This is the first year in half a decade where the landscape of queer TV felt less like an embarrassment of riches and started to just feel like an embarrassment. Streaming sites that promised a changed industry canceled show after show after show. But since 2016, our TV Team has compiled a list of our favorite TV characters — see: 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016 — and this year is no different. Now more than ever it’s worth celebrating what still does exist! There is still so much excellent queer TV that is getting made and so many great queer TV characters to celebrate — even if some of the shows below have since been canceled.
Hannah, The Afterparty
Hannah’s episode of The Afterparty is told like she’s the “heroine of a twee indie film” but we all know that it’s actually quite specifically a parody of a Wes Anderson film and wow, she is so weird, and so delightfully deranged. She’s like a Lorrie Moore or a Mary Gaitskill character, existing in the same world as everybody else but with an inner monologue so strong she may as well be somewhere else entirely. – Riese
Beverly and Elliot Mantle, Dead Ringers
I almost put these sinister twins played by Rachel Weisz in our upcoming Best Couple list. After all, when Beverly begins dating someone, Elliot does respond like a jealous lover from an 80s movie. But the more I thought about it the less these sisters felt like lovers and the more they felt like the same person. Their differences are distinct and yet as they swap places and fall deeper into codependence, they begin to feel like two sides of the same fucked up coin. David Cronenberg’s original film is one of my favorites so I went into this series with a healthy skepticism. It quickly vanished, in large part, due to Weisz’s delicious dual performance. She finds such nuance in their differences and, more frighteningly, the ways they’re exactly the same. — Drew
I’m here to double up the love for our demented doubled dead ringers. I do, unfortunately, agree with Drew’s initial instinct to consider them one of the Best Couples on television this year. Their twisted chemistry and toxic co-dependence is unlike anything else I watched this year. I’ve long been drawn to stories of fucked-up sisterhood, and the Mantle twins epitomize that dynamic. — Kayla
Mia Polanco, Everything Now
While deeply flawed and often frustrating, Everything Now’s protagonist Mia is such a realistic and familiar character to me. We meet her right as she’s getting out of a treatment facility for her anorexia, and her wobbly and complicated journey toward recovery is the backbone of the series. Mia’s anger issues are striking to encounter. She often pushes away characters who are only trying to help her. But this is all done with immense thought and care about eating disorder recovery, mental health, and just rendering nuanced and complex characters on screen. When thinking of best characters, I often think of characters on their worst behavior. — Kayla
Camille L’Espanaye, The Fall of the House of Usher
I admittedly have a Kate Siegel bias, but Camille demanded attention every time she was on screen and I gave it willingly. She wasn’t around for a long time but she made every second memorable with her eye-catching look and snappy lines. Case in point: “Please don’t talk to me until I’ve come at least twice.” I simply could not get enough of that bisexual bitch. We deserve queer villains, and she may have been “unlikable” but I sure loved her. — Valerie Anne
Verna, The Fall of the House of Usher
Why yes I am double dipping on The Fall of the House of Usher but everyone in the Flanaverse is gay so it was bound to happen. Also in my opinion Kate Siegel and Carla Gugino go hand in hand, two sides of a sexy coin. Joking aside, I’ve always known Carla Gugino was beyond talented, and she is always one of the most soothing and entrancing parts of any given Flanagan project, but what she brought to Verna was next level. So many layers, so much depth. She shifted and molded herself to be what each character needed her to be while never losing the throughline of what makes Verna Verna. I couldn’t pick a favorite version of her without ripping my hair out but I will say that Bartender Verna is high up there. — Valerie Anne
Ryan Wilder/Red Death, The Flash
Okay so is this cheating? MAYBE! But Ryan was on The Flash in 2023 and y’all know I’m not missing a chance to talk about my girl again! When Ryan first shows up, it’s as a villainous alternate version of Ryan known as Red Death. There are a bunch of shenanigans but honestly, none of that is as important as the moment when OUR Ryan swooped in to fight her own self and save the day. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about the batarang-sized hole Batwoman’s cancellation left in my heart. I’m not grateful to The Flash for much, but giving Ryan Wilder and us some closure is at the top of that list. Ryan represents a lot of things to a lot of people; a lot of firsts for Black people and queer women (in Gotham and IRL). But more than the symbol, Ryan is a Black woman who loves and wants to be loved. She stood in HQ, smiled, and told us that she’s Good. She has her Gotham family and her extended DCTV universe family, and I choose to believe that somewhere out there she’s getting the love she deserves. — Nic
Ellie Williams, The Last of Us
Oh my sweet sweet complicated murder daughter. The Last of Us is one of my favorite stories, period. I’ve played the video games multiple times; I’ve watched the show multiple times (and recapped it with Valerie Anne on this very website). With every playthrough and rewatch the one thing that remains the same, whether it’s Ashley Johnson or Bella Ramsey: Ellie Williams is a force. When we first meet her, she’s a foul-mouthed scrappy teenager with a chip on her shoulder, a heart that’s been through the wringer, and a desire for her life and her immunity to matter. And at the end of season one, she’s still all of those things; but she’s also learned just how messy her post-apocalyptic world truly is.
