The 25 Best TV Shows Of 2018 With LGBT Women Characters

‘Tis the season for various media outlets to reveal their list of the 10-40 Best TV Shows of the year, and this year we decided to get in on that. With a caveat, of course — to us, no matter how critically acclaimed any given show is, we cannot personally crown it “the best” unless our specific interests (read: queer women) are included within it. I’m sorry that’s just who and how we are!

To prepare for this undertaking, I looked at 18 Best TV of 2018 lists across mainstream media, both high-brow and middle-brow: The Decider, The New York Times, Paste, Vulture, Vanity Fair, The Guardian, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, The New Yorker, TV Guide, AFI, Complex, The AV Club, Verge, The AP, Variety, Slate, The Daily Beast and The Atlantic. On the list below, you’ll see in parentheses a number: that number represents the number of other Best-Of lists the show appeared on.

Last year I documented what felt like — finally— a shift wherein regular and recurring queer women characters were just as likely to show up at the forefront of prestige television as they were in our previous homes of “soapy teen dramas,” sci-fi/supernatural epics and very small parts in aforementioned prestige television. This year that trend has continued mightily. Three shows that turned up on pretty much every Best-Of list — The Good Place, Killing Eve and Pose — had queer or trans leads. Frequent inclusions on those Best-Of Lists that did not include queer women were exactly what you’d expect: The Americans, Homecoming, Atlanta, Better Call Saul, Lodge 49, Barry, Bojack Horseman (which did have one lesbian-themed episode but that didn’t feel like enough to warrant inclusion on this list, I’m sure you will @ me re: this) and Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. Most baffling to us all was that Lifetime’s You showed up on SEVEN Best-Of Lists, despite being insufferable and killing its only queer woman character. It’s not on this list.

This list is not, then, our favorite shows of the year, or the shows that brought us the most joy or the best representation. We’re doing a lot of lists this year about teevee, and most of them are our Favorites, not “The Best.” This list are the shows that have regular or recurring queer women characters and that I personally believe were, objectively, the best. The opinions of other critics weighed heavily into these rankings, and only in a few cases did I pick a show that wasn’t on any other Best-Of lists.

I look forward to witnessing your disagreements and agreements in the comments! Also I know there’s 27 shows here but 25 seemed like a better headline.


28. Marvel’s Runaways Seasons One & Two (0)

“Marvel’s Runaways” Hasn’t Achieved Its Full Gay Potential Yet, but It’s Already a Thrilling Ride

The timing couldn’t be better for this lovely comic book adaptation about a group of fierce, supernaturally talented teenagers challenging the abhorrent compromises their parents made, supposedly in their best interest, for a “better world,” at the expense of, you know — human lives, wealth inequality, and our planet. Plus, Virginia Gardner literally shines as Karolina Dean, a human-alien hybrid initially hiding her superpowers and her lesbianism ’til coming out near the end of Season One. Her revelation is refreshingly well received by her crush, cynical goth Nico Minoru, in what feels like a fairly honest depiction of Generation Y’s alleged tendency towards nonchalant sexual fluidity. Season Two sees the lesbian couple trying to make it work amid pretty challenging circumstances. Despite an enormous ensemble — six children and ten parents for each — Runaways has mostly succeeded in making each of them count. At times it fumbles, having bit off more than it can chew thematically and w/r/t sheer population, but it still manages to combine the easy joy of a teen drama with the satisfying anxiety of suspenseful sci-fi. — Riese Bernard


27. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season Two (7)

Undoubtedly the most cheerful show on the list and a bona-fide critical darling, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is hawkishly agreeable, floating through its second season on unmistakable charm, its trademark breakneck quip-laden dialogue, and a generous budget devoted to picturesque sets and locations that leave no affluent late-’50s stone unturned. Then there’s Mrs. Maisel herself, a plucky heroine who occasionally does wrong but when she does, it’s always very cute, and often laugh-out-loud funny. It’s frustrating that Susie’s lesbianism remains bafflingly unspoken, especially when Mrs. Maisel’s primary flaw continues to be its chronically low stakes, like a cake inside another cake inside another cake slathered in buttercream frosting. I do love cake, though! Regardless — Susie deserves a sexuality. I hope in Season Three she finally gets it. — Riese Bernard


26. Sally4Ever Season One (2)

HBO’s “Sally4Ever” Is Hilarious, Horrifying, Tries to Make Lesbian Toeing Happen

Earning points for sheer pugnacity, Sally4Ever, described by The Guardian as “a lurid lesbian sitcom,” is a disgusting, often offensive and downright bizarre comedy about an absurdly passive middle-aged woman, Sally, who leaves her droll underachieving partner for a wildly manipulative narcissistic lesbian musician / actress she first sees on the Underground. Julie Davis’s Emma is a madcap creation only Julie Davis’s mind could’ve created. Sally4Ever is one of four reminders on this list that you can always rely on British television to wallow in discomfort and failure in a way optimistic American TV is rarely willing to do. — Riese Bernard


25. Legends of Tomorrow Seasons Three & Four (2)

How “Legends of Tomorrow” Became One of the Best Queer Shows on TV

Legends of Tomorrow is one of the weirdest shows on television. With everything from Julius Caesar on the loose in Aruba to a stuffed animal worshipped as a god of war, you truly never know what’s going to happen next. On paper, it seems like the writers play mad libs with storylines, picking random nouns and locations out of hats and running with it. The most dramatic lines of dialogue are, simply put, absurd. But in 2018 this goofy-ass show has blossomed into something truly spectacular, as bisexual badass Sara Lance became, in the words of Zari, “not just the captain of the ship, but its soul.” It was still everything we love about the show – the misfit camaraderie, the wacky storylines, the outfits, the heart – but turned up to eleven. Sara also got her first post-Arrow longterm relationship with another woman. Their love story was fraught, sweet, sexy, complicated — and oh so rewarding. Best of all, it’s still going strong. — Valerie Anne


