MTV’s “Faking It” Is Pretty Good, For Real

When I first saw the trailer for MTV’s new teen dramedy “Faking It,” I was confused, but mostly appalled. Really? A show about best friends deciding to masquerade as a lesbian couple in order to improve their popularity? At a time when LGBTQ kids are still bullied mercilessly in the majority of American high schools? Seriously, there haven’t been two actual lesbians topping the marquee of an American TV show about high school students since the short-lived Nick series South of Nowhere got the ax six years ago, yet somehow a show about two fake lesbians got picked up?

Good news: The trailers are way more offensive and annoying than the show itself (especially this trailer, which I hate with the fury of a thousand suns). The story, which follows best friends Amy and Karma who take being mistaken for a lesbian couple at an ultra-liberal high school as a golden opportunity to improve their social standing, isn’t about two fake lesbians; it’s about one fake lesbian and one very confused best friend who is probably an actual lesbian. In fact, it’s the fake relationship that enables Amy’s gradual revelation of her own Sapphic leanings, and it happens in a way that a lot of queer women can relate to. You know, the whole “falling in love with your best friend” thing.

Show producer Carter Convington (10 Things I Hate About You, Greek), a Trevor Project volunteer who is married to Greek creator Parker Sean Smith, told The Backlot that when he pitched the show to MTV, he made it clear that “for this to have legs to me, for this not to be an offensive premise, I think one of them needs to realize she has feelings for her best friend because that’s what I felt in high school. I had all these relationships where I wanted it to be more, but I couldn’t say so. And [MTV] loved that.” Also, the “plot” to get popular by being gay isn’t so much a scheme both girls come up with as it is a thing they’re pushed into, and that Amy continues going along with because Karma loves the attention and Amy will pretty much do anything Karma wants her to do. (Sound familiar?)

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I’ve now seen two early episodes (101 and 103) and bits and pieces of scripts for other episodes, and so far… it’s kinda cute, y’all! It’s actually a big deal, too, because having a show about high schoolers consistently centered around a lesbian character is pretty rare. (I emphasize “consistently” because 3-4 episode story arcs exploring female queerness isn’t unusual— The OC, Once and Again, 90210, Heroes, Greek, One Tree HillSecret Life etc.) Although cannon high school queer female characters have played leading roles in ensemble casts, like Santana and Brittany on Glee, Imogen, Fiona, Paige and Alex on the Canadian import Degrassi, Emily on Pretty Little Liars and Tea on the poorly-executed US edition of Skins, this is only the second time we’ve had a queer girl at the epicenter of a prime-time American show about high school. (I would’ve included Buffy, but Willow didn’t come out ’til college.) And whereas Emily Fields’ coming out story was a sideplot to Pretty Little Liars‘ murder mystery situation and Santana doesn’t even show up, let alone lez out, in many Glee episodes, Amy’s story is the story in “Faking It.”

Amy (newcomer Rita Volk) and Karma (Katie Stevens from American Idol) are students at the ultra-liberal Hester High School in Austin, “a blue oasis in the red sea of Texas” where The Plastics are losers and The Freaks rule the school. Lauren (Bailey Buntain) is our Regina George. She curses the day her father and Amy’s “Weather Girl” mother Farrah fell in love, thus dooming Lauren to a “socialist, Kumbaya freak show of a high school” which she’s certain is the only school in Texas where she can’t kick losers off her favorite bench and she isn’t a shoo-in for homecoming queen.

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…and somebody stole Lauren’s last Diet Doctor Pepper this morning

Meanwhile, Liam (Greg Sulkin, who you might recognize from his turn as Wesley on Pretty Little Liars), the most popular and best-looking boy in school, makes installation art, leads naive political protests and is best friends with Shane (Michael J. Willet of United States of Tara and G.B.F.), who is openly gay.

