ABC just announced it has renewed its brand new (and surprisingly funny) ensemble comedy Happy Endings, which is one of a new generation of shows featuring an openly gay character as a series regular and part of its main cast.
But interestingly, the show’s resident gay character—charismatic couch-potato Max, played by straight actor Adam Pally—is perhaps the least seemingly-gay male character on the show, with the exception of a the occasional pick up line or reference to the fact that he “slept with a dude last night.”
I think the show is great, and I have laughed along with every episode, but I’ve gotta admit—something about this isn’t sitting right with me.
First, let me just say I applaud the show’s inclusion of a gay character at all. In today’s media landscape, doing so is nothing short of a political statement, and this is proof of a growing trend of real LGBT representation and integration as everyday, mainstream people in popular media. I get that in portraying Max as essentially completely straight, they are making a demonstrated effort to avoid stereotypes commonly associated with gays (that we are effeminate, that we talk about gay things like Broadway and Lady Gaga and getting mani-pedis after brunch in Chelsea, that most of our relationships last for 3-5 minutes in public parks and lonely highway restrooms.)
It seems the goal is to do something completely different, and that is great. But it’s possible that in their effort to not offend anyone, they have thrown some of just-Born-this-Way baby out with the bathwater.
Personally, as a gay man, I don’t want to be accepted by Mainstream America for all the ways I am straight. I don’t want straight people to look at Max and think, “See? I don’t mind those kinds of gay people. They’re fine by me. Why can’t they all just be like that?” Whether the “straight-acting” among us want to believe it or not, most gays just don’t talk, walk, think or act quite like their straight counterparts, and it is at our most unabashedly gay that we should demand to be accepted. We’re different, and thankfully so. The character Max doesn’t seem to be a proper reflection of that, and is a bit misleading about gays in general.
OBVIOUSLY I am painting with broad strokes, here. Yes, there are lots of “straight acting”, “no-homo-bro” gays out there who think they are the lucky ones, and of whom we are all supposedly eternally jealous and lustful, blah-blah-blah. I’m not speaking for you guys; go watch the game or skin a bear or something.
I speak anecdotally for the gays that I know, who fall somewhere between Jack McFarland on “Will and Grace” and some bro-y fratboy in Collegetown, USA. (For a cheat sheet on how to lovingly embrace gay stereotypes and cultural tendencies without exploiting them, look no further than Modern Family’s treatment of Cam and Mitchell.) Because it’s a bit trickier to represent us in mainstream culture, we are woefully underrepresented, and Happy Endings—despite an admirable effort to do right by the gays—doesn’t really help that.
In short: In an admirable effort to avoid one extreme portrayal of a gay man on TV, Happy Endings may have fallen into a completely different one.
Call me picky if you want, but I promise, I’m not losing sleep over this one. I may not love the execution, but the fact that we gays are getting positive representation on primetime TV is something to be thankful for.
Oh, and I need to repeat—Happy Endings really is pretty damn funny. You should watch.