24. Everything Sucks! Season One (1)

Everything Sucks! is a Bangin’ TV Show With a Sweet Lesbian Lead

Sure, everything sucks, but something that specifically sucks is that this show only got one tiny season to breathe. Sweet and nostalgic, Everything Sucks! made the noteworthy choice of placing a lesbian character front and center of a tender coming-of-age dramedy set in Boring, Oregon. Amid pitch-perfect references to Frutopia, “Wonderwall” and the Columbia House Music Club, we have two girls on separate journeys towards queer revelations (and each other) and in this story, the pre-teen boys in their crew aren’t the main event. Considering all that, I suppose, perhaps it’s not so surprising it got cancelled.— Riese Bernard 


23. Forever Season One (3)

Maya Rudolph’s Forever is Finally Here and Quietly Queer 

Every critic on earth adored Forever, partly because of the show’s unique and brilliantly executed concept, but mostly because of Maya Rudolph’s stunning and triumphant return to TV. What made Forever even rarer than those two things was the central conflict for Rudolph’s character, June, who experienced a middle-aged queer awakening at the hands of an enigmatic, furious, and sometimes even unlikable(!!) Kase, played by Catherine Keener. It does seem like maybe some vital character development for Kase was left on the cutting room floor in an effort to make sure the audience didn’t root too hard for her relationship with June — but what remained was still breathtaking and frankly revolutionary.  — Heather Hogan


22. Counterpart Season One (3)

After years of lurking in the Showtime/HBO shadows, Starz has emerged over the past few years to, intentionally or not, feature queer women characters in nearly all of their original programming. And what original programming it has been! A lot of the well-deserved praise for this taut, suspenseful, dystopian spy thriller has gone to J.K. Simmons for his riveting performance as two versions of the same man, one in each of the show’s two parallel worlds. But the reason I tuned in was for one of the year’s few masculine-of-center lesbian regulars: Baldwin, a trained assassin never given the chance to develop a true emotional life or any dreams of her own, a fact laid bare when she’s forced to watch her counterpart, an accomplished classical violinist, die in an alternate dimension. She struggles with her sexual and emotional connection to a sleeper agent and an unexpected romance with a waitress, as brooding butches are wont to do, but we never struggle with our affection for this unique point of connection in a really good story.— Riese Bernard 


21. Adventure Time Season 10 (1)

Princess Bubblegum and Marceline Smooch On-Screen, Live Happily Ever After in the “Adventure Time” Series Finale


Adventure Time is easily the most influential show in Cartoon Network’s history; echoes of its style and themes reverberate far beyond kids TV. And really Adventure Time never was kids TV. Yeah, it was animated and as silly as bing bong ping pong. But as it evolved, it became as philosophical weighty and psychologically curious as Battlestar Galactica. Fans of Princess Bubblegum and Marceline enjoyed growing canonical support of their favorite couple over the seasons, both on-screen and in spin-off comic books — but they’d never actually confirmed their relationship physically until the series finale when Bonnie got womped in the dome piece and almost croaked and Marceline rushed to her and caressed her and professed her love and they smooched right on the mouths. — Heather Hogan


20. The Handmaid’s Tale Season Two (4)

“The Handmaid’s Tale” Season Two Gets Even Darker, Queerer, Curiouser and Curiouser

Season Two of Handmaid’s Tale was darker than Season One, which’s saying a lot. I mean we opened with a fake-out mass-hanging and before long Offred was basically slicing off a chunk of her own ear, then staring at the camera while we watched her bleed. And there would be so much more blood where that came from! But damn, the artistry of this brutal show and its magnificent cast, capable of communicating entire worlds without a single spoken line. The season’s most unspoken message, though, was this: pay attention. Look up. Don’t wait for them to come for you. Clea Duvall and Cherry Jones graced us with winning cameos and lesbian characters Moira (Samira Wiley) and Emily (Alexis Bledel) took greater prominence. So did Gilead’s persecution of lesbians in a specific dystopia designed by religious fundamentalists who are obsessed with traditional gender roles and able to rationalize their actions in the wake of a fertility crisis. It’s not a pleasant world to witness, yet it remains a seductive watch. Every moment of dark humor is hard-won, like, I suppose, freedom itself.— Riese Bernard 


19. The End of the F*cking World Season One (5)

I Demand a Lesbian Cop-Show Spin-off of The End of the F*cking World

Sure, we could watch fresh-faced teen dreams fall in love in the lemon-scented hallways of suburban California high schools, or we could watch … whatever this was? A 17-year-old self-diagnosed psychopath who loves knives goes on a traveling caper with the only girl in town who’s sad, alienated and nihilistic enough to wanna run away with him. Hot on their tail are two lesbian detectives who had a thing once and definitely deserve their own show. — Riese Bernard 


18. Dear White People Season Two (4)

In this current television landscape, binges come and go. A television show drops on streaming, you watch it, maybe even obsess for a spell, and then it fades to the recesses of your memory to make room for whatever trendy new show is coming next. In those dips and waves, sometimes something really special falls through the cracks. I say that because there’s a chance that you didn’t watch Dear White People last year and that’s a mistake.