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…and you can expect to see both of them in modified gif sets and epic fan fic all over the gay boy web

As much as I’d like to dismiss this situation as a Hollywood fantasy that inadvertently plays into the dreams of right-wing conservatives who insist the gays already have it made and therefore don’t need things like equal rights, I must admit that I briefly attended a public “alternative” high school just like this once, also in a liberal oasis (Ann Arbor) in an otherwise not-so-liberal state (Michigan), where being bisexual was, indeed, cooler than being straight, nobody played sports, the goths had their own floor, everybody smoked American Spirits, mock trial was a coveted extracurricular and school dances often doubled as Food Not Bombs fundraisers. And that was in the mid-90s. It’s uncommon, but it happens.

The abundance of gay acceptance at Hester High School would, in isolation, feel cheap and insulting, but it works ’cause it’s only one of many hyperbolic aspects of student culture. The third episode centers on an Occupy-inspired student protest against a Google-esque tech company’s prospective $9 million dollar donation, which would potentially rescue the school from severe budget cuts and could fund an organic farm-to-table cafeteria. But the students are more concerned with lofty ideals and dissent-for-dissent’s-sake than grim pragmatism, of course, and protest on. The students’ ahistorical embrace of gay peers works because it’s not the only thing these students rally around so idealistically. Their teenage enthusiasm betrays a sheltered ignorance about the context of any of their chosen crusades — they’re just thrilled to be crusading at all.

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Also worth noting: Senta Moses, who plays the bleeding heart realist Principal Penelope, is delightful — and you might recognize her from her three-episode arc as Delia Fisher on My So-Called Life. In fact, Moses appeared with the rest of the cast on a panel about Faking It moderated by Wilson Cruz last week, who played the revolutionary gay character Ricky Vasquez on MSCL.

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Sure, it’s important to realistically depict how hard high school is for LGBTQ kids, too. But there’s something to be said for what kids can pick up from seeing acceptance, rather than rejection, as the accepted model of behavior. I still think that the scene where Kurt is defended from bullies by the hyper-heterosexual men of the McKinley High football team is possibly the most powerful thing Glee ever did, and it floored me the first time I saw it. I’d never seen anything like it before! It’s only within the last five years or so that we’ve even seen gay guys and straight guys be friends on television, as Liam and Shane are in this show. I often wonder if things could’ve changed for us sooner if straight people had seen more positive, if excessively optimistic, portrayals of “finding out your friend is gay” stories. Instead, show after show reminded us that it’s perfectly normal for your friends to reject you after coming out — Buffy’s casual reaction to Willow’s coming out was significant and remarkable for its time, too. Plus not everybody in Austin is enthused for Amy and Karma — Amy’s stereotypically Texan parents aren’t going to take her “coming out” quite as well as Karma’s hippie parents who peddle kale smoothies for a living.

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This isn’t to say that the show doesn’t also miss some really glaring opportunities to be even better — the main cast is almost entirely white, for starters, which is especially irritating because it’s set in Austin, which is only 57% white and, like much of Texas, boasts a sizeable Hispanic population. A school environment like Hester would be a great place to challenge the television stereotype that progressive liberal politics and gay acceptance are the exclusive domain of the white and privileged. Currently, the two most visible characters of color are Lauren’s boyfriend, Tommy (Erick Lopez) and sidekick Leila (Courtney Kato).

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So many white people, so little time

There’s also a few awful comments made about bisexual folks at the tail end of 103. Hopefully it was attempted lampshading, because the conversation begins as bitching about Karma’s affair with Liam, and Karma isn’t actually bisexual, she’s straight — but that doesn’t really absolve the Shane of his offhand dig about the horrors of dating bisexual men. I hope the show’s discourse around bisexuality will improve or, better yet, that those comments won’t make it to air (press screeners don’t always represent what shows up on the television set). Bisexual people constitute the largest segment of the LGB population and bisexual men are second only to transgender folks in terms of lacking mainstream acceptance. Plus, LGBTQ adolescents, who I imagine constitute a sizeable chunk of this show’s target audience, are more likely to identify as bisexual or “label-free” than lesbian or gay. Considering the show’s premise is already a shaky bet with respect to its appeal to LGBTQs, cleaning up shit like that could go a long way towards ensuring its success.

