40 Great LGBTQ TV Shows to Stream Now - Rolling Stone
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40 Great LGBTQ TV Shows to Stream Now

The evolution has been televised — and here’s a selection of the groundbreaking series that shouldn’t be missed

LGBTQ TV

Lara Solanki/Netflix, Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Showtime, Eddy Chen/HBO

Who hasn’t learned to kiss from watching others do it onscreen? Before the internet and everyone having a device in their pockets, that was the way most of us casually absorbed images of desire and and love. And yet, for decades, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people rarely ever saw displays of affection. That left a great swath of humanity desperate to see something that resembled their lives. It may appear quaint now, when we have TV series like Hulu’s Love, Victor (about a Latinx teen exploring sexual fluidity) or Netflix’s Bonding (about sex work and alternative sexuality), but the great gay panic set off by Ellen DeGeneres coming out on her sitcom in 1997 was a bombshell that didn’t necessarily convince the networks that they’d open the gates to LGBTQ experiences.

RELATED: How TV is Putting the ‘B’ in LGBTQ — And Why It Matters

Luckily Will & Grace debuted in 1998 and the groundbreaking NBC series convinced many that gay people might not be so toxic (and wouldn’t scare off advertisers) — so much so that Vice President Joe Biden later credited it with changing his mind about same-sex marriage. That was followed by Modern Family, the most popular TV show in the country for years. Despite the fact that millions of Americans witnessed two men raise a happy and healthy daughter from the comfort of their living room sofas, it took a fan campaign to lobby Disney-owned ABC to finally allow Mitchell (gay actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cameron (straight actor Eric Stonestreet) to kiss (it finally happened in 2010). Yet, we must not forget that a majority of these shows almost exclusively catered to white, upper-middle-class storylines.

We’ve certainly had plenty of ups and downs when it comes to representation. For years, deranged, perverse, and despicable homosexuals were on full display — especially from Ryan Murphy, who remains our most prominent culture czar when it comes to queer characters on TV. Sure he gave us Glee’s Kurt (and his boyfriend Blaine), followed by the astoundingly sensitive portrayal of trans people of color in Pose and his most-recent “fixing” of Tinseltown’s inequities in the inclusive Hollywood. But he’s also supplied us at least one murderous (ghostly) gay man on American Horror Story and too many crazies on Nip/Tuck to count.

The recently released Visible: Out on Television (available on Apple TV+) attempts to thread a grand narrative of how the evolution has been televised and manages to show a great many of those watershed moments. From the Roy Cohn-inflected Army-McCarthy hearings — which was the first time many people heard the word “homosexual” uttered on TV — through the “don’t ask, don’t tell” Nineties, that included The Golden Girls and Designing Women, to our current glitter-and-glam era of RuPaul’s Drag Race and almost-anything-goes pansexuality. The docuseries is a must-watch for anyone curious to understand how we vaulted from Steven Carrington’s conflicted character in Dynasty to nonbinary actor Asia Kate Dillon becoming a breakout star on Billions — and how TV has been weaponized and has served as a balm to heal wounds and shape minds.

For a more granular look at how we achieved so much diversity of characters — and a lot more PDA — add these 40 phenomenal shows to your queue. While there are plenty of reality and unscripted series to entertain, for this list we stuck to scripted television that’s currently available to stream on demand, which encompasses some of our favorites that span over the past 30 years. But it’s certainly just the beginning, as we enter a new era of queer representation on screens of all shapes and sizes.

(You can watch many of these shows with a free trial to Amazon Prime or a free trial to Hulu here).

Betty

Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO

‘Betty’ (HBO/HBO Max)

This appealing spinoff of Crystal Moselle’s 2018 indie film Skate Kitchen follows a quintet of female skaters in a pre-pandemic New York. Some of the girls are straight and others not, but all are struggling to fit into a traditionally male subculture and battling various problems regarding race, class, and sexuality over the course of the compact, vibe-heavy six-episode first season. In one of the most poignant stories, Honeybear (Kabrina “Moonbear” Adams) begins dating Ash (Katerina Tannenbaum), only for things to get bumpy when Ash discovers that Honeybear is out to her friends but not her family. Yet the queer stories can be on the lighter side, too, like the time a girl offers Kirt (Nina Moran) a bag of psychedelic mushrooms if only Kirt can make her orgasm. —A.S.

Billions

eff Neumann/Showtime

‘Billions’ (Showtime)

Yes, this drama about the feud between a self-righteous New York prosecutor and a sociopathic hedge-fund boss is mostly a celebration of straight male energy. But it’s also not a coincidence that Billions went to another creative level with the introduction of Asia Kate Dillon as Taylor, the numbers wizard who was briefly Axe’s protégé, then his blood rival, now his frenemy. The first non-binary character to ever be a TV series regular — who helped to bring they/them pronouns into the mainstream — Taylor is the most complex player Billions has, and most of the time, the closest thing the show has to a sympathetic figure. —A.S.

