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.

 

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28 Responses to Is Max on Happy Endings Gay Enough?

  1. Jon says:

    “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.”

    I’m not sure how I feel about this article – it looks like you’re trying to look for an argument where there isn’t one. There are different types of gays within the community, whether they are more effeminate or less effeminate is all due to conditioning and the environment they’re in, on top of their interests. I think it’s perfectly acceptable (and I’ll agree with you on the “brava!” to mainstream television culture for having a gay character on a cable network show at all) to have a character that is a bit more reserved. Sure, being in Manhattan a majority of us are romping around the bar in our scissored, paper-dolled up finest tanks and learning the choreo to the latest Beyonce routine – but just take a look at OUR group for instance. Sure, we are all gay in our own right, but I think each of has a different flamboyance to us. I know plenty of self-respecting homosexual men who aren’t the “broheim” types, rather they are just comfortable with who they are as average, run of the mill, boy next door types.

    I get where you are trying to go with this, but I’ll leave you with this: not all gay character need to be the Will or the Jack or the Kurt…sometimes you’ll get a Blaine and sometimes you’ll get a Max and sometimes you’ll get an Emmett (from “Queer As Folk”). It’s not about representation or misrepresentation, it’s about telling a story.

  2. Kyle says:

    This is an interesting article. When I first watched the show, I had a similar reaction. When I thought about why that was, I realized it was because I was used to gay characters on TV being extremely flamboyant. I think hollywood has gotten itself into the habit of type-casting a very specific, easily identifiable member of the gay community because it was simple. They were able to say “look, a gay character!”, without having to develop them far beyond that.

    In your article you said you were “painting with broad strokes” (which I don’t have a problem with) but I think that is what most of society does as well. The fact is, not everyone in America (or the world for that matter) is exposed to an openly gay individual. For them, any exposure comes from media. Knowing that… do we really want such a distinct portion of the gay community to speak for us all?

    As someone who has only recently come out, I’ll admit that I tend to fit into the “excessively tight deep V/overpriced everything” stereotype, and that’s fine with me… I am who I am. But I can’t help that think that the gay community sometimes exaggerates the traits that are expected of us. Yes, I am someone who is obsessed with Alexander McQueen, interior design and my hair… but I also know that there are guys who simply like guys. Despite popular opinion (even my own at times) being gay is not about all things fabulous and shiny…. it’s simply a matter of who we are sexually and emotionally attracted to. I believe a character who is able to convey that and that alone, may be a good thing.

  3. Joe B. says:

    Gay enough? The last time I looked the only thing that makes one gay is who they choose to have sex with.

    This character is in fact a breakthrough. More on that at the link below.

    http://iamatvjunkie.typepad.com/i_am_a_tv_junkie_a_blog_f/2011/03/video-breakthough-finally-a-gay-sitcom-character-that-isnt-.html

  4. Steve says:

    I think the key moment you overlook is when Max attempted to act straight in front of his parents. He comes off as crudely oversexualized, with no actual knowledge of how straight men interact with women. Those moments, as much as the mentions of him hooking up with guys, reveal him to be not straight. He may not carry many of the markers we traditionally associate with gay, but I think he is much more than a straight character in gay drag.

    For me, Max is a welcome addition to the representation of a spectrum of gay men on tv.

  5. Terence says:

    I’m agreed with Jon.

    There’s Blain Max and brian out there,It’s nothing wrong with the show.

  6. Justin says:

    I only watched the pilot (and hated it – maybe I should give it another chance) but one of the things that annoyed me was that basically every line Max had was a reference to him being gay. I’m guessing from your write-up that that’s changed as the show’s gone on but it sure rubbed me the wrong way initially.

  7. Steve says:

    Really? I can’t even believe that you’re making up this faux debate.

    When I first tuned into “Happy Endings,” I saw in Max quite a bit of myself. I never thought of myself as “straight-acting” or any of the other choice bon mots by which you yourself are stereotyping some of your fellow gay men. But I can certain relate to Max and it demonstrates to me (forget about the straight audience for a moment) that the producers of this show recognize that the gay community is every bit as diverse as the straight community is.

    Why can’t you just accept that there are some football-loving, non-six pack gay men who are comfortably surrounded by straight friends? Our sexuality shouldn’t be challenged by your very narrow-minded bigotry. Shame on you.

  8. TJ says:

    I Love his character and I think its an accurate portrayal of a gay man. We are all like snowflakes(hahaha) and I have met many gays who act just like him. We had our Jack (Will and Grace) and now we can broaden the spectrum with a character like this. I personally thought it was genius to switch up the standard “gay guy” on T.V. and give the people a different perspective.