There’s a lot going for it behind-the-scenes, too. The producer, as aforementioned, is a gay guy, and my fingers are crossed that his touch will be more like Peter Paige’s and less like Ryan Murphy’s. The show’s main writers are the female comedy writing team of Dana Goodman and Julia Lea Wolov. Openly gay Jamie Travis directed five episodes and the other three were directed by the Emmy-Award winning editor/producer/director Claire Scanlon, who’s also directed The Office. There’s one thing missing, though: as far as I know, there aren’t any actual gay ladies involved in making this gay lady show.

As I said in Mey’s article about “Faking It,” the “friends/co-workers pretend to be a couple to get [a thing]” is a popular trope, because it is a compelling scenario with a lot of built-in drama and sexual tension. If this show makes room for Amy and Karma to actually fall in love, then it could win over even its harshest critics and be a great gateway to exploring sexual fluidity. However, Karma is so far totally insufferable as a person and if she doesn’t stop talking about Liam soon, I’m probably going to stick forks in her eyeballs and then NOBODY WILL GET A LOVE STORY.

I found this on tumblr, feel pretty good about it

I found this on tumblr, feel pretty good about it

Carter told The Backlot that the fake-lesbian storyline “will not be the life of the series. It’s not sustainable. I think it’s a good model that you can start with a premise. And if you build the show and the characters and everything, the premise can kind of fall away, and you still want to follow these people’s lives.”

I don’t expect anyone who’s only seen the trailers to feel anything but apocalyptic indignation towards this positive review of the show, but I think the show will pleasantly surprise you. The last time MTV attempted a queer female character, Sophia Swanson in Underemployed, she was super-rad but eventually drowned out by hackneyed hetero storylines before the series was swiftly cancelled. Then there was the lesbian-identified Tea in Skins, whose primary storyline centered around her sexual relationship with a dude. Considering that in the 1990s it was MTV’s The Real World and Undressed that gave me the first queer female characters remotely my age, it’s disappointing that gay boys have dominated the network and nothing quite so innovative has happened for ladies in a long time. Could this be The Great Lesbian Show we’ve Dreamed Of All Our Lives? Not quite yet — but it’s still pretty damn good.


Faking It premieres April 22nd at 10:30 PM ET/PT on MTV.

Avatar of Riese

Riese is the 32-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1719 articles for us.

48 Comments

  1. Thumb up 24

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    Okay real talk, I watched this show and seriously thought I was gonna hate it because it seemed super tropey and I’m not here for having my heart broke by a storyline about a straight girl breaking her gay friend’s heart.

    BUT I watched it and totally loved it? There are people who are going to be offended but it’s actually really cheesey – like four cheese pizza kinda cheesey – and even though Amy and Karma’s dynamic made me a lil teary, I’m excited to see a storyline about a teen gay that is at least a little different from the ‘I’m super closeted pls watch the show until I come out’ or the ‘here, queer and ready to party from day one’ plots.

    So yeah, I massively agree with this and I think people should watch and be massively surprised too!

  2. Thumb up 38

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    Honestly, as important as it is to show the hardship lesbians can face in high school, I’m tired of every lesbian storyline being filled with tragedy and angst, as if there’s no way to be gay and get a happy ending. We’re only starting to move away from that trope. If this show ends up being a fluffy, happy (if unrealistic) rom com, I’m cool with that. Young questioning women need something to hope for too.

  3. Thumb up 6

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    I read someone’s review of it a few days ago and I’ve been obsessively looking for it online until I realized it doesn’t technically air until this week. I’m so happy that my optimistic hopes seem to have been fulfilled with this show. The blonde/brunette dynamic and the photo of the juxtaposed moms just set my Faberry-heart a-flutter. I’m totally okay with projecting my deepest emotions onto this plot.

  4. Thumb up 5

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    I’m so jealous that you (I’m pretty sure based on your description) went to Community, Riese! I’m from small-town West MI but live in Ann Arbor now and all my friends that went to Community learned/did so much cool shit in HS and my HS sucked.

