HBO was an early pioneer of LGBTQ content, and its streaming service HBO Max has a lot of television available for queer women with lesbian and bisexual characters. Let’s talk about them!
* indicates an HBO or HBO Max original
Adventure Time (2010-2018)
Adventure Time is essential viewing for the queer all-ages animation aficionados, a bridge between the subtext of Legend of Korra and maintext of Steven Universe, a series long on-again off-again love story between Princess Bubblegum and Marceline the Vampire Queen. But it’s also just really delightful, really weird storytelling for nerds of all stripes. If you’ve joined the great Dungeons and Dragons Renaissance of the past several years, Adventure Time will speak to your geekery in very specific ways. Follow Jake the Dog and Finn the Human across the post-apocalyptic Land of Ooo as they challenge Death, make friends with psychedelic teddy bears, grow up, fall in love with princesses and unicorns, and confront the hardest thing of all: their own trauma and insecurities. If you stick around long enough, you’ll even meet Fionna and Cake, the gender-flipped protagonists!
Awkwafina is Nora from Queens (2020-)
This fresh take on the “unemployed twentysomething finds her way / disappoints her parents” genre never got the buzz it deserved earlier this year. Weird, brash, delightful, bisexual and generally unhinged, Nora lives in Flushing with her grandmother (Orange is the New Black’s Lori Tan Chinn) and her dad (BD Wong) and engages in Broad City esque hijinks on her search for income, good drugs, great hair, self-actualization and some idea of the future. Look out for cameos from Laverne Cox, Ming-Na Wen, Ingrid Jungermann, Harry Shum Jr and Jamie Chung.
Batwoman is the most famous lesbian superhero in comic book history, and her first season pulls heavily from her most celebrated and GLAAD-Award winning “Elegy” arc. Ruby Rose plays the brooding, traumatized, Shane-esque Kate Kane with just the right amount of swagger and aloofness. There are almost too many queer women to count in the first season: Kate’s ex/love of her life, Sophie Moore; Kate’s ex and Sophie’s new love interest, Julia Pennyworth; Reagan the bartender; Parker the teen lesbian hacker; and bisexual vampire Nocturna, whom the show actually managed to make less problematic! There’s a gay bar, perpetual ex drama, and voiceovers from Rachel Maddow. It’s the gayest current thing on TV besides The L Word: Generation Q Plus, when it returns, Javicia Leslie will don the cape and cowl, becoming the first Black member of the Bat-family and the first Black woman to headline her own superhero show! (-Heather)
With naturalistic performances and dreamy cinematography, HBO’s Betty captures the NYC skater girl subculture in all its appeal and personality, Betty brims with life and centers gender non-conformity and queer characters including Kirt, a charmingly oblivious tomboy and Honeybear, a Black videographer from a conservative family who skates with abandon and dates with reservation.
A Black Lady Sketch Show* (2019-)
Carmen put it absolutely best in her review: “I’d put any part of A Black Lady Sketch Show against critics’ darlings like Donald Glover’s ATL or Julia Louis-Dreyfus on Veep, the best of SNL or anything from Mad TV and I wouldn’t break a sweat worrying about losing my lunch money. ABLSS is smart. It’s observational and absurdist. It’s the exact opposite of mindless humor; it requires the audience’s full attention…. I realize at this point it sounds like I’m basically saying “everything and the kitchen sink!” and it sort of becomes meaningless, but my point is the exact opposite: A Black Lady Sketch Show never chooses to limit itself; it sets a new bar and then rises to that challenge every single time.”
One Season was probably enough of this critically-panned romp, but it had its moments and various queer charms — extending beyond the most obvious gay element, butch lesbian outdoors-woman Harry. Jennifer Garner plays high-strung overplanner Kathryn familiarly, as she aggressively controls a camping trip for her husband’s 44th birthday, which quickly devolves into a cruel comedy of tested and flipped-around relationships.
The Deuce* (2016-2019)
Set during the 1970s and 1980s, The Deuce traces the Golden Age of the porn industry (and its adjacent economies) n New York City, centering on Eileen “Candy” Merrell (Maggie Gyllenhall), a street sex worker who eventually breaks into the filmmaking side of porn. A story that involves not one but TWO James Francos might not be at the top of your watch list, but Roberta Colindrez shows up in Season Two as Irene, a (gay) manager of the Show Land Sex Emporium. In Season Three, college student Abby, manager of the Hi-Hat bar, starts a relationship with a woman, and there’s also a sparingly represented lesbian couple of sex workers in the first Season.