One of my favorite things about Ellie is that yeah, she can twirl her butterfly knife and shoot infected before they attack her, but she’s still just a kid. And I don’t mean “just” in a “she can’t do shit” way. I mean it in the way she can find joy in a silly joke book at the end of the world; or the way she tries to save Sam with her blood even though she knows deep down it won’t work. She’s a kid who has experienced immense loss and still keeps fighting even though a kid shouldn’t have to. One scene in particular that stands out to me both in the game and the show is when they have to get through an old hotel, and Ellie is delighted by pretending to act how she imagines a disgruntled hotel guest to act. There’s such an innocence to her reaction, but as soon as we share in Ellie’s delight, we’re snapped back to the reality that they’re in this place to avoid quite literally getting killed.
Throughout the season, we also get to watch Ellie’s effect on Joel. I mean, who else could manage to make Joel “Do I Even Have Teeth Because I Never Smile So Who Knows?” Miller go from seeing Ellie as mere cargo, to someone he imagines his daughter Sarah would have gotten along with?! Ellie manages to crack through Joel’s many many many walls with her sincerity, her humor, and frankly, her persistence.
Because we’re talking specifically about the show, I have to mention Bella Ramsey’s STELLAR performance here. They are the PERFECT Ellie. So much of Ellie’s character is in her physicality and what she doesn’t say; a nervous smile, a flicker of understanding in her eyes, a relieved sigh when her crush likes her back (don’t worry, I talk more about this in an upcoming Best TV Scenes list). And Bella delivers every line and expression in a way that breathes life into such a dynamic character. — Nic
My precious little murder bb, I love her so much. I was emotionally attached to the video games so Bella Ramsey had big chucks to fill but they absolutely embodied Ellie in every way. They walked the line between the hard-earned cynicism of a child of the apocalypse and the playful innocence of someone finally in the care of someone she trusts enough to let herself be a kid for a little while. Ellie is funny and strong and sad and scared and learning and growing right before our very eyes. She’s cynical but hopeful, she’s lost so much but she hasn’t fully closed off her heart, she is deeply traumatized but she still finds ways to laugh, and I admire all that about her. — Valerie Anne
During Minx‘s first season, plucky blonde Bambi was a character built on subverting expectations. She was a former nude model — but she was ambitious! She talked in a high pitch voice — but she was smart! She was high femme — but she falls for suburban mom Shelly! While Jessica Lowe did a lot to flesh out Bambi in season one, she’s supported by the writing in season two. The thing about all those subversions is they aren’t that subversive. They’re better than flat stereotypes but they’re still flattening. Now, Bambi is allowed to just be human — to just be. She’s trying to find her place within the infrastructure of the now successful magazine and is ready to move beyond the fake title of CFO (Chief Fun Officer).
This is a show about characters who are underestimated and Bambi is underestimated by the rest. She is at once self-confident, hardworking, and passive. It’s a combination that rings true to a character who first and foremost is compassionate and empathetic to those around her. It makes her continued relationship with Shelly even deeper — and occasionally — heartbreaking. When Shelly is trying to squash her feelings to remain loyal to her husband, Bambi doesn’t push back. She respects Shelly’s communicated desires even when they’re so obviously false. It’s a slow-burn without the chase and a sign of Bambi’s kindness and experience. It makes the lesbian longing even more angst-filled and the payoff even sweeter. — Drew
Mich, La flor más bella (The Most Beautiful Flower)
Mich, the protagonist at the center of La flor más bella (The Most Beautiful Flower), is convinced she’s on the precipice of greatness. She’ll finally go from being a high school nobody who’s never been invited to a single party to joining the most popular kids — all skinny, all white passing, all very unlike Mich — at her school’s fountain. All she needs is for the popular boy that she’s been secretly seeing to tell everyone about their relationship.
But, as Mich approaches the fountain, preparing for the big reveal, she slips on a skateboard and falls on her face. Everyone pretends not to know her, including the school’s dean, her cousin, and her boyfriend. Mich begs him to acknowledge her, to confess their love, but he refuses. Later, he tries to explain — “this is just how things work in our school,” he says — but she refuses to be his secret any longer.
“I’m the baddest freakin’ girl in the world,” she replies. “The whole world’s gonna see me like I do!”
The rest of the show is about how Mich gets the world to see her like she does but, along the way, she discovers that maybe she doesn’t know herself as well as she thought she did. It’s Majo, a transfer student who shows up in Xochimilco and immediately wins over everyone, that challenges Mich the most. At first, Mich longs to discover how Majo — the newcomer, exiled from her hometown because of her sexuality — finds a place at the fountain among the school’s elite. But then, Mich just longs for Majo…and it’s beautiful to watch her come to grips with her sexuality. — Natalie
Malaika, The Other Black Girl
From the moment Malaika name-dropped Rihanna as the only person she would share clothes with ON THEIR HONEYMOON, I was hooked. I would watch an entire season of Malaika just sleuthing her way through the city, helping unsuspecting potential cult prey see the truth, and tossing out quips left and right. While The Other Black Girl obviously spent most of its time on Nella and Hazel, its heart lay in Malaika. She’s the best friend who will read you for filth because she loves you and you need to hear it; become best friends with your white boyfriend because he treats you right and makes you happy; and help you start to dismantle the racist publishing industry. It would have been so easy for Malaika to fall into the classic “sassy Black bestie” stereotype, but I think that a big reason why her humor hits is because there’s so much heart behind it. Give Malaika her flowers! — Nic
I love horror, LOVE it, but I also love comedy. Happy Death Day, Get Out, The Blackening, Totally Killer, Yellowjackets; I love the combination of horror and humor. Because life is scary, but it’s also hilarious, and funny people don’t stop being funny just because scary or hard things are happening. That’s where Malaika comes in. Sure, something sketchy is going on at Nella’s work, something shady is up with Hazel, and Malaika isn’t about to ignore that fact, but she’s also not going to stop being hilarious because of it. She is Nella’s #1 hype girl, and is always ready to do a tight five about any situation, and I love that about her. She was such a great addition to this show, and the show would have suffered greatly without her. — Valerie Anne
Betty Cooper, Riverdale
I wrote about this several times throughout the season, but canonically bisexual Betty Cooper was easily the best part of Riverdale’s final season. I loved watching her character arc about young desire and sexuality unfold, especially because despite its 1950s setting, a lot of what she pushed up against regarding sexism and attempts to control teenager’s sexualities was oddly relevant and poignant for our current cultural moment. Betty’s fantasies were in some way the realest expressions of queer desire I encountered in the series. — Kayla
Quiet, Twisted Metal
I did not expect to like Twisted Metal as much as I did, but I really did, and it was largely due to Stephanie Beatriz’s Quiet. Her and John Doe had hilarious banter, we got to watch her open up as the series went on, we delved into her backstory and watched her character arc, each stage of her story portrayed so expertly by the range of Stephanie Beatriz. She was tough and funny and she just really delighted me at every turn. — Valerie Anne
Katherine “Kitty” Song-Covey, XO, Kitty
There’s just something about Katherine Song Covey — Kitty to her friends — from the first moment she’s introduced in Netflix’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. She is brash and sassy, confident and witty, loyal and fiercely protective of her family. It is impossible not to be charmed by her. In XO, Kitty, she’s given more room to be independent, to develop an identity beyond being Lara Jean’s little sister. She ventures off to in Korea, in hopes of learning more about the mother she never really knew…by walking the grounds of the same international school that her mother had attended decades prior.