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      awww! Actually, I was one of those 8th graders who camped out in the cold in front of the administration building for three days in order to get a spot back in the ’90s, but unfortunately I did not get a spot and had to go to pioneer. but all my friends were at community, so sophomore year I dual enrolled and bussed over to community after third hour every day. Since I had lunch and all my afternoon classes at community, and was even accepted as an honorary member of an advisory (homeroom), it FELT like I went there, but I never officially did. by the time my name came up on the waitlist, I’d already left ann arbor for boarding school up north! my younger brother ended up getting in and going there, actually, and it’s a great school.

  5. Thumb up 10

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    For real, though, I’m currently a college freshman and this is exactly what my high school was like-school dances and prom queens were not even paid attention to, the most popular kids were the theater kids and choir kids with the most obscure vinyl collections, a student protest group lobbying for better-funded schools was one of the most coveted extracurriculars, and freaking everybody smoked American Spirits. Then again, I’m from Portland, so you might not want to consider my high school experience to be typical.

  6. Thumb up 9

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    I was skeptical, but gladly autostraddle has its hands on everything queer and I am now actually excited to see what comes out of this. I trust your good judgement as always, I guess, but mostly I’m just glad that there’s a new show about lesbians I can watch. There should be more of those.

    Also, you mentioned “the main cast is almost entirely white, for starters (although Katie Stevens is of Portuguese heritage)”. I feel as that may have left some room for confusion, but to be clear, Portuguese are white and not at all hispanic. So, her heritage means nothing in this case, which overall doesn’t make it any better.

    • Thumb up 5

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      Thanks for the clarification! Somebody told me that I was wrong about them all being white because she was Portuguese, which confused me but I went with it anyhow. I think I’ll just remove that parenthetical statement, then?

  7. Thumb up 11

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    I’ve been defending the hell out of this show on Tumblr. Could it be better? Yeah. But it’s also fulfilling my not-so-secret, long-held desire for a cheesy John Hughes-ian lesbian comedy, so I am THERE. It’s like “Can’t Buy Me Love” with fewer cash exchanges and more gays. Plus, the showrunner is the guy behind the “10 Things I Hate About You” TV series from a few years back, starring Paige McCullers, and it featured not only a fat lesbian, but one who got to have a relationship and wasn’t made fun of for being a lesbian or fat (and I’m pretty sure it was an interracial relationship, so double score). I have high hopes (but to be met, they’re going to have to do something about that POS Liam, because he’s giving me some serious Finn Hudson flashbacks).

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      And also, I’ve been substitute teaching for a majority of this school year, and I’ve found that kids really are more understanding of differences. I still hear f*g and that ilk tossed around by kids who are obviously not angels, but more than that I’ve heard frank discussions about being a gay teenager, and gay teens being included in your regular relationship talk – it just seems so normal. I’m teaching in Southern Indiana, too, so this doesn’t ring as untrue for me as it seems to for other people.

  8. Thumb up 4

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    Yeah, I grew up in Brooklyn and my school wasn’t perfect but it was liberal enough for me to be able to buy an environment like that. Even if I’d known about my queerness growing up I would never have had to worry about being bullied for it, so in a way this kind of portrayal of high school actually rings truer to me than most traditional portrayals–my school was never as extreme as the one in this show, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to learn that schools like that actually exist.

  9. Thumb up 11

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    As someone who has always lived in Texas and now teaches at a high school in Austin, I’m really interested to see how they portray this high school/the girls’ experiences. I used to live in Houston and, compared to that, Austin is incredibly segregated and white-washed. There is a huge hispanic population and a large black population, but I know there are large portions of Austin’s white population (both conservatives and liberals) that just only hang out with other white people. I work at a school that is ~90% hispanic and 90% economically disadvantaged (i.e. students have free and reduced lunch, etc.) and I see virtually no openly LGBT students. Although I’ve been pleasantly surprised to meet many gay lady teachers, they are all white, as am I. It is certainly disappointing that we can’t seem to get LGBT representation and POC representation going in the same show–I mean, they did it in Glee–but I guess it’s early on so I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

    I’ve also just gotta say that the diet dr. pepper photo caption was perfection. We Texans are really fucking serious about our dr. pepper.