The Bisexual

Tereza Cervenova/Hulu

‘The Bisexual’ (Hulu)

In Desiree Akhavan’s The Bisexual — which she co-wrote, directed, and stars in — we finally get an honest portrayal of the complications of and confusions around the most-overlooked (and mocked) facet of queer sexuality. Leila is a thirtysomething Iranian American woman living in London who’s identified as a lesbian for most of her life, and is now coming to terms with the reality that her sexuality may be more complicated than that. Akhavan not only captures some of the most awkward and realistic sex scenes ever shared on TV, she also manages to lay out the tension within the LGBTQ+ community. When her straight male roommate’s twentysomething girlfriend, Francisco, questions why Leila is so terrified to tell anyone that she has sex with both men and women, Leila tells her it’s complicated because it’s “a gay thing.” Francisca responds: “So? I’m queer.” “Everyone under 25 thinks they’re queer,” Leila replies. “And you think they’re wrong?” Francisca counters. Leila considers this for a moment before answering, “No.” It’s a frank reality check from which more queer-themed shows could learn. —J.P.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Scott Everett White/The CW

‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ (Netflix)

For decades, bisexuals were largely invisible on television, with characters only revealed as bi on rare occasions for a shocking plot twist or to help generate a titillating sweeps-month promo. The past few years of TV, though, have featured a lot of prominent bi characters, including Piper on Orange Is the New Black, Rosa on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Ilana on Broad City. The CW’s late, great musical dramedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend even generated its own bisexual anthem in the irresistibly hooky Huey Lewis pastiche “Gettin’ Bi,” where square law firm boss Darryl (Pete Gardner) overshares with his staff about the joy of his newfound bisexuality, including his insistence that, “Bi’s legit/Whether you’re a he or a she/We might be a perfect fit.” One of the most memorable tunes from a show with a bunch of three-dimensional queer characters, and one of the biggest crowd-pleasers whenever the cast does a live concert. —A.S.

Cucumber

Ben Blackall/Red Production Company

‘Cucumber’ and ‘Banana’ (Amazon)

Fifteen years after Russell T. Davies brought Queer as Folk to British televisions (and had a successful run as a writer for Doctor Who and the sexually fluid Torchwood), he returned with three interconnected LGBTQ shows: Banana and Cucumber for television, and the web series Tofu. The hourlong Cucumber focuses on middle-aged Henry Best and his long-suffering partner, Lance Sullivan. The 30-minute episodes of Banana are focused on the younger characters — standouts Dean Monroe (Fisayo Akinade) and Freddie Baxter (Freddie Fox) — and the intersection between these lives, including all the erotic fantasies, obsessions, and mistakes that keep the world turning. Davies has always had a keen eye for the way we live and communicate and fuck up — which is why all his near-future speculative fiction series on HBO, Years and Years, felt so satisfying. —J.P.

Dear White People

Lara Solanki/Netflix

‘Dear White People’ (Netflix)

Adapted from gay director Justin Simien’s breakout film of the same name, about black college students coming to terms with a “post-racial America,” the series explores themes of race, gender, and sexuality by skewering just about everyone for hypocrisy and double standards. In the first season, Lionel Higgins (DeRon Horton) has a rough time coming to terms with his sexuality — mainly due to the fact that he shares a suite with golden-boy hottie Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bell). In the second season, he manages to evolve beyond simple tropes and is given space to explore his queer identity, including having his heart broken by Silvio (a self-described “Mexican Italian gay vers top otter pup”), finding a boyfriend (of sorts), and even being rejected by another black man because of his skin color — proving that, despite all the talk of “community,” it’s never easy to forge lasting bonds. —J.P.

Elite

Manuel Fernandez-Valdes/Netflix

‘Elite’ (Netflix)

While CW shows — from Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars to Riverdale — have always toyed with hot-bodied teens and their sexual shenanigans, the titillating thrills often leave the queer characters on the sidelines. Not so for Spanish Netflix original Elite. Sure it sticks to the salacious high school drama playbook, but here the posh pansexual kids at Las Encinas literally tear each other apart with sex and murder. Between Omar and Ander’s complicated romance and Valerio, Cayetana, and Polo’s throuple, the show attempts to go places on the sexuality spectrum where few have dared to tread before. —J.P.

Empire

Chuck Hodes/FOX

‘Empire’ (Hulu)

Lee Daniels’ 2015 prime-time hip-hop soap opera on Fox had a phenomenal debut and became a mega hit. Which felt revolutionary at the time due to its focus on Jamal Lyon, the R&B-crooner son who’s vying for music-mogul dad Lucious’ crown. Plus, it managed to change many conservative viewpoints in the black community — including Timbaland, who crafted the series’ catchy original tracks — and was a rare moment in which a gay character of color had so much visibility. Much of the show’s success can be credited to Taraji P. Henson’s portrayal of fiercely loyal mother Cookie, but the drama may ultimately feel marred by key cast member Jussie Smollett’s personal drama and legal issues (it was ultimately cut short during its sixth season). —J.P.

Euphoria

HBO

‘Euphoria’ (HBO/Max)

Euphoria supplies such an overload of examples of what it means to be an American teen at this moment in time — living amid a complex cacophony of stimulus more overwhelming than anyone ever thought imaginable — that you may find it hard to swallow and end up retching it out. Focused on unreliable narrator Rue (Zendaya), a high schooler who’s in recovery after an overdose, we soon meet her new friend, and obsession, Jules (Hunter Schafer), who is trans and spends her evenings on hookup apps to have anonymous sex with closeted older (often married) men. Vacillating between depictions of teen depression and ecstasy, as well as addiction and abuse, it’s not a show to make you feel optimistic. Although getting a glimpse of this particular story of pain and joy may not feel like entertainment, it does reveal some of the ways a younger generation has developed to resist and simply survive. —J.P.

Everything's Gonna Be Alright

Toby Rivetti/Freeform

‘Everything’s Gonna Be Okay,’ ‘Please Like Me’ (Hulu)

Please Like Me, Australian comedian Josh Thomas’ hyper-realistic, cringe-inducing (but still funny), and deeply autobiographical first TV series, begins with a character, also named Josh, breaking up with his girlfriend, kissing a boy for the first time, and dealing with the fallout from his mother’s attempted suicide. It was a lot to digest, but that’s what makes it slyly subversive. Thomas manages to upend conventional storylines and tackles everything from mental illness to gay-guy/straight-girl friendships to the coming-out process. Thomas’ astute way of allowing marginalized characters to own their jokes — it was where queer comedian Hannah Gadsby’s deadpan delivery was first introduced to American audiences — seemed like a one-off. But then Thomas returned with Everything’s Going to Be Okay, in which he plays a lovable narcissist named Nicholas who quickly becomes the guardian of his teenage half-sisters (Matilda and Genevieve) after their wealthy father dies of cancer. Matilda has high-functioning autism, and some of the best scenes revolve around her exploring her fluid sexuality, while both girls embrace their gay half-brother’s relationship failures as second nature. It’s the sort of idiosyncratic, sympathetic TV storytelling that would have felt next-to-impossible just a few short years ago. —J.P.

Feel Good

Courtesy of Netflix

‘Feel Good’ (Netflix)

An utter charmer about a gay, recovering addict comedian (co-creator Mae Martin) and a previously straight teacher (Charlotte Richie) who fall deeply, dangerously in love with each other. Think Catastrophe, but queer.  —A.S.

The Fosters

Blazing Elm/Nitelite/Nuyorican Prods/Prodco/Kobal/Shutterstock

‘The Fosters’ (Netflix)

ABC Family’s breakout hit drama about two moms and their very modern mix of biological, adopted, and fostered kids, is a big mess — but that was exactly the point. Co-creator and executive producer Peter Paige (yes, Emmett from Queer as Folk), along with the other queer producers and showrunners, wanted to address how complicated real life often is. The show was already charting new territory when it caused censors to cry foul in 2015, when 13-year-old Jude Jacob (played by 15-year-old Hayden Byerly) had an onscreen kiss with Conor (played by 16-year-old Gavin MacIntosh). It was epic for Jonnor fans, as the duo had been dubbed, but it was also hailed as the youngest same-sex kiss on TV. Dealing with teen-boy sexuality is one of the reasons some welcomed it as one of the most important mainstream shows on TV. —J.P.

Gentleman Jack

Matt Squire/HBO

‘Gentleman Jack’ (HBO)

Gentleman Jack, starring Susanne Jones, is about Anne Lister, an extraordinary woman circa 1832 who’s a barely closeted lesbian English landowner trying to figure out how to take a wife. The HBO and BBC One collaboration feels like the sort of period drama that used to be reserved for Merchant Ivory movies. The fact that we get to luxuriate in Sally Wainwright’s adult romance about devotion, partnership, and gender norms for hours — complete with sweeping black suits, top hats, and walking sticks — is a satisfying (and educational) treat that demands repeat viewing. —J.P.