The first season of Dear White People was regrettably uneven, particularly in regards to its lesbian representation, but the second season aired this year and came back stronger, more focused, and razor-sharp! It’s a stylized and poignant exploration of being a black student at a predominantly white university that is as smart (if not smarter) than almost any other comedy I watched last year. The weekend of its drop, I finished all 13 episodes in two days. The next weekend, I watched it again. I couldn’t shake how insightful it was, how bright, how one-of-a-kind. You can watch the second season with no knowledge of the first and follow along easily. As a bonus, it comes with the bittersweet gift of two smaller, but significantly better executed black lesbian plots. One of those plots stars Lena Waithe. It also features Tessa Thompson as a parodied take on a Stacey Dash’s “black republican television pundit” figure. Her character plays out over a series of cameos, but as far as I’m concerned her final scene is worth the entire season by itself. — Carmen Phillips


17. Steven Universe Season Five (2)

“Steven Universe” Makes History, Mends Hearts in a Perfect Lesbian Wedding Episode

Steven Universe continues to explore more adult themes more fully than nearly every non-animated show on TV: family, grief, depression, commitment, betrayal, duplicitousness, forgiveness, puberty, gender, gender presentation, sexuality — and it does so in a way that’s warm and engaging and funny and, most of all, hopeful. This season, Rebecca Sugar’s beloved non-binary lesbian gems, Ruby and Sapphire, broke more ground by becoming the first same-sex couple to get married on all-ages TV. Their wedding featured masc gems in dresses, femme gems in tuxes, kisses right on the mouth, and swoon-worthy proclamations of eternal love. Also, of course, ass-kicking. Steven Universe remains one of the best shows on television, full stop. — Heather Hogan


16. Black Lightning Seasons One & Two (0)

Recaps of Season One & Two of Black Lightning

The CW has delivered a very entertaining batch of fresh-faced white superheroes determined to battle off some wacky Big Bads, but Black Lightning really elevates the genre and takes notable risks. The story is rooted halfway in this world, too, spotlighting a family wrought together over love and a deep commitment to their community and social justice, while divided on how best to manifest that commitment. Annissa Pierce, aka Thunder, became network television’s first out lesbian superhero when she debuted in early 2018. “I’ve said before that bullet proof black people is my favorite superhero trope,” Carmen wrote in a Season One recap, “but there is also something so sweet about a television lesbian who can’t be shot.” We hope to see more in future episodes of her girlfriend Grace, played by Chantal Thuy. Don’t sleep on Black Lightning. Wherever it’s going, you’ll want to be on board.— Riese Bernard 


15. The Bisexual Season One (2)

Hulu’s “The Bisexual” Is Here to Make Every Queer a Little Uncomfortable

This has been such a great year for queer weirdos with their fingers acutely upon their own pulses. In between impeccable L Word references and fetching fashion choices, The Bisexual is an uncompromising journey of sexual discovery, jump-started when Leila breaks up with her much older girlfriend (and business partner) Sadie. Akhvan’s world feels undeniably authentic — she points out that “it’s the only show on TV where you can watch two Middle Eastern women in a car, talking, taking up the screen with their different bodies and different ethnicities.” Fumbling and unafraid of its own potential, The Bisexual also portrays a multi-generational, diverse network of queer and often gender-non-conforming women in London’s East End in all its messy, self-reflexive glory. — Riese Bernard 


13. The Good Fight Season Two (9)

The Good Fight lives in that very special sweet spot that I like to call organized chaos, almost ballet-like in its sweeping rhythm. It is very much a playground for Christine Baranski and Cush Jumbo to do their impeccable work. But it also, better than any other show, captures the collective meltdown that has become a ceaseless hum in Tr*mp’s America. It’s sharp, and it’s dark, and it’s still funny and fun, with a very women-driven, diverse cast. And one of its central lawyers, Maia Rindell (Rose Leslie), also happens to be a petite lesbian mired in staggering lesbian drama, and by lesbian drama I mean her girlfriend literally testifies against her in a massive court case that Maia’s parents have her swept up in! Also, in season two we learn that Maia was in love with her tennis instructor as a closeted baby gay, and I have never felt more Seen. — Kayla Kumari 


12. Harlots Season Two (0)

Harlots Season Two Is Here, Queer and Transcendent

Harlots might be the year’s most underrated show (Seriously, how does this show earn a nearly perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes but not make it onto anybody’s Best Shows Of the Year list? I endeavor to suggest that the reason is Men). I declared Harlots the most accurate portrayal of indoor-market sex work ever represented onscreen in Season One — surprisingly more resonant to me as a former sex worker than any contemporary portrayals — and its extra queering in Season Two made it moreso and then some. If Season One was about sex work, Season Two is about the reality that what’s done to sex workers is inextricable from what’s done to all women — the lessons about power, violence, solidarity and struggle in stories about sex work are ones that the larger conversation about gender ignores at its peril. — Riese Bernard 


11. High Maintenance Season Two (6)

In between High Maintenance‘s first and second season, a lot happened for husband-and-wife co-creators Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld — including Katja coming out as gay, thus ending their marriage. Although the split hadn’t been finalized at the time, Season One ended with the reveal that Sinclair’s “The Guy” marijuana-delivery character lived down the hallway from his ex-wife, who’d left him for another woman. Its Season Two, then, is a long time coming and imbued with a rapturous affection for contemporary queer culture. The characters calling upon “The Guy” negotiate languid lesbian sexual dynamics, LGBT-affirming churches, sexually fluid teens and anti-Trump feminist gatherings attended by well-intentioned, hysterical liberals. Particularly touching was a bittersweet episode that saw “The Guy” visited in the hospital by aforementioned now-lesbian ex-wife. But honestly, with few exceptions every story in this scene is like a nice hybrid edible that makes you giggle, relax, and occasionally feel profound.— Riese Bernard 


10. Vida Season One (2)

“Vida” Review: Starz’s New Latinx Drama Is Sexy, Soulful and Super Queer

Tragically overlooked by mainstream critics, one of 2018’s most innovatory offerings sees emotionally estranged sisters, bisexual attorney Emma (Michel Prada) and Lyn (Melissa Barrera), reuniting in their home of Boyle Heights after the death of their mother who, it turns out, was in fact dating her butch lesbian “roommate,” Eddy. Showrunner Tanya Saracho’s writing team is entirely Latinx and mostly queer, and they deftly address the complications of “gente-fication” and the joys of living breathing loving community with all the nuance and authenticity it requires. But perhaps most notable for all of us here was the graphic butch/femme sex scene that opened Episode Three. “It isn’t just about the hot sex — though the sex is very hot — it’s about creating spaces where Latinx queer bodies can feel ownership,” wrote Carmen in her recap. “It’s tearing down shame. It’s about saying that our love, our sex, our sticky sweat is valid.”— Riese Bernard 


9. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Seasons 4 & 5 (4)

“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” Is Singing Our Song: Valencia Has a Girlfriend!