Doctor Who (2005- )
Doctor Who has a complicated queer history. Its sister series, Torchwood, is probably the most egregious Bury Your Gays offender in sci-fi history, and Doctor Who itself is not without its missteps. The Doctor’s first and only lesbian companion, Bill Potts, ended the show as a sentient oil being! Lots of queer side characters have gotten murered over the years! But there’s still lots to love about the series. Madame Vastra and Jenny — the self-described lizard woman from the dawn of time, and her wife — are fan favorites and have made notable appearances in many of the show’s most pivotal episodes. Suranne “Gentleman Jack” Jones plays The TARDIS. And, of course, there’s bisexual heartthrob and Time Lord-y River Song, who is The Doctor’s loooooongtime love, an especially thrilling turn of events when Thirteen regenerated as a woman.
Screwed-up, gorgeous, privileged, disillusioned, sarcastic teenagers on drugs: we know this song by heart. But Euphoria‘s heavily stylized trip into the trope feels somehow immediately fresh. Rue (Zendaya), fresh out of rehab at the ripe age of 16, returns home with no intentions to stay sober and quickly falls for Jules, the manic pixie dream trans girl (™ Drew Gregory), played by an actual trans actress, who she craves like the other habits she’s been encouraged to kick. Although Sam Levinson’s interpretation of sexual orientation and gender identity is blatantly incorrect at best, you won’t be able to tear yourself away.
With an eye on tapping into the Generation Z’s sexual fluidity and political progressiveness, Genera+ion follows a loosely intertwined and racially diverse high school social web of queer and queer-adjacent friends, from the flamboyantly gay Chester to Greta, a semi-closeted lesbian filled with anxiety and self doubt, currently being raised by her trans aunt after her mother’s deportation. “The balance of our three leads — Chester being Chester, Greta unable to string a sentence together under gay pressure, Nathan’s anxious over-talking — results in a portrait of queer youth that feels authentic and varied all at once,” writes Drew in her review.
Gentleman Jack* (2019-)
The groundbreaking historical drama that Heather called “your sex-filled soft butch Historical Drama Dream Come True” follows legendary seductress Anne Lister, whose diaries from the early 19th century detail lesbian romantic consequences executed with remarkable boldness and fearlessness for the time period. This adaptation sees Surriane Jones display “a seductive, sensual, capable, robust soft butch energy that makes Shane McCutcheon look like a clumsy little baby goat.”
Ava, a bisexual comic who recently found herself cancelled and out of work gets hired to write jokes for an older, wildly wealthy, once-pioneering iconic comedienne now best known to millennials as a QVC salesperson. Ava moves to Las Vegas to work with Deborah Vance and self-discovery ensues!
Harley Quinn (2019-)
Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy have been fan favorites and queer icons from almost they bumped into each other during a heist in 1993 in Batman: The Animated Series. TWENTY YEARS LATER they kissed in Bombshells in 2015 and in the main universe in Harley Quinn #25 in 2017 — but it wasn’t until season two of the DC Universe animated series that they finally got the on-screen romance they deserve. In fact, the full second season is a slow-burn of Harley realizing she’s in love with Ivy, Ivy reciprocating Harley’s feelings, and a near-disastrous wedding finale that ends with explosions, para-demons, laser guns, flashing lights, blood and guts and chaos, and a confession of queer feelings that is animated as a throwback to Harley and Ivy’s original meeting in the early ’90s. It is honestly a perfect season of queer TV. And you don’t even have to know anything about Batman or comic books or Harley or Ivy to jump right in and enjoy it.
High Maintenance* (2016-)
Katja Blichfeld came out as a lesbian after producing the first season of this show with her then-husband Ben Sinclair, who also stars in the very New York series as friendly neighborhood pot dealer “The Guy.” “When High Maintenance is at its best there’s nothing better on television,” Drew wrote of the series. “When it’s at its worst it’s still really funny and weird and intriguing.” Smashing 2-3 brand new stories into every episode, the show above all truly loves people and queer folks have been baked (get it!?!?!) into its DNA from the jump. Stories have included a rare two-episode arc loosely based on Katja’s divorce and subsequent lesbian relationship, Margaret Cho and Hye Yun Park as queer kinksters experimenting with some risky new sexual paths, a neurotic lesbian couple afraid to kill a mouse, a non-binary person on a surprise date doing ketamine at a bowling alley, a group of neurotic feminist activists confront a pet snake gone wild.