High Fidelity

Phillip Caruso/Hulu

‘High Fidelity’ (Hulu)

One of the more clever twists the Hulu series makes from the Nick Hornby novel (and the John Cusack movie it already spawned) is to essentially split the main character in two. Zoe Kravitz’s Rob gets most of the raw material: the name, the self-destructive romantic history, ownership of the record shop. But one of her exes, Simon (David H. Holmes), inherits some of original-recipe Rob’s most memorable obsessions and quirks — among other things, Simon is the one who gives the speech about compatibility depending on what you like, not what you are like — even as his story is very different, starting with the fact that he and the new Rob break up because he’s gay. Simon’s the show’s most chill and approachable character, and while his inner life is only hinted at for much of the season, the eighth episode, “Ballad of the Lonesome Loser,” turns him into the romantic hero for a half-hour, suggesting a version of the series he could easily carry. —A.S.

It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia

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‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ (Hulu)

Always Sunny played a very long game with the idea that macho idiot Mac (played by Sunny creator Rob McElhenney) was deeply closeted. The FX comedy hinted at the idea for years, then spent a few seasons with the rest of “the Gang” imploring Mac to come out already, before he finally did in Season 12’s “Hero or Hate Crime?” What’s been impressive in the years since is that being out hasn’t fundamentally changed who Mac is inside — though he has gotten incredibly swole — even as it allowed the show to go in new directions, like when Mac performs a stunning modern dance number to explain his sexuality to his convict father. And it’s clear that while the rest of the Gang still hates him just as much as they all despise one another, his sexuality has nothing to do with it. —A.S.

Killing Eve

Laura Radford/BBCAmerica/Sid Gentle

‘Killing Eve’ (Hulu/BBC America)

A spy story that’s really a twisted love story, where messy, American-born British intelligence analyst Eve (Sandra Oh) becomes obsessed with glamorous, immature assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer). The cat-and-mouse game soon turns into one where the role of predator and prey keeps shifting, the fashions (particularly Villanelle’s suit game) keep getting more striking, and anyone who isn’t part of this doomed would-be coupling is in a whole lot of danger. —A.S.

The L Word

Carole Segal/Showtime/Kobal/Shutterstock

‘The L Word’ (Showtime, Hulu)

When Ilene Chaiken’s The L Word appeared in 2004, featuring queer women front and center, there was nothing else like it. Although the characters may have lived in a mostly white, affluent soap-opera version of West Hollywood, filled with big romances and betrayals, the series became destination TV for a large swath of queer women and gender-nonconforming people. They gathered for “watch parties” to gossip and identify with the elaborate web of co-workers, roommates, lovers, and hookups.

Less than a decade after the original completed its run in 2009, the groundbreaking Showtime series staged its comeback in the form of a sequel, called The L Word: Generation Q, with three of the series’ original stars — Jennifer Beals (Bette), Kate Moennig (Shane), and Leisha Hailey (Alice) — returning. But it’s the diverse millennial set — that spans a Dominican American woman and her Chilean Iranian girlfriend, and their roommate Micah (Leo Sheng), a Chinese American trans man — who continue to share the struggles of queer women and trans people. —J.P.

Legends of Tomorrow

Jeff Weddell/The CW

‘Legends of Tomorrow’ (Netflix)

Most of the Arrow-verse shows (a.k.a. CW superhero dramas based on DC Comics characters, produced by Greg Berlanti) feature at least one prominent queer character. In a few cases, they’re the lead. Since Batwoman is in the midst of recasting its title role in the wake of Ruby Rose’s messy departure, we’ll recommend the most purely fun of all the Arrow spin-offs: Legends of Tomorrow. It’s a time-traveling, genre-bending tale of a bunch of castoffs from the other shows trying to fix the universe, even as their adventures inevitably create more problems. Skip the dull first year and jump right to Season Two, when two crucial creative decisions were made: (1) The show embraced its own inherent lameness and became much livelier and more entertaining; and (2) Sarah Lance (Caity Lotz), the badass, bisexual martial artist also known as the White Canary, was promoted to team leader — and the main constant of a show whose cast is otherwise constantly turning over. Sarah’s romance with uptight bureaucrat Ava Sharpe (Jes Macallan) is also by far the show’s stablest, healthiest relationship. —A.S.

Looking

Richard Foreman/HBO

‘Looking’ (HBO/Max)

When Looking’s creators — screenwriter Michael Lannan and director Andrew Haigh (45 Years, Weekend) — kicked off their dramedy about three young men looking for love in San Francisco in January 2014, same-sex marriage wasn’t legal for all U.S. citizens, and yet things looked hopeful with Obama as president. The show, always handicapped by expectations it would be the “gay Girls,” never quite found a large enough audience who truly embraced the sensitive and slow-burning storytelling. The buddies — Patrick (Jonathan Groff), a 29-year-old video game designer, and his college pal Augustín (Frankie Alvarez), and Dom (Murray Bartlett), a 40-year-old former hookup — explored what it meant to be cute and cuddly and polyamorous in the 21st century, with Patrick caught between committing to Richie (Raúl Castillo) or Kevin (Russell Tovey). It was all cut short after two seasons — HBO brought it back for a 90-minute movie to try to tie up loose ends — with everyone appearing to be coupled up (for the short or long term, we’re unsure). But it never felt quite complete. —J.P.

The Magicians

Eric Milner/SYFY

‘The Magicians’ (Netflix)

Imagine if Hogwarts was in America, and a college, and its students liked to use magic to get high and/or enhance their sex lives, and you have the fundamentals of this recently-concluded Syfy series adapted from Lev Grossman’s book trilogy. In the show’s early days, queer student Eliot Waugh (Hale Appleman) is mainly there to make snarky comments about what the ostensibly straight kids like Quentin (Jason Ralph) are up to. Soon, though, Eliot becomes just as much the heart of the show as Quentin — and, in the most beloved installment, Season Three’s “A Life in the Day,” a spell forces the two to spend a lifetime together and become more than just friends. —A.S.

My So-Called Life

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‘My So-Called Life’ (IMDbTV)

This Claire Danes high school drama — perhaps the greatest one-season wonder in TV history — was ahead of its time in many ways, but none more so than in its depiction of Rickie Vasquez, the queer friend of Danes’ Angela. Rickie wears makeup and hangs in the girls’ bathroom with Angela and Rayanne Graff. He winds up homeless, seemingly abused, and abandoned by a family that had no tolerance for his sexuality. And in the finale’s most powerful subplot, he says the words “I’m gay” aloud — a first not only for him, but for a teen television character (and one played by an out actor in Wilson Cruz). —A.S.

One Day At A Time

Adam Rose/Netflix

‘One Day at a Time’ (Netflix/Pop)

The entire run of this delightful throwback sitcom has queer-friendly content, but particularly its first season (still streaming on Netflix, even though the latest season was made for Pop), which slowly but carefully charted the journey of Elena (Isabella Gomez), a Latinx teen coming to the realization that she’s gay, and gradually discovering how to tell her very Catholic family about it. (Another good teen coming-out story from a show Netflix canceled too early: Everything Sucks!, set at an Oregon high school in the mid-Nineties.) —A.S.

One Mississippi

Casey Wilson and Tig Notaro (from left), in 2015. Photo: Patti Pettet/©Amazon/Courtesy: Everett Collection

Patti Pettet / ©Amazon / Courtesy Everett Collection

‘One Mississippi’ (Amazon)

One of the best — and, unfortunately, most overlooked — of the late-2010s wave of memoir-style dramedies, One Mississippi stars comedian Tig Notaro as a slightly fictionalized version of herself, returning to her Southern hometown in the aftermath of her mother’s death and her own bout with cancer. The show covers a lot of big topics — including a bold Season Two storyline inspired by the sexual misconduct of Louis C.K., who was technically still an executive producer at the time — but one of the most important themes is Tig trying to find a gay community in this part of the world where she feels comfortable, and the growing crush she’s developing on her apparently straight radio producer Kate (played by Notaro’s wife, Stephanie Allynne). A lovely little show, and a very easy binge. —A.S.

Orange Is The New Black

JoJo Whilden/Netflix

‘Orange Is the New Black’ (Netflix)

The first show truly made for the streaming era, the prison drama features an enormous cast of women covering a remarkable array of experiences across lines of race, class, sexuality, and gender. The show’s central character, Piper (Taylor Schilling), is an irritatingly privileged white woman, but she’s also a bisexual woman whose on-again, off-again affair with drug trafficker Alex (Laura Prepon) provides much of the narrative spine. Trans prison hairdresser Sophia (Laverne Cox, one of the first trans actors to have an ongoing role in a prominent show) struggles to be accepted by different groups, while Poussey (Samira Wiley), Suzanne (Emmy winner Uzo Aduba), and Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) are among the show’s deep bench of complex queer characters inside Litchfield’s walls. —A.S.

Oz

Eric Liebowitz/Rysher/Kobal/Shutterstock

‘Oz’ (HBO/Max)

In many ways, GLAAD-nominated Oz was the HBO show that paved the way for so much of Peak TV when it debuted way back in 1998. Amid all the brutality, abuse, racism, murder, and chaos of this prison drama — that at times played out like a nearly all-male soap opera — was the most questionable and heartbreaking love story at its center. Psychotic murderer Chris Keller (Chris Meloni) plans to fuck over newbie Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen) after he enters the penitentiary, but they end up falling for each other. The show plays into the gay-for-prison fantasy so many straight men seem to still harbor, but also shows how you can enjoy male-male intimacy while also being a hardened badass. Beecher survives the abuse of Aryan leader Vern Schillinger (played by J.K. Simmons), and then later bites off the tip of another neo-Nazi cellmate’s dick in self-defense. Despite all that, sociopath Keller manages to steal his heart, and their bond evolves into some kind of intensity that we’ll call love — since our language doesn’t really have a word that quite encapsulates this relationship’s nuances. No question that passion exists between the pair — as well as deep kisses, arm-breaking, stabbings, and other gruesome interludes — with Oz taking Shakespearean betrayal and tragedy to all-new levels than were previously imagined. —J.P.

Pose

JoJo Whilden/FX

‘Pose’ (FX, Netflix)

From its debut, Pose was trumpeted as a groundbreaking series, proving how far LGBTQ people had progressed in Hollywood. Not only does it feature five transgender actresses in series-regular roles — the most for any prime-time show — it also has the largest queer recurring cast in TV history. Plus, it’s largely written and produced by members of the LGBTQ community, including co-creators Steven Canals and Ryan Murphy, executive producer Nina Jacobson, and trans screenwriters and directors Janet Mock and Silas Howard. But those bona fides don’t even begin to explain the beauty and nuance of the storytelling — portraying New York’s 1980s ballroom scene — that finds humanity in previously marginalized people, including Angel (Indya Moore), Blanca (Mj Rodriguez), and Pray Tell (Billy Porter). And despite all the odds stacked against them (AIDS, hate crimes, domestic violence, drugs, and poverty), the show always retains a sense of optimism. —J.P.

Queer As Folk

L Pief Weyman/Showtime/Kobal/Shutterstock

‘Queer as Folk’ (Showtime)

Before Queer as Folk premiered on Showtime in December 2000, people passed around bootleg VHS tapes of Russell T. Davies’ original British version because the show shocked and impressed and was full of gritty cinematography and irony. Sure, it told a story of mainly urban gay white men (the original was set in Manchester, U.K.) in a way we’d never seen before — mainly because it was full of sex. The U.S. version (set in a much-gayer version of Pittsburgh) wasted no time showing Brian (Gale Harold) and teenage Justin (Randy Harrison) in the first male-on-male sex scene on American television. The camera shots were a bit cheesy and hyper-stylized but, most important, the camera didn’t shy away. While parts of it may not have aged so well, the series contained lots of TV firsts — including the first legally wed gay couple, first gay adoption, and HIV-positive/negative couple — with co-stars Hal Sparks, Peter Paige, and Scott Lowell exploring what it meant to have relationships and struggle for acceptance. But be forewarned: Many of the songs from the original have been replaced due to music licensing agreements. So if you remember that moment when Brian gets a blowjob at Babylon while the Stooges’ “I Need Somebody” blares over the speakers, you’ll be disappointed to find it replaced with a bad replica. —J.P.

Schittts Creek

PopTV

‘Schitt’s Creek’ (Netflix, Pop TV)

A wealthy family loses their entire fortune and is forced to rebuild their lives in a small town — their only remaining asset, with an off-putting name. Co-created by Eugene Levy and his son, Dan, Schitt’s Creek is the sort of slow-simmer, quirky comedy that could only exist in our current TV landscape. It was a cult favorite with tepid reviews until it showed up on Netflix and became a bingeable staple. Fans of Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara’s years of playing over-the-top eccentrics in Christopher Guest movies may be surprised by the amount of warmth and heart the characters show over the course of their personal evolutions. They all start off obnoxious, but eventually become beloved — especially David (Dan Levy), whose sweet storyline with Patrick (Noah Reid) tugged at heartstrings. When Patrick finally took the stage, in front of everyone, to serenade David with an acoustic version of Tina Turner’s “The Best,” it effectively overturned the trope of the “small-minded small-town folks,” since a sappy open-mic can bring everyone together. —J.P.

Sex Education

Sam Taylor/Netflix

‘Sex Education’ (Netflix)

The clothes, music, and other background details can create the illusion that this British high school comedy takes place in the United States in the Eighties, if not earlier. But as uptight Otis (Asa Butterfield) sets up a bootleg sex-therapy practice at school inspired by the work of his mother, Jean (Gillian Anderson), the discussion of sex and sexuality is frank and modern, particularly in how the show deals with queer stories. The best of these involves Otis’ gay best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), which is less a traditional coming-out story (everyone already seems to know when the show begins) than about Eric becoming more comfortable in how he feels about himself and how he presents himself to the world. But there are a lot of other smart stories on LGBTQ subjects, from the technical (a gay virgin learns the logistics of anal douching) to the emotional (former best friends don’t work as a couple after both come out) — so many, in fact, that it’s a bit easier to forgive when one of the series’ queer storylines (involving a homophobic bully) doesn’t really work. —A.S.

Six Feet Under

©HBO/Courtesy Everett Collection

‘Six Feet Under’ (HBO/Max)

It’s been 15 years since Six Feet Under shocked fans with its upsetting, yet perfect, montage of death for the Fisher family and other characters — which was hailed by many as having one of the best finale’s in TV history. Alan Ball’s unusual drama about a family of morticians was always full of surprises, but one of the most fascinating was closeted son David’s exploration of his sexuality and love affair with Keith (Mathew St. Patrick), a cop who was refreshing in that he seemed to have his shit together. Veteran stage actor Michael C. Hall brought everything to the tortured character, which was needed for one of the most pivotal episodes, “That’s My Dog,” in which David is carjacked, forced to take drugs, and generally tortured psychologically for an hour. But the fights and sex scenes between the couple were truly legendary. —J.P.

Special

Courtesy of Netflix

‘Special’ (Netflix)

In its first episode, Ryan (creator Ryan O’Connell) gets hit by a car shortly before starting a job at an obnoxious new-media publication called “eggwoke.” When his co-workers assume that his limp is due to the accident, rather than his cerebral palsy, he’s thrilled that he’s not being pitied for his disability, but for just being an unlucky schmuck. This being a sitcom, he lies to keep up the charade — and hilarity ensues. O’Connell’s shortish series (just eight abbreviated episodes running under 15 minutes each), is the sort of sitcom that may not have had a large platform before streaming opened the floodgates to more diverse storytelling. In that way, it’s breaking similar ground to the Sundance Now series This Close, from deaf actors Shoshannah Stern and Josh Feldman, about a straight woman and gay man who are besties looking for love and understanding. The fact that we’ve reached a moment when we now have access to these types of relationship-driven stories that make room for jokes and smiles is truly a milestone worth celebrating. —J.P.

Steven Universe

Courtesy of Cartoon Network

‘Steven Universe’ (Hulu)

This exceptional, exceptionally LGBTQ-friendly Cartoon Network kids’ fantasy series follows adolescent Steven (Zach Callison) as he learns to save the world under the tutelage of three of his late alien mother’s partners from a race known as the Gems. The Gems are entirely female, and members of various subgroups (quartzes, sapphires, pearls, etc.) have historically found ways to “fuse” with others of the same subgroup; Steven’s friends are outcasts because they believe any Gem should be able to fuse with any other Gem (or even, in Steven’s case, with humans, like his father and would-be girlfriend). Fusion becomes an effective metaphor for a variety of queer experiences, particularly trans ones, and the unswerving empathy of Steven and the series as a whole proves both bracing and really necessary right now.  —A.S.

Tales of the City

Everett Collection

‘Tales of the City’ (Netflix)

Armistead Maupin’s fictitious Barbary Lane has unfolded over the past 40 years in the form of nine books, three miniseries, and, now, a Netflix limited series. At the heart is Mary Ann Singleton (Laura Linney), a cheerful 25-year-old Midwestern rube who is seduced by Seventies San Francisco, and upends her life to discover a whole new lifestyle. She lucks out by finding a Russian Hill apartment run by weed-loving Earth mother Anna Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis). She becomes friends with out-and-proud Michael “Mouse” Tolliver (Marcus D’Amico), has a complicated relationship with straight boy Brian Hawkins (Paul Gross), and learns to chill from free spirit Mona Ramsey (Chloe Webb).

The 1993 original may seem quaint to today’s audiences, but when it debuted as part of PBS’ American Playhouse, it might as well have been a glitter bomb meant to convert the masses. It sparked defunding debates during the height of the culture wars during Clinton’s administration, and PBS didn’t continue with the series despite record ratings. Showtime later produced two further minis, More Tales of the City and Further Tales of the City, but they’re difficult to track down and aren’t currently streaming. The latest iteration (from Orange Is the New Black writer Lauren Morelli) attempts to continue the Madrigal mythology, and certainly updates the storyline for a 21st-century queer audience. But the utopia of Barbary Lane is now servicing so many stories and generations and identities, it’s difficult to truly care about any of them for too long. —J.P.

Transparent

Erin Simkin/Amazon Prime

‘Transparent’ (Amazon)

Admittedly, this one’s now tricky to consider. Jill Solloway’s trailblazing dramedy was TV’s first series with a trans main character, following the story of college professor Maura Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor) as she comes out to her family late in life, and the ripple effect that announcement has on ex-wife Shelley (Judith Light) and adult children Sarah (Amy Landecker), Josh (Jay Duplass), and Ali/Ari (Gaby Hoffmann, whose character eventually identifies as non-binary).

It thoughtfully and movingly explored a wide variety of topics about trans and queer identity, and it featured a lot of trans performers in supporting and guest roles, most notably Alexandra Billings as Maura’s friend and roommate Davina. This was all to the good. But in an ugly, ironic real-life twist, Tambor was fired after being accused of harassing trans members of the cast and crew, and the series came to an ungainly finish (without him) in a musical special taking place in the aftermath of Maura’s death. The original run of the show remains great (particularly its first two seasons), but if you don’t want to revisit it in the wake of Tambor’s behavior — or simply don’t want to watch another cis man play a trans character (a practice the show’s success helped to largely eliminate) — it’s completely understandable. —A.S.