Maybe we should’ve seen it coming — after all, soon after we meet Valencia for the first time, she’s kissing Rebecca on the dance floor and lamenting the fact that everyone wants to have sex with her — but it wasn’t until Valencia met Beth that we got to see her bisexuality as something other than comedic fodder. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has always been a queer-friendly show but with Valencia and Beth, it finally put lady-loving ladies on centerstage. Valencia’s bisexuality was the pitch perfect end to a show-long character arc: she’s evolved from the vain yoga instructor who couldn’t build meaning relationships with women to loving, working and living with one.

The Golden Globe-winning series is currently in its fourth and final season and Valencia and Beth are still together, happy and, in an unusual twist for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, relatively normal (unless you count the $8000 they pay in rent for their new closet size NYC apartment). We feared that the couple’s recent relocation meant that we wouldn’t get to see as much of them but the show’s found a way to bridge the distance between West Covina and New York. Hopefully, Valencia’s recent return for “the rest of the series of holidays” means we’ll finally get that lesbian loving musical number we’ve all been craving. — Natalie Duggins


8. Jane the Virgin Season Four (4)


While Jane the Virgin has been rightly critically acclaimed since day one and praised for its revolutionary diversity, it’s always had a complicated relationship with its queer characters. Luisa started off strong but was ultimately relegated to a one-dimensional punchline before essentially disappearing, and Rose was never really fully formed. This year, though, the writers picked up on the long-running fan theory that Petra is bisexual and agreed. Unlike Luisa, Petra actually started out as a caricature and became more layered and complicated as the show went on. Her coming out journey was essentially realizing she’s into women because her chemistry with Jane Ramos spawned a sex dream into her subconscious — and then just going for it. The self-revelation, the exploration, even the way she told Jane and Rafael about it was so sweet and sexy and prickly and Petra. Jane the Virgin has gotten better every year, and the surprise of Petra and JR’s storyline was one of the reasons season four was its best ever. — Heather Hogan


7. The Haunting of Hill House Season One (4)

Netflix’s New “Haunting of Hill House” Gave Us a Lesbian Who Lives, Took Our Whole Weekend

The Haunting of Hill House had a challenge ahead of it with adapting its queer storyline; the original text had one of pop culture’s first recognizably lesbian characters, but preserving her “authentically” would mean falling far short of today’s expectations for representation, as in 2018 we look for more to signify lesbianism than “wears pants” and “is unmarried.” So Haunting gave us Theo, a lesbian character whose sexuality isn’t her whole storyline, but does tie into it; who goes through some wild and traumatizing stuff, but on a level that’s comparable with the also very wild and traumatizing stuff that her straight siblings go through. And in a show where romantic relationships are rocky at best, Theo does manage to both survive and get the girl.  —Rachel Kincaid


6. Brooklyn 99 Season Five (6)

As evidenced by our very own Gay Emmys, this year was a very good year for Stephanie Beatriz and her character Rosa Diaz, who came out as bisexual — like, actually said the word! — on this season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The show itself had a good year, too, almost annoying in how persistently it outdoes itself year after year with its annual, always excellent Halloween episode. The Backstreet Boys lineup might go down as one of the greatest comedy cold opens of all time (up there with The Office’s “Fire Drill”). And even though we’re now five seasons into the series, that doesn’t mean the writers are just coasting by on humor that relies on how well we know all of these characters. It still regularly serves up new, emotional character arcs that peel back the layers to this lovable squad, as with Rosa’s personal life developments. Above all else, the show celebrates earnestness and friendship in a really lovely way that proves you don’t have to be mean or cynical to be really fucking funny. — Kayla Kumari 


5. One Day at a Time Season Two (6)

“One Day at a Time” Brings Even More Heart and Humor and Gayness to Season 2

There’s an easy reason that One Day at a Time shows up on so many critics’ “End of the Year” Best Lists. It’s quite simply that damn good. One Day at a Time is the most generous, compassionate, loving family sitcom on television. It’s also not afraid to have frank, sometimes dark discussions – PTSD, depression, the fragility of age, the perils of being a young queer teen, the financial struggles of being a working class family in the 21st century. It’s all on the table.

As I wrote in my Season Two review, some of the show’s brilliance comes from leaning into its multi-cam sitcom roots. One Day at a Time uses an old school format, and they are proud of it. They leverage the intimacy and familiarity of the genre to their advantage, luring their audience into cutting edge and weighty conversations from the comfort of the Alvarez’s living room. It’s a stand-out in a class of stand-outs and I would put it against any other comedy on television. In fact, I’ll go further. The fact that One Day at a Time has now gone two years without any acting or writing Emmy nominations is one of the most shaming indictments of the white, male majority of the Television Academy that we have right now. Yes, it’s just that damn good. — Carmen Phillips