Love Life* (2020-)
Valerie wrote of this Anna Kendrick helmed rom-com that lesbian character Mallory “is a secondary character on a good day” but that “her presence and her gayness is persistent throughout… as we go through Darby’s relationships over the years, we get glimpses of Mallory’s girlfriends, too.”
Mare of Easttown* (2021-)
This limited series stars Kate Winslet as a sad detective in rural Pennsylvania trying to solve some murders and some disappearances that threaten to wear away the fibers of her community. She does so with a lot of flannel shirts, a Delco accent and a strong assist from Evan Peters. Her college-aged daughter, Siobhan, is a lesbian with an undercut who’s gotta be the steadying influence in an unraveling drama.
Mrs. Fletcher* (2019)
A middle-aged divorced Mom (Kathryn Hahn, magnificent as always) takes time to explore the depths and boundlessness of her fluid sexuality — as well as her interest in writing! — after her son heads off to college. Drew called it “the only show on TV as horny as I am.” Also, her writing teacher, Margo, is trans and played by our dear friend Jen Richards.
Nancy Drew (2020-)
I know we always joke about The CW making “gritty remakes” of anything and everything for better or worse, but they really hit this nail right on the head. A modern take on a classic book series that is, in my opinion, the perfect balance of nods to the original canon and brand new elements. For example, queer gals! Including but not limited to a character from the books, Bess Marvin. Plus, of course, plenty of mystery, stellar performances from newcomer Kennedy McMann, and that quintessential teen drama you’d expect from a CW original. (-Valerie)
The O.C. (2003-2006)
Many elder millennials considered oft-postmodern teen soap The OC to be appointment television in the early aughts. It brought Christmukkah, Mischa Barton, Imogen Heap and Seth Cohen into our lives via a fish-out-of-water tale of roughian Ryan Atwood, adopted into a wealthy charismatic Orange County family and consequently their high-drama social lives. It also brought us one of the most memorable Sweeps Week Lesbian Storylines ever when lanky it-girl Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton) fell for edgy alterna-teen Alex (Olivia Wilde) and in doing so, became one of the first bisexual lead teen characters on network television.
Perry Mason* (2020-)
The legendary fictional criminal defense lawyer gets his third television show with this dark period drama set in the 1930s and focused on his origin story. Second billing after star Matthew Rhys (The Americans) is Juliet Rylance as Della Street, the loyal and driven (and homosexual) legal secretary of Mason’s frequent client, E.B. Jonathan (John Lithgow), who eventually starts working for Mason himself.
Pretty Little Liars (2009-2017)
In Rosewood, Pennsylvania, a town filled with barnes and graveyards, there exists a state of adrenalized hyperreality that is accessible to the town’s most exceptional teen girls. Imbued with its power, they can fly airplanes, survive being buried alive, perform black ops level surveillance and black belt level ninja moves, and bend time and space and the affection of burgeoning lesbians to their will. Pretty Little Liars follows the hijinks of these agents of chaos, and the friend groups they leave behind when they fake their own deaths and plant a series of increasingly insane clues, in the form of dolls and masks and human teeth, to help their friends solve the mystery of their disappearance. Emily Fields is one of these left behind friends, and while her heart belongs to the one who accused her of liking Beyonce a little too much, she entertains a string of other lovers, from free spirit Maya to catastrophically intense Paige to dead girlfriend lookalike Samara to coffee shop homosexual Talia. The later seasons make some egregious missteps with a trans woman character, the show perpetually kills off its queer women of color, and there’s a predator who is celebrated as a hero throughout. There are also a few seasons of absolute bananapants delight. Act Normal, Bitch!
While six-episode British series about fucked up female and non-binary protagonists has quickly become my favorite genre — The Bisexual, Chewing Gum, Fleabag, This Way Up, Feel Good — I wasn’t quite prepared for this. In addition to being a warm-hearted and hilarious dramedy, Pure also has the most accurate representation of OCD I’ve ever seen on-screen. OCD is a largely misunderstood disorder because of how it’s represented and discussed, so the impact of something like this show cannot be overstated. Charly Clive wonderfully captures the confusion and turmoil of dealing with OCD and while it’s unclear if Marnie is queer or just having queer thoughts the show itself remains committed to its queerness. It’s a sweet and special show as heartfelt as it is informative.
