In a fantastic article on EW.com called TV’s New Gay Clichés, Mark Harris hits upon everything many of us have felt, but perhaps could not quite explain, about what is wrong with many of the gay couples we see on TV in this season’s network line up.
I don’t know about you, but as much as I love both Mitchell and Cameron from Modern Family, they’ve always been an oddly mismatched and unlikely couple. As if their gayness is all that matters. My good friend and I always joke that people try to set him up with any random single gay man they come across. “He’ll be perfect for you!” they say. “Oh yeah, what’s he like?” my friend asks. “Well, he’s gay!” they say.
Harris explains why it’s even worse than that:
Mitch is Gay TV Archetype No. 1—responsible but repressed, fussy, and trapped in a permanent state of exasperation. And Cam is Gay TV Archetype No.2—an OMG! Adorbs! Ka-WEEEEN!
Sounds about right. Harris also explains the squirm of discomfort many experience while watching the gay couple in The New Normal, who are trying to have a baby with a surrogate. You can’t help but fall in love a little bit with the “straight-acting” (as Harris calls him) half of the couple, Justin Bartha, who reminds me of almost all my best gay friends… As in, he’s just a normal dude who loves his partner. But then they give us Andrew Runnells’ character whom Harris describes as “what a doll invented by Bravo would be like” (right down to his hair that looks rubberized), and we are supposed to like this super-shallow, self-obsessed guy because of the fact that he’s an adorable gay… But not because of anything redeeming. As viewers, we want to see what Bartha’s character loves about this man, but… we just don’t. As Harris explains, we’re just supposed to take the show’s word for it that these characters are not only likable, but also compatible.
It’s not surprising that in The New Normal, the characters are silly and flat. After all, the show was co-created by Ryan Murphy, the creator of Glee, which has a lot of good qualities, but depth of character is not one of them.
So we ask ourselves, what’s wrong with a few flat characters on TV? I mean, it’s TV it’s supposed to be fun!
But I’ve got to insist that it’s a little different when we’re talking about gay couples, because there are still at lot of Americans who don’t know any happily committed same-sex couples, and it’s actually pretty amazing how many folks primarily learn about people who are different from them on television. Think about Joe Biden, our Vice President, who credits Will and Grace for opening his eyes to the realities of life as a gay man! Our Vice President!
In the case of Modern Family, which really is wonderful and does do so much good, and now The New Normal, the caricature-ish nature of these couples makes them sort of hard to buy at the best, and forced and unnatural at the worst. And the last thing we should be reinforcing about same-sex couples is the idea that they are unnatural.