In My Top 10 Favorite Television Shows, various members of Autostraddle’s TV Team will be telling you about the TV shows nearest and dearest to our hearts, EVEN the ones that don’t have lesbian / bisexual / queer woman characters.
Today, your friendly neighborhood lesbrarian, Casey, is setting aside her books to share her feelings about teevee!
Like many others, I struggled at first to settle on what criteria I wanted to use to determine my top ten. Honestly there are shows in my honorable mentions are objectively better TV than some of the ones that made my list. Vida, for example, is such a visually gorgeous show with incredible acting and writing. But it’s one of those shows I deeply admired rather than one I was obsessed with and that was personally important to me. So that’s what I chose to focus on: shows that spoke to me deeply in some way, that I am / was passionate about and consumed by, and that when I thought about them, I felt the urge to revisit them all over again, no matter how many times I’ve already watched them.
10. Sex and the City
I love a good rom-com. So it’s not surprising I developed an early love for <Sex and the City, an ongoing rom-com TV series about four white New York women in the late 90s and early 00s. But the show is also an anti-rom-com. It is about women’s lives, with a focus on romantic and sexual relationships, sure. But it often resists the conventions of the genre by featuring themes like casual sex and failed relationships and focusing on an often unlikable anti-heroine. The show’s open discussions of women’s sexuality were very influential for me.
I first learnt about vibrators, threesomes, oral sex, and so many other sexy things from this show! Sex and the City gets a lot of flack, especially in retrospect. Certainly, the show has its problems, especially in terms of its representation of race and that cringey biphobic episode. But at least some of this flack comes from a place that forgets how, for its time, Sex and the City was radical to take the (sexual and otherwise) lives of single women in their 30s and their friendships with each other seriously. I’ll let Emily Nussbaum explain better than I ever could about how Sex and the City doesn’t deserve its current bad name.
The premise of Battlestar Galactica has always captured my imagination. I love a good enormously high stakes (i.e., potential end of humanity) science fiction novel. I should really seek this genre out in TV more often! Battlestar Galactica does it so well, and with a huge cast of very flawed characters. (Although I wish more of them were not men). If you know anything about my taste in women you won’t be surprised to learn that from the first moment she appeared on screen, I was a huge fan of Katee Sackoff’s Starbuck / Kara Thrace. One of my top five TV crushes for sure. It is disappointing the character isn’t queer, but it is also kind of great to have representation for toppy, tomboy straight women? I was also enthralled with President Roslyn’s character and how she navigated her new power and being a woman leader.
One Day at a Time is comfort food for my soul. Like The Babysitters Club (see below), it tackles with authenticity and heart a lot of issues that would otherwise veer into tacky “Very Special Episodes.” I find the Alvarez family’s closeness, bickering, and unconditional love for each other irresistible. The representation of Penelope / Lupita’s anxiety and depression was especially important to me, as was Elena’s most adorable baby dyke coming out story and subsequent (or should I say sydsequent) romance with nonbinary Syd. And who could not love abuelita, played by legend Rita Moreno? Sometimes I think about her angrily “slamming” the curtains separating her bedroom from the living room while saying “e-slam” and I laugh out loud.
7. The L Word
Do I think this show is actually good, for the most part? No. Do I deeply love it? Yes. Like many queer women in their mid to late 30s, my coming out coincided with the early seasons of The L Word. It was formative for my sexual identity in ways I don’t think I can even explain. Or I could just use one word: Shane. As unrealistic as The L Word is, in so many ways it was the piece of media that made me realize that life as a queer woman with a queer women’s community was actually possible. The dyke dating drama was entertaining, the fashion was impressive, trying to recognize Vancouver landmarks was fun, but my favorite parts about The L Word have always been the friendships. I just love when all the women are sitting around talking and drinking coffee at the Planet. Okay, and also the sex scenes, the best of which is no contest that one on top of the washing machine with Alice and Tasha.
I very much appreciate how Fleabag has understated queer content and a casually bisexual main character (that kiss with Kristin Scott Thomas’s character in season two!). But I almost don’t even care because I love it so much for other reasons. Fleabag has a combination of humor, darkness, and discomfort that I find indelible even as it makes me squirm. The first season is wrapped up in a refreshingly frank take on sex (with men), the second season more so with a sustained romantic and sexual connection with a (I will jump on the bandwagon and add hot) priest. But what really captures me are Fleabag’s complicated relationships with the close women in her life, those who have died and those who are still with her. There’s Boo, the BFF who haunts her. There’s Fleabag’s mother, whose death around which her family is still structured. And then there’s Claire, her sister. I feel very devoted to Claire, perhaps too much considering she is, uh, a fictional character. To me Fleabag and Claire’s relationship is the series’ love story: “The only person I’d run through an airport for is you.”