Oh, and there’s a boy. Of course, there’s a boy.
It’s a bit like Felicity but younger and Asian and with a touch more depth. Kitty remains just as charming as she was in the films. But the certainty with which she walks through the world — and in particular, the certainty with which she approaches love — is quickly challenged upon her arrival in Korea and teenage chaos ensues. Among the chaos? An unexpected crush on a girl who starts out as her nemesis.
“I thought I knew everything there was to know about love, but then I met you,” Kitty tells Yuri when they cross paths at the airport.
I did not expect XO, Kitty to take this turn. The show had its gay stories — Yuri and her girlfriend, Juliana, and Q and Florian — that I wasn’t expecting more from it. Plus, so much of the narrative of the To All The Boys trilogy and the start of this series had been about boys that I didn’t see the queering of Kitty Song-Covey coming. I don’t get to be surprised often and so getting to go on this wholly unanticipated journey with a character I already loved…well, it was a delight.
Perhaps in a different year, Kitty wouldn’t rise to the level of “best,” but in a year when the right has fomented this war on LGBT media, these characters and their stories feel worth celebrating. Kitty Song Covey is just a teenage girl trying to find her way in the world…and her story is beautifully wholesome, no matter who she ends up with (though I really want it to be Yuri). — Natalie
This is a little bit behind-the-scenes (is the “inside baseball” work of how this website gets made interesting to anyone else but me? probably not), so please stay with me on the journey. I promise we are getting somewhere good.
In April, the PR team for Netflix started showing up in our emails trying to promote their new series, a spin-off of the beloved Gen Z romcom trilogy To All the Boys I Loved Before, centering on Kitty Convey. Riese of course asked immediately, “But is it gay?” And she was promised that there was a “beautiful coming out story,” fundamental to the core of the series, that even though we could not see in the previews or the trailer, most assuredly would happen. The thing is, PR people often exaggerate. That’s part of their job — no judgement at all! They have to sell the shows, so that we will in turn cover the shows. Riese knew that I was a a TALTBILB stan, so she asked me what I thought.
I studied the trailer from every angle. I read the casting notices. I read interviews with the crew. And I emphatically swore, and I mean up and down swore, that there was simply no way that XO Kitty would land on the Autostraddle beat. There was only one central character who could possibly fit the bill, and certainly… certainly… they were not going to make the fan favorite, scene-stealing, kid sister of the original trilogy queer now that she had grown up and her own protagonist. It would break the unspoken laws of everything I knew to be true about TV.
I have never been so happy to get something so spectacularly wrong.
Kitty Convey’s queerness isn’t apparent at first blush. Yuri, Kitty’s eventual crush, is introduced to the audience almost right away in the context of her girlfriend, Juliana, and her desire to keep her queerness away from her mother’s scalding eye. But Kitty, as fans of the original trilogy already know, is boy crazy — a character thread that’s picked up right away in XO Kitty’s first episodes. When she realizes her attraction to Yuri, it’s layered and unexpected. It’s as new for the audience as it is for Kitty, and handled with a gentleness to match its surprise. I cannot think of a better executed teenage coming of age executed last year, or a “plot twist” better handled by its production team from top-to-bottom.
XO Kitty was everything I’d hoped would come from a sequel to To All the Boys I Loved Before, a love story to the very softness of puppy love itself. Its saccharine and young, which either will be what you love or don’t. But it also was so so much more, and for that I’m forever grateful.— Carmen
Sophie Suarez, The L Word: Generation Q
This is a lifetime achievement award because, in my opinion, it’s hard to make an argument for Gen Q’s third season by any metric on its own. But this is my last chance to write a dedication to Sophie Suarez, who for me will always be a North Star, a symbol of myself on screen that is fleeting and rare, so I have to stop and pay my due respect.
