The Lavender Tube's Best of 2021

by Victoria A. Brownworth

Bay Area Reporter

Tuesday December 28, 2021

The unmet promise of 2021 is almost at an end, along with, one hopes, the perils. As we move onward to 2022 and the midterm elections, we also have two new drugs in the COVID arsenal. But while we are in a new viral surge, let's stay safe, get vaxxed and boosted, wear a good mask, and watch the best TV of 2021.

You won't find "Succession," "Ted Lasso," and "Wandavision" here. We recommend those series, but we are focused on the best LGBTQ shows of 2021 that made the year more bearable as we did a lot of decompressing with Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max and, yes, some Apple TV and Peacock, too.

There are some new shows we also recommend that are brand new this week. Our editor, who is a sci-fi/fantasy buff, will love the dystopian "Station Eleven" (HBO Max). As a true crime buff, we are excited about "Landscapers" (HBO Max), with the extraordinary, award-heavy Olivia Coleman. And as we wrote last time, "With Love" (Amazon Prime) is more than just holiday froth with a Latinx cast. This is a limited series about the breadth and depth of how we feel about one another and oh how we need that, right now.

We also recommend "Reservation Dogs" (FX) and "The Sex Lives of College Girls" (HBO Max) for their very different takes on what it is to be coming of age Gen Z.

The Best of 2021
Here are what we thought were the best TV series featuring LGBTQ characters in primary roles, not as tacked on adjuncts to cis-het normativity. These series made queer, trans and nonbinary characters integral to their plots.

We will forever be grateful to this series for highlighting the lives of trans people and people with AIDS in ways we had never seen on screen before. We fell in love with the characters and the women and men who played them, notably Michaela Antonia Jaé Rodriguez, who, as Blanca, was the mother so many of us needed in our queer homeless youth; Billy Porter, whose Pray Tell churned up the screen with pain and pathos and resilience; and the luminous Indya Moore, whose Angel Evangelista broke our hearts again and again.

"Pose" is a series we will remember forever. It marked a time of great upheaval in our current LGBTQ landscape as it told stories from our collective queer, gay, and trans past. It also declared, more than any other series in 2021, that all Black and brown lives matter; on Netflix and FX.

"It's a Sin"
While "Pose" took many of us back to the bleak and angry days of the AIDS crisis with a compelling look inside that time with characters of color, a vantage point that had been largely hidden, "It's a Sin" follows several gay men in 1980s London. The men form a friend group, but the HIV/AIDS crisis in the U.K. threatens them and everyone around them. "It's a Sin" is a complex, funny, moving, and heartbreaking look at the AIDS crisis in the U.K., and it will leave you reeling in a similar way to "Pose."

Welsh show runner Russell T. Davies is best known in the U.S. for "Queer as Folk." "It's a Sin" has all the depth and pathos and wry humor that the original British series had and the American version did not.

The acting, direction, and writing in "It's a Sin" are stellar. Ritchie (Olly Alexander), Roscoe (Omari Douglas), Colin (Callum Scott Howells), Ash (Nathaniel Curtis), Arthur (Stephen Fry), and Henry (Neil Patrick Harris) are among the key players. Each is superb in their role, with Harris delivering one of his best performances in years.

The total range of the period is addressed, including the AIDS denialism that beset a swathe of the gay community, fed by outlier scientists and certain gay newspapers, even as people were dying every day.

Intergenerational relationships play a distinct role — both Roscoe and Colin are involved with older men — which is both true to reality and presents a looming question: Will any of these young men live to be the age of their benefactors? (See Feb 23 column.)

As with "Pose," these are real and realistic characters with a plethora of foibles. But they are so believable and true to both their time and our memory of it that you cannot look away. This is our history — tragic, survivalist, and resilient — on HBO Max.

"The L Word: Generation Q"
"The L Word: Generation Q" is the sequel series to "The L Word," which aired for six seasons on Showtime from 2004 to 2009. Similar to its predecessor, the series mainly follows the lives of a group of lesbian and bisexual women who live in Los Angeles.

"The L Word: Generation Q" differs from the largely white, mostly wealthy cast of its groundbreaking predecessor by adding some trans men, a whole lot of people of color, and women and trans people who don't have money. But like "The L Word," "Gen Q" is about love and sex and work. With a cast that includes folks we loved from the original series — Bette Porter (Jennifer Beals), the hot butch, Shane McCutcheon (Kathryn Moennig), and Alice Pieszecki (Leisha Hailey).

The new characters include Dani Núñez (Arienne Mandi), Micah Lee (Leo Sheng), Sarah Finley (Jacqueline Toboni, who we wrote about a lot here when she was starring in "Grimm"), Sophie Suarez (Rosanny Zayas, from "Orange Is the New Black"), Tess Van De Berg (trans actress Jamie Clayton, "Sense 8"), Pierce Williams (trans actor Brian Michael Smith, "Queen Sugar"), and a host of others.

Rosie O'Donnell, Rosanna Arquette, and Griffin Dunne all have recurring roles. Arquette and O'Donnell also starred on "The L Word"; on Showtime.

"The Other Two"
With so much drama in real life, a little lighter fare might help for our down time. "The Other Two" is very funny, with some terrific acting and writing.

The show is about two millennial siblings, Cary (out gay actor Drew Tarver) and Brooke Dubek (Heléne Yorke), who must grapple with their younger teen brother Chase's (Case Walker) overnight fame as a viral internet sensation with his pop video as singer Chase Dreams.

Added to this volatile mix is their mother, Pat (Molly Shannon), who is as eager for fame as Chase and is "Hollywood ready."

"The Other Two" is just wildly funny, witty and arch and acerbic by turns. This is such a totally relatable and painfully real premise, the characters are people we know (or have been), and it's comedy that doesn't hurt anyone to make its plentiful jokes work. All of which, given the world we are living in now, is pretty good, pretty powerful stuff; on HBO Max. (See Sept. 21 column.)

There are competition shows galore on the tube these days and all feature queer competitors, but "Legendary" is trés, trés gay, with ballroom and voguing houses from across the U.S. competing for big bucks and legendary status. This show has it all — high drama and high camp, but also élan, and so much talent. Eight diverse houses compete in nine balls. Judges include Jameela Jamil, Megan Thee Stallion, Law Roach, and Leiomy Maldonado; on HBO Max.

"We're Here"
"Drag Race" legends and alums Bob the Drag Queen, Shangela, and Eureka O'Hara crisscross MAGA America to meet young and older queer people in places that feel a little like purgatory, if not hell, and change their lives. This is big-box-of-tissues Bette Davis stuff, but OMG is it worth watching. This is one way to give the culture wars a run for their money and smooth those edges; on HBO Max. (See Nov. 26 column>.)

Boo hiss that this series about LGBTQ+ youth got cancelled after one season, but "Genera+ion" is an intense and intensely moving delve into life as a young queer/trans/NB person and all the emotional chaos that entails; on HBO Max.

Honorable Mentions
Other series we loved, and that we thought brought a lot of queerness and transness to the table, were ABC's "Big Sky," with its story line about sex trafficking and its stellar performances that included the amazing Jesse James Keitel as the trans singer and sex worker Jerrie and the first trans/cis kiss on network TV. The Netflix dramedy "Feel Good" with lesbian comic Mae Martin is about coming out and coming clean as it addresses love and being sober.

Netflix's "Special" stars and is created by Ryan O'Connell, a disabled gay writer who dares to think you can be disabled and sexy and sexual. Netflix's "Elite" remains super sexy, with bad boys and girls in a Spanish boarding school doing bad things — and who doesn't want to relive their misspent youth like this? The CW's "Batwoman" is here, queer superheroic, and not going anywhere despite recasts and other drama. It's probably the gayest show on network.

There was so much more to say about 2021's LGBTQ roster, but for now — watch, stay safe, and, of course, stay tuned! Happy New Year, you fabulous people!

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