5. Broad City
I love shows with comedic elements, but comedy as a genre is not usually my thing. Broad City is the gigantic exception. I just find this show genuinely, gut-splittingly hilarious. It can be years since I’ve seen a particular episode, and if something reminds me of a funny scene, I will laugh in remembrance. My favorite aspect other than how it’s so damn funny is that the deep, romantic friendship between Abbi and Ilana is at the show’s heart.
I can appreciate media that represents women who compete with each other and feel like they have to bring each other down in a misogynist world (we do live in a patriarchy after all). But I would much rather watch something like Broad City that features two women who love and support each other. Also shout-out to Ilana’s low-key but always there bisexuality and the amazing queer turn for Abbi late in the series. My partner and I have a hard time choosing TV shows or movies that we are both into; whenever we can’t decide on something, we’re always like, oh, let’s just rewatch some Broad City. It is never a bad decision.
4. Killing Eve
I came to Killing Eve late, only discovering it in early 2020. Where had I been? Thank god for that cold in January that kept me on the couch for a couple days during which I marathoned seasons one and two. I watched the first episode, was immediately obsessed, and in love with Villanelle. Maybe I shouldn’t love Villanelle as much as I do. Hello, stereotype about bisexual women psychopath killers.
But Jodie Comer infuses the role with so much complexity, glee, and intelligence. Comer as Villanelle alone would be enough to earn my devotion, but Killing Eve also features outstanding performances by mother-fucking Sandra Oh and Fiona Shaw? This show is just full of complicated, un/likable, smart, vulnerable, fascinating women, both characters and actresses. I also love the queerness and feminism of Killing Eve which feels at the same time front and center and beautifully blended in. I would gladly be stabbed by either Eve or Villanelle. But preferably kissed.
Like Sex and the City, Jane the Virgin is a show self-consciously investigating the romance genre. Jane the Virgin, however, buys into the genre’s promises more wholeheartedly, which I find fascinating and charming. While I love watching the ups and downs of Jane’s romantic life — I’ll out myself as #TeamRafael — what really kept me coming back to this show was the three generations of Villanueva women and their relationships with one another: Jane, her mom, and her abuela. I love those women so much, their complicated family bonds, their fierce love, and their growth together and individually over the show’s seasons. I was also thrilled at the direction that Petra’s character took; she went from a mostly one-dimensional villain to a fully fleshed out vulnerable bisexual woman! One last thing: Rogelio de la Vega is probably my favorite male character on TV of all time.
Is it weird to know that a show that literally just came out is destined to go down as one of your all-time favorites? As a 90s bookish girl, I was a HUGE BSC fan. I was a Mallory who wanted to be Stacey who had a crush on Kristy. I was cautiously optimistic when the Netflix adaptation was announced, and was so pleasantly surprised about how much I adored it. It is so tender and wholesome, yet it doesn’t ignore the bad stuff that happens in tween girls’ lives. The updates to the show — namely increasing the representation of girls of color and including supporting LGBTQ characters — were so excellently done.
Literally every episode of season one made me cry (in a good way). Despite addressing a lot of “issues,” — parental abandonment, childhood diabetes, rights for trans kids — The Babysitters Club resisted didactic storytelling. It felt simultaneously made to be enjoyed by today’s tweens and self-referentially nostalgic to appeal to fans of the original books like me. I love this show so much that I wrote an article arguing that it is even better than the books, which is basically sacrilege for a book-lover lesbrarian like myself.
If this were a completely honest list, it would just be Buffy the Vampire Slayer listed ten times. I often have a hard time starting new shows, because when I feel like watching TV, Buffy is pretty much always what I want. I am never not somewhere in the middle of a Buffy rewatch. The show has comforted me in so many hard times in my life, calmed me in the throes of anxiety, helped me cry when I needed to, and made me laugh when I needed to remember what being happy was.
As a teenager the thing I loved most about Buffy was getting to watch a teen girl beat up guys (demonic or otherwise).
I still love that part, but now I also love its deep and complex characterization; its fun, snappy word-play infused dialogue; its focus on found family; the groundbreaking representation of Willow the lesbian witch; brutally honest, learning to be human Anya who deserved way better than the show gave her; Buffy negotiating how to use her power and be a woman leader; its heart-wrenching portrayal of depression in season 6, and its majestic use of the fantasy genre’s metaphor to address the experiences of young women. I can’t imagine any other show ever replacing Buffy as my favorite show of all time. Also, my unbelievably still ongoing crushes on Faith and Spike (I know, I clearly have a TV crush type) were and still are emblematic of my bisexuality.
Honorable mentions: Derry Girls, Vida, Lip Service, Queer as Folk
Where to stream gay TV:
89 Queer TV Shows to Stream on Netflix