Boob(s On Your) Tube: Shondaland Is Back And More Traumatic Than Ever

When I got my start writing for AfterEllen in the summer of 2008, we held all of our lesbian and bisexual pop culture news for our Friday column, Best.Lesbian.Week.Ever, and we wrote about non-gay things lesbians liked to talk about five or six times a day on our blog. Every writer produced a single story for our weekly column; it was a scramble every week to try to come up with something. The intense panic I felt on Thursday afternoons if only five lesbian/bi pop culture stories had surfaced and I hadn’t claimed one yet would practically have me breathing into a paper bag. Everything was news! Everything! Every celebrity who breathed the word “lesbian,” every time two women brushed their lips together on sweeps week. I will never in all my life forget the way my heart almost banged its way out of my chest when I stood in line at Kroger to buy Ellen and Portia’s wedding issue of People. Lesbians, in love, on the cover of a popular entertainment magazine! I cried so hard on the way home, I had to pull my car over.

The landscape of queer pop culture (and the internet) has shifted so drastically since then that the methods of 2008 are almost unrecognizable. News moves a hundred times as fast, is delivered through social media platforms more than anything else, and gay people are everywhere.

One of the most dramatic things I’ve ever watched is the evolution of queer women on TV over the last eight years. When I started writing about queer pop culture, there wasn’t a single lesbian or bisexual woman on broadcast network TV, and certainly there were no trans women. Now, it seems like queer women on TV are everywhere. On broadcast TV and network TV, on talkshows and reality shows. Shows that portray us well are nominated for all kinds of prestigious awards. And celebrities are out and about in real life, coming out on Instagram like it’s no big deal and kissing their wives and girlfriends all over the place.

It’s not just TV that has changed. When Television Without Pity closed its doors in 2014, it signaled the end of a culture of recapping that basically birthed the modern day internet. I remember thinking at the time that if a website backed by NBCUniversal couldn’t sustain play-by-play, scene-by-scene, exhaustive recaps written by some of the most skilled and celebrated TV writers the internet had ever seen, what hope did anyone else have? The way we write and talk about TV — not just “we” as in “queer women,” but “we” as in “the internet at large” — has changed almost as much as TV itself over the last several years. TWoP writers had a week to write a full recap of the shows they covered. A week. Can you even imagine?

What I’m building to is this: I have watched and written about a lot of really good queer TV over the past year. But I have also spent hundreds of hours watching and writing about TV that, in total, probably added up to about half an hour’s worth of quality queer content. Yeah, there were over 150 lesbian, bisexual and trans women on TV in 2015 — but only a fraction of those characters were written into engaging, feel-it-in-your-guts stories. We’re making solid strides, numerically. But in terms of quality, we’ve still got mountains to move. We need more leading queer women; we need more queer women of color; we need more three-dimensional trans women; we need more nuanced portrayals of queer couples; we need our sweeping, breathtaking, long-game Pam and Jim; and our short-game laughs-a-lot Cam and Mitchell.

And so we’ve decided that we’re no longer going to adhere to that old recapping model we inherited. We’re not going to write about every thing every character ever does, as long as she hinted at having a crush on another woman at some point in her life. We’re going to usher in the dawn of a new age of writing about queer women on TV.

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We’re going write smart, exciting, critical analysis of queer things on TV. And we’re going to expand our coverage to engage in smart dialogue about feminist things on TV too. I can’t tell you how it pains me that I’ve spent ten hours watching Rosewood for five minutes of good gay stuff, instead of writing four awesome articles about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Person of Interest, and Supergirl. Feminist TV is about to have its day. So, going forward, you can expect to see at least one really solid, really timely, really informed TV piece per week on this website. And we’re going to write fun stuff that’ll make you giggle too!

I will be recapping Pretty Little Liars through the end of season six (and that will be the end of it, if the show doesn’t pull out of the nose-dive it’s in with Emily’s storylines), and I’ll continue recapping The Fosters. Riese will recap Faking It. And collectively we’re going to dig into Orange Is the New Black in a new way this summer. Boob(s On Your) Tube will hit our site on Tuesdays and Fridays; instead of covering everything every week, however, we’ll only be covering shows that have proven they have substantial queer content and are dedicated to being good and real with their queer audiences. We love our shows with queer guest stars, don’t get me wrong, but there are better ways for us to write about them. Shows with minimal queer content will be relegated to short round-ups in the final Boob(s On Your) Tube column of the month.

Our goal is to stop adding to the noise and getting distracted by the status quo, and to move the conversation forward so that we can move the culture forward. We’re not rewarding half-assed effort, dubious storytelling, or shows that are obviously just checking that “diversity” box. Queer TV’s getting good, we’re going to make it even better.


