedian Mae Martin created (alongside co-writer Joe Hampson) and starred in this engaging Channel 4 sitcom, playing a thinly veiled version of herself. The series focuses on Mae’s relationship with George (Fresh Meat’s Charlotte Ritchie), and her ongoing recovery from addiction. In a five-star review for The Independent, Bessie Yuill wrote: “‘Good’ might be too simple a word to cover all the feelings swirling around this six-episode emotional broth... Mae’s complicated relationship with her identity isn’t watered down for a mainstream audience – she can just admit ‘I’m feeling bad about my gender’, without any clichéd explanation or neat conclusion.”
High Maintenance (2016-2020)
There’s much to love about this offbeat HBO comedy-drama, adapted from a web series by husband-and-wife creative team Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld (who divorced midway through the series’ run, when Blichfeld came out as a lesbian) – but nothing more so than how joyously queer it is. Essentially an anthology series set in New York, with a nameless weed dealer (Sinclair) providing a loose narrative through-line, High Maintenance is generous and uninhibited in the stories it chooses to tell, with people of all manner of genders, sexual identities, age groups, cultural backgrounds and alternative lifestyles given centre stage for whole episodes at a time.
The L Word (2004-2009)
Widely heralded as seminal viewing among LGBTQ+ (and particularly lesbian) audiences, The L Word broke new ground when it came to centring queer stories on mainstream TV. The fun, soapy series hasn’t held up to modern progressive sensibilities particularly well – regrettable storylines featuring trans characters, the deployment of some outdated stereotypes, and a general lack of intersectional awareness make for somewhat complicated viewing in the year of our Lord 2021. But there’s no denying its status as a landmark of modern queer TV.
This brilliant HBO series, about three gay friends in San Fransisco, was initially compared to Girls when it debuted in 2014. While it shares a lot of Girls’ DNA – its bittersweetly awkward sense of humour and sumptuous urban cinematography, for instance – it quickly established itself as its own unique thing. Jonathan Groff, Frankie Alvarez and Murray Bartlett all excel in roles that seemed to capture the frank, multi-faceted reality of being gay in the 21st century like few shows ever had before. After a lack of viewers led to Looking’s woefully premature cancellation, HBO aired a feature-length special to give the story some well-earned closure.
Queer as Folk (1999-2000)
Before It’s a Sin – way before – there was Queer as Folk, Russell T Davies’s early opus, a 10-episode series about the gay scene in Manchester during the 1990s. Airing on Channel 4 at a time when homophobia and queer erasure were still rampant in the country’s laws and on its airwaves, Queer as Folk was revolutionary counterprogramming. The show sometimes veered into daft bombast and remains a product of its time, but more than 20 years after its debut, Davies’s landmark series remains a firm favourite for an entire generation of gay men.
Created by the Wachowski sisters (best known for The Matrix, a film that has also been embraced by the trans community), Sense8 is one of the wildest projects Netflix has ever commissioned. It’s an ensemble series about eight strangers with the ability to supernaturally connect with one another across the globe, and it features a diverse cast of characters and excellent queer representation. Many fans are still bitter at the streaming service for ending this strange, tonally unique show after just two seasons, and it’s no surprise why: there’s nothing else that could possibly replace it.
Tales of the City (1993-2019)
Armistead Maupin’s series of novels, about the goings-on in a queer community in San Fransisco, was first adapted into a miniseries by US network PBS in 1993, breaking new records for viewership on its initial release. The series was revived two years ago by Netflix, bringing back some of the original stars, including Olympia Dukakis and Laura Linney, and adding new ones, such as Girls’ Zosia Mamet and Oscar-nominee Elliot Page. Though the revival received mixed reviews, it was notable for being one of TV’s best, truest depictions of queer community – existing independently of the whims and needs of straight society.
The past decade has seen TV grow more intersectional in its approach to diversity, at least some of the time, and Vida is a series which delights on several fronts. Running for three seasons, Vida told the story of two sisters, Lyn (Melissa Barrera) and Emma (Mishel Prada), who return to their old LA neighbourhood after their mother dies. After discovering that the woman they thought was their mother’s roommate was in fact her wife, Lyn and Emma, who is also queer, must decide whether to try and save their late mother’s business, a de facto gay bar, from ruin. Politically astute and emotionally devastating, Vida is also a lot of fun, imbuing its idiosyncratically Latin-American story with a sexy and defiant energy.