Over the course of three seasons, Rosanny Zayas crafted a queer person who felt lived in and wholly relatable. It’s even more notable feat in a cast created to be full of queer characters, that Sophie was and remained a stand out until the end. Sure, Gen Q’s swerved more than it had any logical reason to and admittedly a good chunk of audience did not always agree with Sophie’s decisions, but I’d argue it was impossible not to watch Zayas on screen and go “oh yeah, I know someone like that.” Or at least, it was impossible for me.
An Afro-Latina who wasn’t a size zero, who had big heavy boobs that reminded me of my own (sorry, it had to be said), a workaholic who loved her family more than anything. Yeah, I saw myself in Sophie. A lifelong femme, I learned to love how I look in suits watching Sophie. And more than anything, I was so proud of where she ended up. In the final episodes of what we now know will be its final ever season, Sophie realizes that if she’s going to be working as hard as she is — with immense sacrifice — she might as well be doing so in service of her own dream, and not Alice’s (her boss). In the series finale, Sophie ends her reign in a flirtatious romp with who is, in my opinion, one of The L Word’s greatest love interest, Pippa Pascal.
Will I always wish that The L Word: Generation Q had given Black characters the full weight and respect they deserved, of course. And I think the way the show treated characters of color, especially Black characters, will always be a bitter pill to swallow. But I am glad that at least, in my imagination, Sophie and Pippa found each other. That Pippa showed Sophie a light out of the madness and towards her own peace. And maybe in turn, that’s a final lesson Sophie gave me as well. Given everything else, I don’t know that I could have asked for more. — Carmen
Jaqueline “Jaq” Lawrence, Top Boy
I was late to discover Top Boy. In fact, the only reason I watched it was because this fall Riese asked if any of us knew it was gay. We try to cover all the gays on television that we can find, but sometimes something slips through the cracks. That’s particularly true with international shows (though we are always striving to be better at it! I promise we are!) that can have different release structures or require a VPN to track down. Top Boy, a British drama that sits somewhere between The Wire and Power in terms of comparisons for American audiences, was available on Netflix. It’s endorsed by Drake. I cannot believe that we missed it.
There is a little bit of confusion around how to watch Top Boy, the first two seasons aired on Channel 4 in the UK and then it was brought back to life on Netflix years later. That means that what in the United States we call Top Boy is actually the third season of the show in the UK. Conversely, what the UK calls the first two seasons were actually released as a separate “prequel” series over here. If I’ve started to lose you, please come back! Jaq, the stoic Black masc lieutenant of a rival drug gang who loves and protects her family over everyone and everything else, is absolutely worth shifting through any confusion.
Technically, the third and final season of Top Boy aired this fall, which is what I should be focusing this writing on. But since I binged the entire series this year, please allow me to take a long view. What I love most about Jaq is that in the first season of the Netflix reboot (note: You can start at the reboot to follow the show, without returning to the prequel series) — she is a small character. It’s fun to have a masc lesbian in the crew of one of the two rival drug gangs, and its interesting to watch how the crew deploys Jaq’s maternal femininity to recruit young corner boys into the operation, but she mostly lays low. In the second season, however, we begin to pull back Jaq’s layers as her sister becomes a central character and also Jaq herself is given a love interest. By the third season Jaq is at the center of everything that ultimately falls apart. She becomes the bleeding, bloody heartbeat of Top Boy’s core, right when you least expect it. And watching her slowly move from the margin to the center? It’s delicious. It’s impeccable. It very well might be the best thing I watched last year. — Carmen
Adult Van, Yellowjackets
No offense to the wonderful Liv Hewson, but Van wasn’t one of my favorite characters during the first season. She’s not meant to be! She’s the stable foil, torn between the big personalities of Taissa and Lottie. But, as a former Six Feet Under superfan, I was thrilled when Lauren Ambrose was cast as her adult version. And My God did she not disappoint. Not only has Van grown into a harsher, more confident person — more appealing to me personally — she also owns a video store?? A dyke who owns a video store?? This character was made for me. In some ways, Van is the most different teen to adult and it’s fascinating to see echoes of her teen self in a totally new package. Like a VHS transfer to Blu-Ray if you will. — Drew
Who were your favorite queer TV characters of 2023? Let us know in the comments!