Grey’s Anatomy

Thursdays on ABC at 8:00 p.m.

Written by Aja

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Well, it could be worse. I could be a lesbian living in Rosewood.

Meredith’s hair looks incredible. Better even than the night of the awful horrible unspeakable dinner party. You almost don’t notice the fading, still angry wound at her throat as she’s standing in front of a room full of residents, cadaver beneath her gloved hands. It isn’t just her eyes that are alert, it’s her entire body, her face; the kind of intensity most people would squirm away from. As she questions them, she narrates to the viewers at home:

“The female voice is scientifically proven to be more difficult for a male brain to register. What does this mean? It means, in this world, where men are bigger, stronger, faster, if you’re not ready to fight, the silence will kill you.”

And then we’re somewhere else, a horrific car accident with an overturned big rig has turned Karev’s carpool route into a parking lot. When a handful of fire engines and ambulances speed past, Grey and Pierce are out of the car and rushing toward the scene, with Karev shouting, “This is a bad idea” as he joins them. Seconds later they emerge from ambulances with broken patients at the entrance of Grey-Sloan Memorial. You almost miss it, but there are more terrible screams and cracking bones than usual in the ER, but it’s critical. Grey’s working on a patient in Trauma 1 with a handful of others; he’s an affable, middle-aged guy in town with his wife and kids to visit his sister, caught in the accident on the way to the Space Needle. He’s cracking corny dad jokes while they clean him up and wait for neuro, but a seizure takes him mid-sentence. After it passes, Grey moves quickly between performing tests on him, now unconscious, and making updates to his chart. Gradually the trauma room empties as the others go about their tasks, and they’re alone. Something’s off again, even though doctors are alone in rooms with patients all the time — the ambient noise never sounds like this at Grey-Sloan, but right now it’s terrifying.

The patient comes to while Grey’s back is turned, he’s silent and confused, and a temporary but violent fugue state overtakes him as she tries to calm him and guide him back to the hospital bed. It all happens seemingly in a vacuum; the room is surrounded by dozens of people who can’t hear the melee above the roar of a bustling ER, and while the ordinariness of a woman being assaulted by a man is chilling, the context is what sucks the air out of your lungs in this scene. It’s Meredith, whom we love, a woman who despite her faults and weaknesses is not ever helpless or not strong (or alone, for that matter), a woman devoted to saving lives, and she’s on the brink of having hers extinguished by a stranger in an act of senseless brutality. Only seconds ago they were doctor and patient, trading the warm and knowing smiles of doting parents, and suddenly we’re watching a scene unfold in which a white woman is viciously attacked by a black man twice her size.

Everything is unbearable when we return to Trauma 1. The patient is seizing on the floor a few feet behind Grey, who is beaten, unable to hear or move, whimpering on the floor. I feel actual anguish crumpling my brain into a ball and drop-kicking it off a cliff, it’s seriously too much, the dissonance of the scene with reality. Penny finds her, and in the next beat every surgeon is working over her, trying to assess her condition. Karev winces back tears with his hands on his friend. Webber is in expert crisis mode. Shepherd drops by thinking she’s just responding to a page and promptly slides down a wall to the floor in a state of shock, catatonic and broken while they slice Meredith open to drain her collapsed lung, her limbs dislocated and fractured, her brain concussed, her dislocated jaw cracked open.

(I’m weeping uncontrollably at this point and can’t get a hold of myself, so my wife makes me take a walk.)

Meredith lives. Her hearing is still lost so we, as the audience, lose ours as well. We see her self-medicate through a long and bruised recovery, her jaw wired shut, multiple casts, more surgery. She can’t hear them but she can see them all fighting around her; they argue about how to treat her, Amelia’s guilt sends her flying back into addiction, Webber plays gatekeeper and Karev keeps vigil by her side, day and night. Eventually, they take her PCA away. When Penny finally offers her a mirror, Meredith signals instead for her chart, which proves too grim for her to bear.

We find out her hearing’s returned when the silence turns to her sobbing. She improves steadily but too slowly; the patient who attacked her has already been released and wants to reach out to her, a visit from the kids is disastrous — they’re terrified when they see their mom’s mouth wired shut and Karev and Arizona reluctantly whisk them away. Desperate to be near her children again, Mere suffers a severe panic attack alone and clawing at her own chest, unable to breathe. When Penny once again finds her in distress, she takes the risk of cutting off Meredith’s wires right then and there, infuriating Avery. In what I hope is a pivotal moment in her arc, Penny roars back at him in defense of the call she’s made, in defense of her patient, and he backs off. After six weeks, Meredith is still bedridden and in a fixed rage.