  9. Andrew says:

    Honestly it’s refreshing to see a character like Max. Most of the time gay characters the sassy best friend, over the top sexualized, or better yet negatively stereotyped. That doesn’t represent every gay person out there. Max to me is funny, and represents me in a more exaggerated fashion. I’m a total kid at heart, I would like to think that I’m funny, but most of all not stereotypical.

    Now had this discussion been about how relationships of gay couples appear as non sexual comic relief gays I’d be all for it.

  10. David says:

    Oh come on! Who doesn’t love Max (Adam Pally) and hope he gets a bf? It is about time we see an average guy portrayed on TV who does not belong to any particular gay subculture, follow the latest trend, nor drool over the latest diva. Or, is not belonging a subculture in itself? I’d date him in a second!

  11. Chris says:

    Honestly, this article is very one-sided and a bit ignorant. Every person is different and are entitled to have their own persona. A lot of gay characters on television are already written as stereotypes, so it’s really refreshing to see the writers of Happy Endings make Max into a frat guy. One of my best friends is very similar to Max, so reading this article makes me feel sad to think that some people look down upon any gay men who don’t fit the norm.

  12. jean pierre says:

    I disagree with this article. If the character was flamboyant we would complain about how the character exemplifies wrong stereotypes of the gay community. However, since Max is a “straight” acting character we all of the sudden make a fuss about his character misrepresentation of the gay community. A happy median would be ideal (i guess) but really it will still be offending the two ends of the spectrum as well. When the crossroads hit we find that sexuality does not and cannot govern personality, mannerisms, tastes and preferences. Homosexuality is a a sexual orientation not a personality. We need to dissacociate the two. Have you also thought that maybe a character like Max could encourage many men who are living in the closet to come out with their sexuality? Maybe Max can be seen as a “gay hero” to liberate “straight-acting” homosexual closeted men.

  13. Jake says:

    As many people have mentioned, gay is merely a sexual orientation and not a personality type; there are many “types of gays” with different personalities and lifestyles. Then why couldn’t “Happy Endings” choose a gay actor to play Max? By choosing a straight actor, it gives the impression that the network/program believes gay men like Max don’t actually exist in real life (while, as many people have mentioned, they actually do).

    However, I do believe it is refreshing to see a gay character who does not fit the “gay stereotype” that, for so long, media outlets have portrayed. It is nice to see a gay person so wonderfully accepted into a straight community and friend group and to see a character who brings very funny humor that is often irrespective of his sexuality.

  14. J.P. says:

    It’s about time that the media featured a gay character that didn’t fly into a panic every time Cher’s “Believe” came on the radio or sit around talking about mani-pedis with his girlfriends. Max is the first gay character on television that I have been able to identify with in any way and it’s a breath of fresh air.

    Being gay isn’t the big deal that most gay people want it to be.

  15. scott says:

    It’s disappointing to read something like this. Gay men have almost always been represented in the media as the “effeminate stereotype”. It’s very refreshing to see a character on TV my boyfriend and I can somewhat relate to. Who are you to speak negatively about masculine gay men? By the way we don’t think we are the “lucky ones” you mentioned. That was a stupid comment and it says a lot about the kind of person you are.

    There are no rules for being gay other than having an attraction towards someone of the same sex. There are more gay men out there like Max than you realize; you may not be paying any attention to them because you are too busy trying to be fabulous. If I offended you then we are even.

    You remind me of someone I know who thinks the whole gay world should be just like him. The truth is we are not all like you and I am glad I don’t feel the need to fit into your idea of what a gay man should be. My interests may be different from yours but you are NOT any better than I am or any of the other masculine gay guys you seem to have a problem with. You do not represent the entire gay community and it is irresponsible for you to mislead people into believing people like “Max” don’t exist. I may not have wasted my entire 20s hiding in the closet if I hadn’t felt so different from what, at the time I believed gay men were supposed to be like because of the misrepresentations I was exposed to, primarily on television.

    I now have a wide variety of gay friends and that range from super queen to “I never would have guessed he’s gay” and I love them all, especially for their differences. Cheers to Happy Endings for finally showing people that every gay person is an individual and we should each live our lives exactly as we wish; not how others expect us to. For some that might be seeing a Lady Gaga concert, for others playing baseball, and yet others watching HGTV while putting together their Fantasy Football teams. Diversity is a wonderful thing. Embrace it! It makes the world a better and more interesting place.

  16. Tyler says:

    Untill there is a gay character that can be called “badass!” I am not satisfied. I am a geek that loves action/horror/scifi and i want representation there. A gay character in a sitcom like this is stereotypical in of itself. I am attracted to effeminate men, so i have no problem with them..but they dominate gay culture enough as it is, let us have our fun too damnit!

  17. Misty says:

    I love Max. I have loved all the gay characters on tv from will and grace to the gay kids on glee but there is room in my heart for a max. Its refreshing.