4. Pose Season One (13)

“Pose” Is Full of Trans Joy, Resistance, and Love

This show just flatly rejected the idea that the best way to tell our stories is slowly, character-by-character, putting one white cisnormative queer in one show and then another show until we somehow achieve critical mass. The problem with that has often been that that’s not how we live — we’re not out here one by one, lone queers in schools/towns/families composed entirely by normals. Enter Pose: a show written by and for trans women of color, set in an era when the only thing louder than the daily trauma of oppression and omnipresent fear of HIV/AIDS were the LOOKS, and all the beautiful ways a body can move to express itself. Pose radiates with a glittery, gorgeous aesthetic and complicated characters. Trans bodies are so often portrayed as somehow tragic or compromised, and Pose — in addition to being a story about real human lives, love, friendship, and “chosen family” — is about the triumph of the body, its ability to mean as much to the world as it does to itself. — Riese Bernard 


3. G.L.O.W. Season Two (11)

G.L.O.W. Season Two Doubles the lesbians, Doubles the Fun

After a first season that bafflingly pursued outlandish homoeroticism yet was seemingly void of homosexuals, Season Two introduced a Latina lesbian fighter and pulled Arthie off the bench for a romantic awakening. G.L.O.W., based on the real-life Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, was a delightful mid-summer ride that took a more decidedly feminist bent as the Gorgeous Ladies explored how to advocate for, instead of against, each other, in an industry hell-bent on exploiting women for male fortune. Still, with its electrifying outfits, ostentatious costume drama and carefully-calibrated balance of comedy and drama, it only failed at one thing: an ensemble this dynamic needs longer episodes or a longer season, or both. — Riese Bernard 


2. The Good Place Season 3 (12)

The Good Place, like The Office and 30 Rock before it (although I’m, admittedly, not a 30 Rock fan), has accomplished nothing short of a complete re-imagination of what the half-hour network comedy can be. It’s got everything: prestige sci-fi level world-building, cartoonish aesthetics, highbrow esoteric wit, running gags and plenty of ‘ships. Its premise, writes Sam Anderson in The New York Times, “is absurdly high concept. It sounds less like the basis of a prime-time sitcom than an experimental puppet show conducted, without a permit, on the woodsy edge of a large public park.” And yet it works. And in Season Three, The Good Place amped up Eleanor’s bisexuality and Janet’s particular take on non-binary, and we are so pleased, because that means we can put what will undoubtedly be one of the most legendary television programs of all time on lists like this one. — Riese Bernard 


1. Killing Eve Season One (17)

Killing Eve is Your New Queer Obsession

Crescendoing, relentless, all-consuming obsession fuels the narrative of Killing Eve, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s sexy, smart, distinctly feminine action thriller starring Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer as the toxic spy-assassin duo who can’t stop thinking about each other. Watching Killing Eve feels exactly like that: seering obsession. This category was stacked with great, complex dramas, but there’s something just purely intoxicating about Killing Eve that sets it apart. Though it’s the phrase most often used to describe Eve and Villanelle’s dynamic, “cat-and-mouse” hardly covers what Oh and Comer bring to these characters or what’s even on the page. It’s never quite clear whether they want to murder each other or make out. Hunting each other, longing for each other, Eve and Villanelle might be one of the most complex queer relationships on television. But beyond that dripping subtext, it’s just a very good thriller with compelling twists and turns and sharp edges that refuse to be dulled. — Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Riese is the 37-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key Jewish power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. 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 Nylon, Queerty, 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! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2658 articles for us.

58 Comments

  1. I’m…having problems with “The Good Place”, and I need to see if anybody else is feeling this way. I feel like Eleanor’s bisexuality, especially in regards to women, is treated as a joke. We never see her kiss another woman or talk about previously having a girlfriend. And every time she makes a comment about Tahani it seems like a punchline meant to draw an amused chuckle. Although we get reboot #218 and the near kiss in the simulation, she’s never seen as even so much as considering a relationship with Tahani, and it’s always VERY apparent that she’s meant to end up with Chidi. I just need to hear other people’s draw on the situation.

    • Hi I’m here for you!

      Some of us were discussing this here: https://www.autostraddle.com/the-bisexual-bob-a-bold-haircut-for-a-beautiful-future-439852/

      (Thread starts with a comment by Strophoria)

      I will add to my comment on that post that I need to go back and watch the episode where Eleanor kisses Chidi-as-Janet and decide whether I’m mad that my partner didn’t tell me about it or agree that Eleanor wasn’t blatantly queer enough for me to be excited about.

      People also had feelings when that episode was briefly covered on Autostraddle here: https://www.autostraddle.com/boobs-on-your-tube-janet-smooches-janet-smooches-eleanor-on-the-good-place/

        • 🙂 I wouldn’t include it on a list of best queer TV shows but since this is just a list of best TV shows that have a queer character I…still disagree since in my opinion the show got a little more queer in Season 3 but a lot less clever/funny/interesting. I need to go see if I can find any straight people watching the show who would call Eleanor bi, especially someone of my parent’s generation (read: exposed to different media sources).

      • Updated to add: I finally watched Season 3, Episode 9 (Janets) and I completely understand why my partner didn’t bother telling me about it. The kiss so clearly happens because it’s between Eleanor and Chidi, it’s only Eleanor/Chidi-as-Janet for a split second, and by the time the kiss is over it’s just Eleanor/Chidi – which is the whole point of the kiss, to ground Eleanor. You can’t call it queer when it was really a het kiss with magical grounding powers. I have higher standards for queer representation in today’s day and age. That being said, I’m into Chidi-as-Janet.

        BUT ALSO, that moment in the beginning where someone calls Janet a lady and more than one of the characters go “not a lady”. That did something to me. That was a wonderful gut-punching in a good way moment that resonated in my soul. As I said I skipped a few episodes, but I’m told that was the first time any character said that other than Janet. I still think it’s supposed to just be an interdimensional being joke – not a girl, not a robot – but as a nonbinary person that was an important moment for me.

    • I feel much the same way. It feels to me like they want credit for having a queer character, but without actually depicting a same-sex relationship (or even the serious possibility of one), or having Eleanor actually identify as bi or any other queer identity. Instead it’s mostly jokes (unlike Eleanor/Chidi, Tahani/Jason, Jason/Janet, Chidi/Simone, etc).

      I hope it gets better, but when there’s lots of shows that do *show* same-sex relationships and have characters who on-screen id as LGBT, I can’t help but be disappointed by the Good Place’s approach.

      • That’s how I feel as well. It feels kind of gross (can’t think of a better word) to me that Chidi is treated as the only viable option for Eleanor, whether or not it’s intentional. The way possible bisexuality is treated feels like they won’t just dive into fully.

        • I have mixed feelings. I would love it if Eleanor got together with Tahani, but at the same time her bisexuality is just as valid if she never has a relationship with a woman.

          Also I think her awareness of her sexuality is a relatively new thing and therefore she had only male partners when alive (the first time), and again that doesn’t make her sexuality less valid.

          I agree it is mainly used for comedy but it never feels like they are laughing at queer people. That is one thing I love about the show, it never feels like they are making fun of a minority group.

          • This is why I always feel bad critiquing the show for how it treats Eleanor. If Eleanor were a real person identifying as bi (even if not out) I would have no complaints and even in the show I don’t object to Eleanor so much as the situations she’s put in?

            Most of how Eleanor expresses her attraction to women is by saying something along the lines of “I would hit that”. It feels very male-gazey to me, but also Eleanor is supposed to be a rough character so it’s cute that this is how she’s trying to vocalize her attraction to women. But at the same time, it’s frustrating that her attraction is only physical, rather than actually having *feelings* for women and an interest in them beyond their bodies. The show avoids having to deal with this incongruency by having Chidi be the only person she has ever been willing to be that vulnerable with and admit her feelings for. Which in the case of real people would be understandable but in the show feels like they’re avoiding fully examining her sexuality.

            The show also has infinite time to play with. We never got to see how Eleanor and Tahani would play out as soul mates because the writers of the show chose to make that one of Michael’s desperate attempts in a montage of desperate attempts. They could have had a real relationship and eventually broken up because of normal relationship incompatibility and now Eleanor is realizing that from previous reboots Chidi is her true love but Tahani is an ex and that was real too.

            At the very least, one of the other characters could say something about Eleanor’s attraction to women instead of it always being Eleanor in-show. I don’t necessarily want Eleanor’s self-identity journey to be different so much as I want it to be validated or reflected by the other characters and by the situations the show puts her in.

          • I actually want to reply to @owl below, but I can’t see that option.

            I’m super glad that you explained that you would have no complaints for a real life Eleanor identifying as bi, because seeing this thread hits me in a weird place with people calling Eleanor not really queer! She’s a very straightforward horny person so it seems very in-character for her to be like “I’d hit that” all the time.
            She hasn’t called herself bi, but she’s told Chidi that “more men should be bi”, which frankly sounds like someone only queer people would say? Maybe I’m reaching, but it’s not like Eleanor hasn’t shown she’s comfortable lusting after women. It’s a big point in the show that she doesn’t like being vulnerable or showing actual feelings, so I’m not surprised that she only manifests interest by making sexual comments. She did try to make out with Chidi’s gf in one of those break up simulations.

            Another thing is that the other characters all seem to be straight, so it doesn’t surprise me that they don’t call out Eleanor or comment on her sexuality. In my experience straight people usually don’t read queerness (I’ve had friends be like “oh you have a crush on her? I just thought you went out for coffee dates because you were like really close friends!”) or just choose not to comment on it. I actually want more queer characters in the show so they can be like “Eleanor, what’s your deal? Is Tahani available?”

            I understand that since Eleanor is not a real person, the writers have the power to give her a girlfriend, female exes, new romantic interests and there’s of course Tahani. But I still feel unease watching y’all contest her queerness. We’ve seen queerbaiting before and I don’t think this is it, there’s bi women who haven’t had sexual experiences with women, who take years to realize the relationships they thought of as friendships were actually crushes or situationships. I always support asking for more queer representation and more queer storylines, but again, being bi but in a straight relationship or having a straight romantic interest is a really common experience.

          • I feel like if this was a show for queer people, it would have been a progressive choice to make her bi but ending up with a man (because that situation tends to result in erasure within the queer community), but given that it’s a mainstream show for a mostly straight audience, that same narrative choice feels avoidant. Does that make sense?

          • @janaconjota Yeah, I just want the show to be more queer overall and to do a better job of validating Eleanor’s bisexuality. I also have thoughts about how I want them to make it obvious to a straight audience that Eleanor is bi or to write the show for a queer audience. I never want to make bi women in relationships with men feel like they’re less queer or not queer enough.

            (And you couldn’t reply to me because the thread got too long. Autstraddle capped the number of times you can reply otherwise the nesting would get insane. The indents would eventually make the replies too skinny to read.)

    • I agree – is Eleanor actually canonically bi in the show, or is it just that it is very much there to be interpreted that way? Maybe it has been stated at some point and I’ve just forgotten. It’s starting to feel a bit queerbaity to me – all these hints and winking comments to the viewers who want her to be bi without any actual commitment to making that part of her identity.

      Regardless, I don’t think season 3 is anywhere near as good as seasons 1 and 2 – all the flitting between different locations has made it really lack the strong sense of place (ironically) that the first two seasons had. But maybe that will improve now.