On a sunny day, Webber wheels her into the light to speak of forgiveness and letting go. Mute, immobile, hurting, unable to run off again, she’s consumed with anger and despair and her own helpless needing, about all of it, everything: the attack, yes, but also Derek, Penny, Amelia, the acute misery of knowing you cannot protect your children from all pain and suffering, the relentless gift and indignity of life from a thousand shattered angles. She at last agrees to meet with the patient and his family; her wires come off and she can speak again.Amelia is 30 days sober and the two are reconciled; Meredith’s casts are removed and she is able to stand again. And after taking a moment to confront the horror of Trauma 1, Grey goes home again. She sends Karev back to Jo and holds her babies close in a messy, sun-filled pile of books and blankets on the couch, and leaves us with this:

“Don’t let fear keep you quiet. You have a voice, so use it. Speak up. Raise your hands, shout your answers, make yourself heard. Whatever it takes, just find your voice and when you do, fill the damn silence.”


How to Get Away With Murder

Thursdays on ABC at 10:00 p.m.

Written by Sadie

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What Would Slytherin Dumbledore Do?

It’s that time again, time to almost kind of sort of get away with murder. This week brought to you by feverdreams! Seriously, there is a good portion of this episode that may or may not have even occurred, so I’ll just get into it. Two weeks have passed since the incident in the mansion; Annalise is sleeping off her gunshot wound when a distraught woman who heard about how much of a badass Annalise was knocks on her door and basically shoves a baby into her arms. Annalise, being a recent gunshot victim and busy full-time attorney, declines to accept the responsibility of a child but the woman insists and runs away.

Annalise calls Bonnie to come and get the baby so she can finish her work. She hands them off to Bonnie and we see that i’’s just a clump of blankets. Womp womp! It was all a feverdream, or drug-induced hallucination, or perhaps Annalise stepped into a Pensieve without knowing it, it’s hard to tell. Bonnie decides to drug Annalise further in order to stop hearing about the baby and get back to whatever shady scheme she’ll be involved in later in the season

Meanwhile the rest of the team is business as usual, dealing with the aftermath of the event at the mansion. Asher is still obsessed with finding out what happened to his dad. Michaela tries some of her smoothest talking yet but fails because almost no one’s falling for any of the team’s BS anymore. And Annalise’s 911 call is thrown out of court, forcing her to testify.

At this point in the show it’s impossible to tell who is on who’s side and what the ultimate endgame is, but Annalise convinces the brother who then convinces his sister to take the heat and face a smaller punishment.

A not-all-together there Annalise stumbles her way into court and begins to do what she does best: manipulate everyone around her. It’s unclear whether or not it’s intentional but she fumbles over her words, appearing to almost lose the case and manages to get all of her testimony thrown out.

The sister then confesses to everything and it seems that we are done with these psudo-incestual lovers, at least for now.

Annalise comes home to find Wes laying in her bed, with a bottle of pills, contemplating taking his own life. Wes confronts Annalise and then comes at her, so she threatens him with a statue, which we all know in this universe is a pretty common weapon, so you know she means business.

Now we see ten years earlier: Annalise is pregnant and meets that same distraught woman from before. She is with her son, Wes or Christoph. So who’s baby was the women trying to give away? was it Annalise’s? Where is it now? How is Eve connected? Did Eve and Annalise decide to have a baby together (please be the case!)? Did any of this episode actually happen at all? Will we find out next week? Probably not.


The 100

Thursdays on The CW at 9:00 p.m.

Written by Karly

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Is she a woman or a warrior?!

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Every day, she’s both.

The next day after Fealty Night, Lexa and Clarke are back in the ceremony room with all the other ambassadors sitting in their respective seats. Guards bring in the Ice Queen who looks at Clarke with absolute disgust. Titus wants to sentence the Queen to death immediately, but before he can, the Queen calls a Vote of No Confidence. When, in these hundreds years of surviving and building that giant tower did they learn Robert’s Rules of Order? One by one all the ambassadors vote. Except Clarke. If the vote is not unanimous, that means Lexa is safe. But the Queen challenges Lexa to a champion’s duel to the death. Her champion is her son Roan, who is inexplicably out of jail again, but Lexa won’t pick a champion: she will fight Roan herself. Clarke is rightfully horrified.

Lexa has some confidence and swagger we haven’t seen before. If she wins, everything is safe. If she loses, one of her Nightblood padawans will take her place. We find out that nightblood literally means their blood is dark as night, and that’s how Grounders know they’ve been marked to be trained for commandership.