    • Thumb up 0

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      Honestly, my biggest gripe right now might be the setting. Austin’s hipster reputation comes from the gaggle of 20 something hipsters that move here, spend ten years in a completely cutoff cocoon, and move out.

      In my experience, non hipster Austin is actually quite regressive. Segregated, racist, illiberal. This was a critical incubator of Alex Jones, Joe Rogan, and Ron Paul. We didn’t approve of direct council elections until last year.

      And high schools weren’t much better. It wasn’t that there was hoomophobia, it was that the language wasn’t even there. It just didn’t exist. And in the high schools where it did exist, it was just a slur to use at anybody who didn’t very stereotypical modes. And this fall, we’re getting sex segregated schools.

      Hester High is a lie.

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        Yeah I get what you mean. And my problem is that I feel like the “liberal” side of Austin is also pretty racist and classist, but they listen to Odd Future and they voted for Obama so they just kind of pat themselves on the back and call it a day. Like, I went to Austin Pride last summer and it was just so commercial and company-dominated. I just kept wondering where the actual queers were at. I don’t know…I am afraid that this show will contribute to that self-congratulatory, counter-productive thing we have going on here and our false sense of a post-racist, post-sexist, post-homophobic society.

  10. Thumb up 13

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    I think its very interesting that seemingly we are still waiting for queer women’s media to ‘grow up’ past these adolescent storylines. I mean save for the LWord, I feel like everything we get given is either light and fluffy adult characters in comedys or we get teenagers.

    All I want is a Weekend or a Keep the Lights On for queer women where no one has sex with a man and lesbian sex isn’t made out to be terrible. Thats all I want. I am sick to death of half a queer womans storyine being about the men she doesn’t want to date

    Also, this ‘super liberal’ area where being queer makes you cool is incredibly dangerous and brushes over heteronormativity and compulsory heterosexuality.

    Just this is stupid. Give me a real TV show or film like gay men have been getting for years

  11. Thumb up 6

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    Oh my god I’m so happy it turned out good. I’ll add it to my DVR list. I gotta say, MTV has really impressed me the last couple of years when it comes to handling women and feminism. Shit is streets ahead 90% of the other stations out there, which is not what I expect from a channel that is mostly reality tv dramu.

  12. Thumb up 5

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    I’m surprised that you haven’t mentioned the Michael J. Willett and Gregg Sulkin interview where they both said that Liam is attracted to Karma because he thinks she’s a lesbian and he wants to ‘conquer the lesbian’, it’s unbelievably gross and I’ve seen it a lot on Tumblr:

    Gregg, do you think part of Liam’s attraction to Karma is about the fact that he thinks she’s a lesbian?
    GS: Definitely. I mean, realistically, with straight guys in school, I think if you ask a bunch of guys, do they think it’s hot? They’ll say yes.
    MJW: Well, it’s hot and it boosts your confidence, right?
    GS: It’s like a challenge, you know? Everyone wants what they can’t have. So Karma, to me is…
    MJW: I conquered the lesbian.
    GS: Yeah. Conquered the lesbian. She’s mine.

    http://www.thebacklot.com/mtv-faking-it-michael-j-willett-greg-sulkin-interview/02/2014/

    yeah this show sounds like really great representation for young lesbians

    • Thumb up 12

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      All of that is in the show, actually, not just that interview. It’s very clear that Liam’s primary draw to Karma is that he thinks she’s a lesbian and he loves the idea of getting with a lesbian, and that’s realistic! We’ve all met straight guys like that.

      But it’s definitely not presented uncritically, and I don’t think anyone who watches the show is given the impression that we’re supposed to think that kind of behavior or desire is cool or acceptable. It’s gross and terrible, which is why Liam is gross and terrible. And I’m not a big fan of Karma either, to be honest. And of course the punchline is that Karma isn’t a lesbian, she’s straight, so joke’s on him — he didn’t conquer anything. He just has to face the reality of the fact that he didn’t give a shit that this girl even existed until he thought she was a lesbian, which makes him a class-A douche.