      • regardless of how it plays out on screen she is canonically bi, tiny_dancer

        Ah okay, I hadn’t read any of those comments )and I had also forgotten about that bit in 3×05 you mention). I suspect it probably isn’t clear to straight people watching that Eleanor’s comments are anything more than jokes – but maybe that doesn’t matter, since sexuality isn’t something we’re performing for the benefit or interest of straight people! But then I wouldn’t want that to become a justification for a show to ‘get away’ with having a queer character while also appearing not to for those who don’t get it. I don’t know, it’s difficult. Queer characters shouldn’t have to go around saying ‘I’m queer!’ all the time; straight characters don’t have to declare their straightness. Maybe I am in the wrong here for assuming Eleanor is straight unless proven otherwise.

  2. haha this has been a huge debate in the tv team too! i objected to her inclusion in the gay emmys as a queer character but advocated for eve (of killing eve)’s inclusion and we talked for hours about how we all perceived Eleanor and Eve differently. ( i lost the debate )

    I changed my tune when the new episodes started up this fall — but if this was a list of “best queer representation” i wouldn’t put The Good Place on it!!

    that being said, it’s still often rare on mainstream tv to have a bisexual woman character who has a romantic storyline with a man and still manages to find ways to reference her bisexuality?

  3. This was an immensely satisfying read. I’m overjoyed to discover that this year there were so many shows with queer characters and relationships that I had nearly forgotten about some of them, like The End of the Fucking World, which feels like that came out forever ago. Society as a whole has been such a shitstorm this year but daaaamn was a great year for wlw & enbys on television. This list hits all the big ones in my book – Harlots, Glow, Killing Eve, BK99, and Hill House. Killing Eve takes the cake though, achieving what I thought near impossible – filling the Orphan Black shaped hole in my heart. It is frightening how in line with all my interests this show is…. middle aged women with glorious hair, accents, fashion, espionage, and of course the delightful murder vs makeout paradox. Can’t wait to see how that one plays out come next April!

  4. I dont know how you could have Ms. Maisel, which does not even have an identified queer character, Jane the Virgin, and The end of the fucking world and not mention Wynonna Earp! Its smart and funny and has its lesbian relationship front and center. Not to mention having Emily Andras writing it who wrote for Lost Girl.

    • I have to agree. I wasn’t really feeling the queer content that much either for GLOW, although I do think the build-up about Arthie’s feelings was quite cute. Not that Yolanda got much of a storyline, though. It was like, oops, all these women and no queers – quick, find one!

      While it’s entertaining, it doesn’t have nearly as much character development in it as Wynonna Earp, which is also campy in its own way.

    • it’s not a list of best queer representation! it’s best tv shows that had regular/recurring queer and trans women characters in them.

      listen i could talk shit about mrs. maisel ALL NIGHT
      DON’T GET ME STARTED

  5. Maybe I didn’t understand your criteria of what made this list but why has Wynonna Earp been left off? By far the best representation and best queer couple on TV (plus I think they made some Best lists) in my opinion. I mean a couple of these shows I’ve never heard of and another couple were stretches to include just because there’s been innuendo or a wink at the audience to a characters queerness.
    Anyway Wynonna Earp should have been close to the top of your list.

      • Yes I read that and it says it chose shows based on major publication Best Of lists but my confusion was in the last part where it says “On the list below, you’ll see in parentheses a number: that number represents the number of other Best-Of lists the show appeared on.” So I read that to mean other Best lists to this one. So as I was reading the list and saw (0) I took that to mean they were not on any of the aforementioned Best Of lists so why did they make the cut. I understand now where I misread.

    • Wynnona Earp was actually not on any of the critics best of lists that Iisted in the intro. I recognize that it is beloved and fun and touching and meaningful to people and has great queer rep and we cover the show more than anyone else online and it would top a favorites list and did show up for best couple on our gay Emmys, but it hasn’t really been critically acclaimed by any top critics

      • You should probably take a look at Maureen Ryan’s list. She’s one of the most respected television critics in the business. Additionally, Wynonna Earp is on the AV Club’s list this year.

        The claim that it hasn’t been critically acclaimed by any top critics is not true.

        But Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has zero confirmed LGBT representation, and yet it’s on this list? That’s not fair.

        • maureen ryan hasn’t posted a top shows of 2018 list anywhere.

          this is the av club’s list, wynnona earp is not on it:

          https://tv.avclub.com/the-best-tv-of-2018-1830885588

          here’s vulture’s lists, wynnona earp are not on them:

          https://www.vulture.com/2018/12/best-tv-shows-2018.html

          https://www.vulture.com/2018/12/best-tv-shows-2018-jen-chaney.html

          i realize that’s only two of their critics, but here’s their not-year-end list that was collaborative and wasn’t even capped, and wynnona earp is not on it:

          https://www.vulture.com/2018/11/best-tv-shows-of-2018-so-far.html

          • Let me say one more thing about Wynonna Earp. First of all, as Riese said, we dedicate a lot of space and resources to covering the show because we know the queer rep is excellent and that it’s beloved by a lot of people in the community. It’s made all of our end-of-year lists, including one y’all haven’t seen yet, except this one and there’s a very good reason for that. Most of the shows on this list are considered to be the “best” by mainstream prestige TV critics, which is an absolutely fascinating and super new phenomenon. Even just three years ago Riese couldn’t have made this list. We have, until verrrrry recently, had to review and recap most of queer TV and movies on a scale. Because if they existed it all, the quality of production, acting, storytelling, etc. wasn’t on par with what most mainstream crirics thought of as “best.” Some (more than ever) of what we saw in 2018 was, as you see here, lauded by critics. And like it or not, that matters because critical acclaim leads to financial gain leads to more of that kind of TV getting made. You see this in the quality and sheer number of best lesbian/bi movies of 2018 too. We could honestly see three movies and five actresses playing gay up for Oscars this year. This is a change of pace and a distinction that’s worth recognizing and talking about.