Lexa has prepared for both outcomes, but she definitely thinks she’ll win. She’s hurt Clarke doesn’t have the same faith. But Clarke doesn’t understand not being afraid of death. So she pleads with Lexa to find another way, pleads with Titus to convince her, pleads with Roan to defy his mother, and eventually tries to assassinate the queen herself. “For her people” she says, yeah okay. Even though Lexa had one of her padawans, the best fighter from last week’s episode, promise to protect the 13th clan. Sure, Clarke.

Eventually, Clarke runs out of ideas. Lexa knows her, and knows she just wants to fix everything. But she can’t fix this. Lexa has to go through with it, and have faith that everything will go according to fate. Clarke refuses and refuses to watch her die. Lexa goes out on the battlefield and she and Roan take their swords. It’s an intense battle but Lexa is savage. She is not going to let this prince take her seat. It looks for a second that she might lose and Clarke, who showed after all, looks crazy worried “for her people.” Lexa knocks Roan down, but throws a spear through the Ice Queen. She says “The queen is dead, long live the King.” This is our Heda and I swear fealty a thousand times.

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Would you be my Valentine … for as long as we both shall live?

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That night, Lexa goes to Clarke’s bedroom and they’re both wearing really floaty nightgowns. Why do I have a tummy ache? You can see Lexa’s long legs and tattoos and I don’t know how Clarke can concentrate on wrapping a bandage around Lexa’s hand. Ahem. Lexa wants to thank Clarke (yeah she does) for having her back. Clarke repeats she did it for her people. But I think Lexa knows the truth because she smiles a little before saying good night to her “ambassador” and leaving. Lexa will earn a place back in Clarke’s heart, even if it takes a while. She can already see it happening.

In the dark ages of television there were only straight couples. Each show had one, and this couple would have “book-end” scenes. They start the action in the beginning and then sum up and recover from the action at the end. It’s still like this today.

For three episodes in a row, Lexa and Clarke have had a book-end scene. Never have I felt that a queer relationship has been given so much respect and importance in a mainstream show. This is our Book End Couple. It’s going to be a slow-burn, and I have been waiting for it for a really long time.

On another note, Arkadia is going through some shit. Pike and his Farm Station henchpeople won’t stop blaming grounders for the Ice Nation attack on Mount Weather. Pike quickly recruits a grieving Bellamy to his cause and they plan to murder a Grounder army Lexa sent to protect them. Strike them first before they strike, Pike says. Lincoln and Octavia could leave, but Lincoln wants to be the example of a “good Grounder.” Unfortunately, no one backs him up.

Kane and Abby stop the attack, but Pike has stirred up so much anti-Grounder fury that he is elected Chancellor instead of Kane. His first order of business is to destroy Lexa’s grounder army. I’m mostly disappointed and infuriated with Bellamy. He’s spent more time on the ground, he saw what Finn did, and he was literally patting Lincoln on the back weeks ago. But in the absence of true leadership (like Clarke for instance), Bellamy will follow anyone talking loud enough. And Pike yells a lot.

Lastly, Jasper has reached Peak Insufferability. Even Monty decided he wasn’t going to put up with this shit anymore. So hopefully Jasper gets it together. We finally meet Miller’s boyfriend for a second and he’s super cute. Let’s hope Miller and his boyfriend aren’t on Pike’s side, because I don’t think Heda and her Ambassador will put up with Pike for long.


New Boob(s On Your) Tube Schedule (For Now)

TUESDAYS

Jane the Virgin (airs Monday)
Scream (airs Wednesday, returns Apr. 20)
Younger (airs Thursday)
Top Chef (airs Thursday)

FRIDAYS

How to Get Away With Murder (airs Thursday, written by Sadie)
Grey’s Anatomy (airs Thursday, written by Aja)
The 100 (airs Thursday, written by Karly)
Empire (airs Wednesday, returns March 30, written by Carolyn W.)

ONCE A MONTH

Once Upon a Time* (airs Sunday, written by Kaelyn)
Black Sails* (airs Sunday)
The Walking Dead* (airs Sunday)
Vampire Diaries* (airs Thursday)
Grandfathered* (airs Tuesdays)
Arrow* (airs Thursday)
Legends of Tomorrow* (airs Thursday)
Code Black* (airs Wednesday)
Broad City* (airs Wednesday, written by Riese)

* When there’s queer stuff.

If a show introduces a new queer characters, I’ll write about it in the first Boobs Tube after it airs, toss it in the monthly column, and if it proves to be good quality representation, it can have a weekly spot. It’s a new day, y’all. Get excited!

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior writer who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 1062 articles for us.

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