Already Very Queer Comedy “The Lake” Gets Gayer in Season Two

Author’s Note: This review of season two of The Lake on Prime contains some spoilers.

The second I jumped into The Lake — the very underrated if imperfect Prime comedy that recently dropped its second season — I was struck by the quiet and very queer ways it reimagines family.

The Lake hinges on Justin (Jordan Gavaris), a gay man reconnecting with his biological daughter Billie (Madison Shamoun) who he had with his best friend when they were teens in high school and subsequently handed over to adoptive parents in an open adoption. In season one, Justin and Billie bond against the backdrop of the quaint but drama-filled Canadian lakeside community where Justin spent summers in his youth, contending with a bevy of other “unconventional” family relationships, including the fraught rivalry between Justin and his step-sister Maisy-May (Julia Stiles), who lives in the sprawling cottage Justin’s grandfather built because Justin’s estranged father left it to her when he died. In The Lake, we get to see all kinds of relationships — adoptive parents, biological parents, step-siblings, step-cousins, etc. — and though they’re defined distinctly, there isn’t some straightforward, cisnormative hierarchy ascribed to them. Billie’s relationship with Justin is different than her relationship with her adoptive parents and with her biological mother Teesa (Sagine Sémajuste), but all of these relationships are full of love, of mess. The Lake is more modern and more queer and binary-defying than most other family comedies from recent years that claim to bake the concept of a “modern family” into its premise.

In season two, it gets even gayer, which really should be the trajectory of all television series. After the conclusion to her rollercoaster will-they/won’t-they romance with Maisy-May’s son Killian (Jared Scott) in season one, Billie finds herself returning to the lake for a new romantic trope: the love triangle. Specifically, she ends up in a love triangle with professional tree planter Forrest (Jhaleil Swaby)…and Forrest’s tree planting sister Ivy (Max Amani).

Some classic love triangle chaos ensues, heightened of course by the fact that Billie’s crushes are related to each other, but even that — for all its discomfort — does feel oddly fitting on this show all about the soupy mess of family. It’s not a “coming out” storyline in a traditional sense for Billie, who is genuinely surprised by her attraction to Ivy but whose burgeoning queerness is, of course, instantly embraced by her gay biological dad. Billie doesn’t immediately reach for labels or have an explicit “coming out” moment; instead, it unfolds in a much more amorphous and organic way. But Billie acts selfishly here, in a way that honestly does feel true to early queer experiences. She prioritizes her own desires over being honest and communicative with Forrest and Ivy, and it rightfully has consequences in her relationships with both.

Even though Billie “chooses” Forrest initially when finally pressured to make her love triangle selection, I don’t view it as simply as that. On a lesser show, this would read as the writing imposing a comp-het storyline on a character, using queerness to inject romantic conflict while ultimately allowing Billie to go with the “safer” option of dating a guy. But on The Lake — especially because its queer storytelling is so nuanced and deft in other areas, including when it comes to the on-and-off relationship between Justin and Riley (Travis Nelson) but also just its expansive ideas about family — it doesn’t feel like that kind of lazy, pandering writing. It feels in-character for Billie and for the themes of this season in particular. Characters on this show so often are running from the things they want, from the things that scare them. Billie isn’t scared of her queerness; she’s scared of getting hurt. Just like Justin is. Just like Maisy-May is in her own tumultuous relationship with her mother Mimsy (Lauren Holly, joining the cast this season and making a splash instantly). The Lake doesn’t delegitimize Billie and Ivy’s dynamic; it injects a lot of depth into it, even as it fractures. A lot of the romantic storytelling throughout The Lake has been surprisingly deep.

I do wish we’d gotten a little more in season two from Opal (Declan Whaley), Maisy’s gender-expansive queer kid who is always dressed to impress and has a love of queer cinema and party-planning. In one of my favorite subplots from season one, Opal has to advocate for his own creative expression and art, which Maisy views as “too adult” but which Justin swoops in to defend and provide a safe, encouraging space for. But then Opal and Justin have some tension of their own, brought on by generational differences in how they each experience their own queerness. It was really good and complex and refreshing to watch, and we don’t quite get a moment that compares or satisfyingly builds on that in season two. Outside of a few solid scenes between Opal and Maisy, Opal is sort of relegated to the background unfortunately.

Season two continues to be playful about form and genre, just like season one with its slasher interlude. The season finale adopts a whodunnit mystery flourish that the characters readily lean into, and there’s an arson throughline that has significant stakes to it without feeling like a cheap grab at plot-based conflict. Season two literally lights one of the show’s central symbols of community and history in this lakeside town on fire, and the repercussions touch every member of the community in specific and weighty ways.

In a hilarious, very gay, very Canadian development, an entire episode in season two hinges on Tegan and Sara coming to town to perform at one of the lake’s famed talent shows (the talent show episode from season one contains the aforementioned great Opal storyline). The rockstar sisters never actually make it (in typical sitcom shenanigan fashion), but there’s a brief FaceTime cameo and an entire musical performance of “Closer” — sung by Stiles and Holly. It’s delightful just how well this all gets worked in in-universe on the show. It doesn’t feel like merely a ploy for a celebrity cameo, much like how there are a few Easter eggs pertaining to Stiles’ long career rather seamlessly woven into the series — including Maisy wearing a tank that says “SAVE THE LAST DRINK” on it — that are fun winks without feeling overly contrived.

Even at its zaniest, The Lake feels very grounded in the world the writers have constructed in rich detail over the past two seasons. It’s at its finest when plunging into the depths of familial conflict but also care. These characters love to self-sabotage, but they often find their ways back to each other, their relationships transcending conventional definitions but all at once familiar. “Chosen family” and “given family” aren’t clear-cut boxes on The Lake. This is a community that defies strict categories of relationships. It’s queer not just on its surface but deep below.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 840 articles for us.


  1. I loved season one, so excited for season two! Glad to see AS covering this. And–it feels uncomfy to be returning to “regularly scheduled programming” on AS when so many questions and concerns from the “A Message From The CEO/CFO” post from a month ago have gone un-addressed. Really hoping there can be some clarity soon.

  2. Watched this show over the weekend — mainly for Madison Shamoun, who played Coop’s girlfriend, Skye, on All American — and it was an enjoyable binge. I wish we’d gotten more time with Ivy and Billie…especially since a return isn’t guaranteed…but I liked enough of the other characters that I didn’t mind watching everything play out.

    Also? This is the second show I’ve watched recently where I’ve seen an ostensibly straight character realizes they had feelings for a girl…and I liked being surprised by it.

    • I liked being surprised by it too! And we must have been on the same wavelength, because I also watched the whole show over the weekend! I saw a clip of the Sara & Tegan Julia Stiles moment and was like “uhhh what is this show?” lol. Madison Shamoun is great!! And even though she starts out great, I feel like we really get to see her acting grow in season two.

  3. Just came back to say thank you for this article! I hadn’t heard of this show before, but I just wrapped up watching all of it. I knw that’s a relatively slow binge, but I love when Autostraddle highlights shows like this I wold otherwise almost certainly miss. (I also recently watched With Love for the same reason.)

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