  18. Jim Durant says:

    I’m offended when you call me straight acting. How can you whine endlessly about not being accepted for you are when you send low blows like that my way?

    How do you think it feels when the people who are supposed to stand in solidarity with you look at you with scorn?

  19. Rick S says:

    I love this show! It is WAY funnier than Friends ever was. I hope ABC keeps it on for a long time.

  20. Bruce B says:

    Next I suppose, you’ll be whingeing on about Damon Wayans Jr.’s character not being “black” enough. Lighten up, dude. You are in danger of being one of those “cranky gay activist” stereotypes whose response to every attempt at gay humor is “that’s not funny!”

  21. Davin says:

    Seriously..? You don’t see straight people whining about straight characters misrepresenting them. Get over yourself, man. I think one of the major problems with gay culture is the fact that so many of us have a tendency to over-identify with their homosexuality. When it comes down to it, the fact that I’m gay is just another thing about me. I’m tall, I have blonde hair, I have green eyes, I like cheeseburgers, and I’m gay. Just another thing that makes up who I am.
    …and I never expect anyone on TV to represent me or anyone else, for that matter. People on on TV are CHARACTERS. They represent the character, and only the character. So, to see a gay character on TV that doesn’t over-identify with his sexuality is pretty neat.

  22. Melissa says:

    I read this article, left and had to come back to see if there was an opportunity to comment. Not everything on television needs to be a statement. I think thats tiring. The most compelling entertainment is a show that tries to be real and smart, and plays it like it is. Max’s acting, more than any other character on that show, seems very relaxed and easy and real. I find it extrememely counterproductive to your own argument, that you think it might be coming full circle, and still putting gays in a poor light. That kind of thinking is the EXACT problem. The bottom line is, people need to be accepted for who they are, and not who they’re doing. Judging Max’s character, seems to me, very hypocritical of you. Would you want someone to be like, eh I don’t know, you’re just a BIT too gay for me. Tone it down, oh now back up, and perfect. Thanks that’s the amount of gay I can believe and accept. It’s just silly.

    This comment isn’t meant to bash you, but maybe open your mind to another point of view. I have many friends in the LGBT community, and all communities across the board. People are people and I judge them all on the same merits, none of which are they’re sexuality.

  23. Woody says:

    I’ve got to admit that I’m a bit surprised to see this article… I saw an interview with Adam Pally “Max” and the comment which struck home most of all was that every gay man he meets, seems to think that they’re like Max. They can relate.

    I look at my friends and we’re hanging out in sports bars… We play, we watch… There’s beer and brothership and after a lifetime of watching gay men portrayed as flaming queens on shows like Modern Family, Glee, Will & Grace, etc… FINALLY, there’s someone that the rest of us can relate to! Don’t get me wrong, flamboyant guys are funny. But they’re the screaming wheels that get all the attention. Most gay men are men first and foremost. We’re not “straight acting” we’re masculine. And Max is exactly that.

  24. Shawn says:

    Tyler above might want to check out Caprica for a badass gay character in sci-fi.

    http://www.afterelton.com/blog/dennis/gay-of-week-02-02-2010

  25. Me says:

    I think I must have missed too many episodes or something. Was there an episode where Max was castrated or horribly injured um… down there? It’s been 10+ episodes and I have yet to see Max in a relationship with any boy at all. I know not all gay men are horn dogs (yea right!) but not having any sort of romantic interest at all is just plain weird. I’m not asking for even a semi-stable relationship here. How about he’s hitting on someone or someone’s hitting on him in an episode for once. I mean just assigning a eunuch the “gay” role isn’t very sincere. I’m starting to think Max has another first name like Billy-Bob, etc… But his other first name might just be Token as in Token Max that is

  26. Dominick says:

    I believe having a “straight-acting” gay character in the media is a great thing, and that it puts it out there that being gay is just our preference and now how we act.

    Honestly Max is a great representation of how I am. I’m gay, but I am in no way society’s view of gay people. I’m not obsessed with having a perfectly fit body, I listen to rock, indie, and metal rather than pop, I’m in love with books and video games, and food is like sex to me.

    Straight and Gay isn’t who we are, its who we like.

  27. [...] as straight, may actually be too oppositional to gay culture. In a thoughtful and balanced post, Tommy from OutspokenNYC explains, Personally, as a gay man, I don’t want to be accepted by Mainstream America for all the [...]

  28. Marco says:

    I was happy to see a gay character on tv that wasn’t stereotypical. The show wasn’t my favorite when it first went on the air but has grown on me. I just do not connect with this character though. We are not all queens, but to me this character just isn’t believable. I found this page as I decided find what others thought about the character as well.

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