Twenties

Ron P. Jaffe/BET

‘Twenties’ (BET)

Budding mogul Lena Waithe gets autobiographical with this dramedy about three friends — one of them, the very Waithe-ish Hattie (Jonica T. Gibbs), is a soft stud with self-destructive taste in women — navigating life, love, and the entertainment industry. Lived-in and sharply observed, with what should be a star-making performance by Gibbs. —A.S.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Eric Liebowitz/Netflix

‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ (Netflix)

Over the course of its four seasons, Tituss Burgess was nominated for four Emmys for playing Kimmy’s roommate, actor-on-the-rise Titus Andromedon, and he’s often the one who steals the show — despite Ellie Kemper’s comedy chops. The series (created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock) is all about being strange — after Kimmy spent 15 years in an underground bunker, she ends up in New York City renting from a loopy landlady (Carol Kane) and working as a nanny for a bonkers uptown mom (Jane Krakowski) — and it never lets up. But it may never have had the shelf-life it did if it weren’t for Titus singing “Peeno Noir,” an ode to black penis, way back in Season 1. —J.P.

Vida

Kat Marcinowski/Starz

‘Vida’ (Starz)

In this half-hour drama, a pair of estranged sisters — Type A corporate exec Emma (Mishel Prada) and free spirit Lyn (Melissa Barrera) — reunite to run their mother’s East L.A. bar after she dies. Both are startled to discover their mother had a wife, Eddy (Ser Anzoategui) — particularly Emma, whose bisexuality had previously caused a big rift with their seemingly homophobic mom. Across its short but inviting three-season run, Vida offered a wide spectrum of stories about what it’s like to be queer and brown in America, deploying the female gaze more frequently — and just better — than maybe any show before it. —A.S.

Will & Grace

Chris Haston/NBC

‘Will & Grace’ (Hulu)

At its peak, Will & Grace made Nielsen’s Top 10 with more than 17 million weekly viewers. And while the series received as much hate mail as adoration — an inevitable byproduct of being the first show to have openly gay male lead characters — it lasted eight seasons before ending in 2006. It was Cher-loving Jack (Sean Hayes) and alcoholic, right-wing socialite Karen (Megan Mullally) as much as Will (Eric McCormack) and Grace (Debra Messing) that endeared Americans to the sassy sitcom, with lines like: “Commandment number one in the gay bible: Thou shalt not covet my ex’s ass.” In a surprise move, the four leads returned in 2017 to revisit their iconic roles, essentially picking up where they’d left off — despite how much had changed in the decade-plus since (and erasing some of the details of that finale episode). The show has since proven to be a treat: not when it’s trying to push political agendas, but when a character like Jack realizes time has moved on — and the cute 25-year-old doesn’t consider him as a peer but rather as a “dad.” —J.P.

Work In Progress

Adrian S. Burrows/Showtime

‘Work in Progress’ (Showtime, Hulu, Amazon)

The Wachowski siblings’ first TV series, the globe-spanning Netflix sci-fi drama Sense8, was already extremely comfortable in its own queerness, with main characters including a trans woman in a long-term lesbian relationship, a closeted Mexican actor, and a superpower shared by all its heroes that allowed any or all of them to experience each other’s joy and pain. Lilly Wachowski’s Showtime follow-up Work in Progress is far simpler and more mundane. Inspired by the life of its star, Abby McEnany (who created the series with Tim Mason), a depressed, obsessive-compulsive, self-described “fat, queer Dyke,” Work in Progress follows the fictionalized Abby as she ponders suicide, even while she begins a romance with twentysomething trans man Chris (Theo Germaine), and deals with ongoing nightmares like being mistaken for a man when she tries to use a ladies’ room. Smart, sad, and specific, Work in Progress is also emblematic of how many different kinds of LGBTQ+ stories TV has room for today. —A.S.

Wynonna Earp

Michelle Faye/©Syfy/Courtesy Everett Collection

‘Wynonna Earp’ (Netflix)

There’s a long history of fantasy and sci-fi fans finding queer subtext in shows that presented themselves as entirely straight (the original Star Trek, where the notion of Kirk and Spock hooking up invented slash fiction) or at least quasi-straight (Xena: Warrior Princess, which leaned into the chemistry between Xena and Gabrielle in later years). Eventually, it became acceptable for the subtext to become text, like Willow coming out in the college seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or, here, with Wynonna Earp’s sister Waverly (Dominique Provost-Chalkley) falling in love with local cop Nicole Haught (Katherine Barrell). The couple — referred to by fans, of course, by the portmanteau WayHaught — has proved such a beloved part of the monster-hunting series that, when you Google “Wynonna Earp cast,” Provost-Chalkley is the top result, even though she’s not the lead. —A.S.

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