            Should Wynonna Earp be on more prestige TV lists? That’s a fair debate, but the simple fact is that it wasn’t and so it’s not a part of this list either. (The shows on this list that weren’t on other prestige lists were revolutionary in some way, with representation of QPOC, or sex workers, or some other minority that has been vastly underwritten in the queer community. Wynonna Earp is excellent in that it stars women and is showrun by a woman, but we’ve had lots and lots of white sci-fi lesbians on TV, probably more than any other types of lesbian characters ever.)

            This list isn’t about how we don’t value Wynonna Earp or its fans. Again, obviously we do because we cover it extensively! But we’ve been doing this a long, long time and we’re excited to watch representation and the critical conversation around it evolve. We’re the only people talking about this because we’re the only people qualified to talk about this and that’s exciting too!

          • Maureen Ryan’s list:

            https://www.moryan.com/2018/12/10/the-top-tv-shows-of-2018/

            AV Club with one of their critics:

            https://tv.avclub.com/what-s-missing-from-our-list-of-2018-s-best-tv-1830979080?utm_medium=sharefromsite&utm_source=tvclub_twitter&utm_campaign=top

            Mainstream critics recognize Wynonna Earp on their year end lists as worthy of mention as prestige tv. So whatever your criteria is, there’s another reason why you didn’t include Wynonna Earp. Saying it’s not recognized in mainstream critical discussions is not true.

            Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, again, does not have any recognized queer women represented on the show. Susie is subtext at best. So why is this show included and one that actually fits the criteria for this list is not?

          • Ah, I see. So, first of all, I love Mo Ryan and consider her a friend. We have known each other through the Television Critics Association for many years and I believe her work at Variety changed everything about queer women on TV. She is the reason the Lexa movement had weight and wings; she did the investigating, the reporting, and gave it the legitimacy it needed to actually make a change. I follow her work very closely! But even I didn’t know she’d put out a best-of TV list because this is on her personal blog. Obviously I value her opinion highly, but unless something is published on a media website or magazine, it doesn’t get factored into things like Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB, MetaCritic, or even Google’s SEO results. Also, if we factored in Mo’s website, we’d have to go around and find every writer who has ever been a prestige critic and find out what they wrote on their personal blogs, for it to be fair. As for the AV Club list, it’s a list of shows that AREN’T on their best-of 2018 list, right? WE was chosen by one critic as something they enjoyed, but it didn’t factor high enough into their internal calculations to make their actual best-of list, if I am reading that correctly.

          • yeah the av club list is things readers and their critics felt were NOT included on the best of list! like, if we did that here, obviously WE would be on it because… i mean this is meta now

        • Ooh this makes me think more seriously about giving She-Ra a chance. I love Noelle Stevenson’s work but I have never been able to get into cartoons! I didn’t really enjoy them as a kid! I couldn’t get into Steven Universe despite how many good things I heard about it! But if She-Ra is really that good I’ll have to try it sometime.

          • It’s still clearly a cartoon for kids, but it’s not uber preachy and mortifying or overly twee like I found Steven’s Universe to be.

            Some of the humor is stuff adults can relate to forever and ever, because stuff happens and in dealing with it panic happens before functioning happens no matter how old you get.

          • But also, all the sexual tension in the show – wow! At first I thought it was super queer, then I started wondering if I was just seeing what I wanted to see. Then I thought that maybe I’m not actually queer and am a straight person with no gaydar at all who’s just assuming everything is gay because I am unable to accurately recognize same sex attraction. (Which is a ridiculous place to go just because of one TV show, I know.) But it is not just me!

            But Dear Lord, Catra. Wow.

          • @owl this is great timing because one of the showrunners just tweeted that She-Ra season 2 comes out next week! (Which I’m sure was information that was available somewhere else, I just don’t pay attention) I’m so excited

  6. Look, I was a little bit in love with Liv Tyler after that whole Arwen gig.
    Then, years pass, etc., etc., someone tells me I need to check out “Harlots” and there is Liv Tyler, speaking fancy English in a period piece and sending out roses to Charlotte Wells.
    I needed those smelling salts for a minute there. A minute per episode, actually.
    And then Killing Eve!
    The Brits really raised the bar for classy gay this year.

  7. Heather, when I read your initial review of Forever, my gf and I were like fyeah and watched the show. We waited for this queer coming out situation, and never saw it!

    What we saw was Kase, someone closer to a proto-lesbian than anything else, with her life described as little more than a boring job and a shitty ex husband and a haircut I find sexy but which she probably did herself with kitchen scissors and zero fucks.

    And June, who is drawn to her more because her husband is an absolutely absurd character keeping her in a place she doesn’t want to be, than for any other reason. The only thing that comes close to acknowledging queerness in my memory was June being accused of it by her husband and denying it.

    No kissing, no Carol-like stares.

    On a metaphorical level, the show as a whole absolutely could be interpreted as an allegory for a queer awakening, but listen: I queer my media, even freaking commercials, by deliberately misreading the subtext all day long.

    What I want from a TV show that purports to be queer is explicit OUT queerness. This is not a queer show, just because June was friends with a woman who wore flannel shirts every day.

    • it was The Verge! AND in their opening graf they listed 20 other shows they said could’ve “easily been included on this list” and it wasn’t there either! i feel like somebody in their editorial office just like, totally blacked out or something. it’s very bizarre!

  8. Mrs Maisel has no lesbian character. Where are we getting that from? Since when are we assuming people’s sexuality. There is one TV rule: Every character is straight until the writers specifically decide they aren’t.
    Susie might have the appearance of a lesbian in the 50’s but not once has it been indicated that she is attracted to women or not attracted to men. For all we know, she might be asexual or not just into anything involving romantic commitments. We know nothing. At least with The Good Place, we still had Eleanor show attraction towards women. This is another level of erasure here. So pls, let’s not go giving shows credit where they do not deserve.

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.