      • Thumb up 2

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        Yeah we’ve all met straight guys like that before but these two straight guys are working on a show that’s supposed to offer positive representation to young lesbians. They were NOT talking as their characters when they said that it’s ‘hot’ to try to convince a lesbian to date you.

        And, no, the joke would be on Liam if she didn’t actually want to date him. Isn’t the point that she pretends to be a lesbian *specifically* because she wants him to be interest in her? How does that not give credence to the idea that teen lesbians are liars? But I’m sure that once it actually airs, everyone will be so enamoured with it, this show’s gross attitude towards lesbians will be completely forgotten and we’ll keep hearing about how great it is at representing ~sexual fluidity~.

  13. Thumb up 3

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    Well I sorta already wanted to watch this to see what kind of a train wreck it would be..and now I HAVE to watch it, because Riese made such a damn compelling argument.

    It’s like I’m mad, but actually not at all.

  14. Thumb up 8

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    YES to this whole article! I was thinking that faking it had loads of potential, and then the pilot was just… super cute? I’m excited because -touch wood- it doesn’t seem like Amy is going to end up dead and sad and alone, like we’re used to seeing in… every media ever. So i’m super keen to see how the series plays out- like, Amy’s face after the big kiss scene in the pilot- oh my god girl, I know that feel.

  15. Thumb up 0

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    I’m going to remain on the fence about this until we get a few episodes in and then I’ll watch it. I like to give a new show a chance past the pilot because some of my favorite shows have had the roughest pilots.

  16. Thumb up 6

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    Idk I just went to a screening of the first few episodes with the cast and showrunner Carter Covington, and I was pretty disappointed by their answers to some of the questions. Convington talked about how he doesn’t want this to be an “LGBT show” but a show for “everyone”–those things are not mutually exclusive! And why distance yourself from the rich cultural production of queer communities? It felt like he wanted to sanitize the queerness to appeal to straight people. While listening to him I kept wondering if any LGBTQ women actually contributed to writing the show and how much input they got–the show kinda feels like “lesbians from a gay man’s wishful thinking perspective” to me. I do think they have the best intentions, and I really hope this show makes young LBGTQ people feel good feelings. Hopefully the offputting comments were just reflective them still learning how to talk about these subjects with the viewers.

    • Thumb up 9

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      Wow, yeah that is really disappointing! I find that happens with pretty much every LGBTQ television show or film with a mainstream distributor once it comes time to promote, though. Which isn’t to say that it’s okay — it’s not and I would have had rage fits had i been sitting next to you there — but that it doesn’t necessarily differentiate this show from others with LGBTQ themes. I wish that more showrunners would realize that if humans can get into shows about vampires, that straight people can certainly get into shows about gay people.

  17. Thumb up 0

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    This show didn’t appeal to me at first because I felt it would probably lean more towards favouring heterosexual relationships; it’s kind of portrayed as a phase that is used to gain attention before they enter into a “serious” heterosexual relationship and is therefore devoid of the same type of meaning and relevance. However, the article you wrote is pretty compelling and it makes it so that I am hopeful that their relationship will actually turn into something more than what they thought. My number one favourite show will always be the L word, though. I really miss Shane and Carmen. :S

  18. Thumb up 0

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    We will never get this in England. PLL stopped being shown here. Awkward is the only non-reality show I can think if on MTVUK. They are showing that show (I know), the name escapes me, where the Lesbian child of two mothers goes off to find her sperm donor and miscellaneous siblings…so there’s a step forward.

  19. Thumb up 1

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    After watching the first episode I remain really on the fence, because I want to root for Amy and I want Karma to grow as a person (hoping her name is gonna bite her in the ass) but I also think there is a Glee liked naivety to the show in that it’s too bubbly and not very careful about what it says. Also, it’s already difficult to tell all the white people apart.

    Side note: Tea, the terrible lesbian, was a prime example of why the USA should stop doing remakes of British TV and just watch the stuff that comes out of the UK. Because season 3 of Skins was awesome.

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