Person of Interest (2011-2016)
This sci-fi crime drama follows a group of detectives and assorted nerds who seek to stop various violent crimes using a computer program that predicts terrorist acts. Computer hacker Root (Amy Acker) joins the crew in Season Two after guesting in Season One and eventually one of the show’s only romantic storylines erupts between her and psychopathic assassin Shaw (Sarah Shahi).
Steven Universe and Steven Universe Future
Steven Universe and its epilogue series, Steven Universe Future is probably the most beloved queer animated series of all time. Created and showrun by non-binary queer writer/artist/musician Rebecca Sugar, the show follow Steven and his family of Crystal Gems as they seek to save the planet and keep Steven safe as he grows up and learns what it means that he is the vessel for his mom’s gem. One of his Gem parents, Garnet, is actually a married lesbian fusion between Ruby and Sapphire! They even get married near the end of the series, becoming the first children’s series to ever feature a gay wedding! The show itself is also full of queer sensibility. It’s an anti-capitalist, anti-patriarchal, anti-colonization that centers and celebrates found family, refuses to shy away from the exploration of both trauma and mental illness just because it’s a “kids” show, and has as fluid a take on gender as any other series on TV, full stop. It’s sweet and silly and fun, and it’s also deep and nuanced and full of hope and healing.
Another British co-production brings us a charming and understated relationship drama that treats its subject matter — a romantic triad — with respect and nunance instead of as a punchline. Bisexual Chef Gemma (Thalissa Teixeira) and paramedic Kieran (Gary Carr) take in a roommate under financial duress — Ray, a former Olympic synchronized swimmer — and in short order, everybody falls a little bit in love with each other.
True Blood* (2008-2014)
Allan Ball’s second dark, death-drenched ensemble drama for HBO (the first, Six Feet Under, is handily one of the best TV shows of all time), inspired by the Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries, finds a variety of pansexual vampires (and their friends) in New Orleans, at the dawn of the invention of synthetic blood that enables them to live without preying on humans. Parallels to queer community exist throughout, and seven regular and recurring female characters pursue same-sex endeavors of various degrees, including Evan Rachel Wood’s Sophie-Anne Leclerq, Rutina Wesley’s Tara Thornton and the legend Pam Swynford De Beuafort (Kristin Bauer van Straten).
Julia Louis-Dreyfuss’s Selena Meyers and her crack team of savants and fools netted seventeen Primetime Emmys over its seven-season run. We had to wait a few seasons for her daughter to come out (and start dating a security detail played by Clea Duvall), but that was really the icing atop this cynical, sharp, politically incorrect political comedy and its knockout class.
We Are Who We Are* (2020)
For starters — this show chose to cast a cis actor in a trans role in 2020, and we hate to see it. Chloë Sevigny and Alice Braga star as the lesbian Moms of a misfit teen who’ve just moved onto an American military base in Italy, where Sevigny serves as the base commander. “What We Are Who We Are does most gracefully is to dunk you into the intense connection and limitless freedom the young people in this show seek together,” writes Kamala in her review of the series.
The Wire* (2002-2008)
The intricate, slow-burn, novelistic storytelling David Simon employs in this modern masterpiece was far more unusual for its time than it would be today. Each stark, searing season focused on a different city institution and its relationship to law enforcement and the underground economies of low-income neighborhoods — the print news media, the seaport system, the city government and bureaucracy and public education. The Wire was one of several HBO programs to see a surge in viewership during quarantine as viewers settled in for a long haul story that humanized and centered the Black and brown characters usually given the short shift. Sonja Sohn played one of the first-ever Black lesbians on television as Detective Kima Greggs.
Years and Years (2019)
Queer as Folk’s Russel T Davies co-produced this nihilistic BBC/HBO production that sees one Manchester family, the Lyons, converge on one crucial night in 2019 and evolve over the ensuing 15 years as Britain — and the world — undergoes great political, economic and technological instability. Amid the current pandemic, this show is frankly terrifying because it all feels entirely possible right now! As members of the family grow and change — including Edith, one of four Lyons siblings, a political activist who eventually begins dating Fran, a storyteller and activist — a few public figures remain constant as well, including specifically Trump-esque political celebrity Vivienne Rook (Emma Thompson).
Other shows on HBO Max with queer women as recurring or regular characters: Deadwood, Westworld, Industry, Katy Keene, Sex and the City, Sally4Ever, Rome, Run, Game of Thrones, Friends, Torchwood
Looking for more lesbian TV shows you can stream right now? Here you go: