“There are plenty of unique and new LGBTQ stories to tell, and Hollywood must embrace that to remain competitive with other media industries.” ~ Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD President and CEO
In the early 90’s it was easy for me to feel like I was the only homosexual in the universe. Once I found my first taste of representation I became hungry for more. In recent years LGBT+ media has been going through a Renaissance but our representation on American television has been inconsistent. This fall I’ve been studying the treatment of male couples in soaps, telenovelas and serial dramas outside of the U.S. The genre requires the lovers be placed in constant peril. Here are some of the obstacles they face.
The following article contains spoilers.
Often one character has accepted their sexuality. The other has not. They may be bisexual and facing their first male crush. Or they may be homosexual but buried deep in the closet. The coming out process can provide a season long arc.
G&T (2012-2017). Italian web series. Giulio and Tommaso were best friends, till they drunkenly made out at a party. Five years later they’re reconnected by work. G’s neurotic and identifies as gay. T’s hostile and identifies as straight. Hijinks and melodrama ensue. I enjoy the pop soundtrack and the energetic cast. The writing gets hacky but I wanted to see these crazy kids work things out.
Spoilers: At the end of the charming first season they get together. At the top of the messy second season they’ve arbitrarily broken up. S1 B-. S2 C-.
Morangos com Açúcar (2003). Portuguese soap. Fabio, a gawky teen at a performing arts high school, is aggressively homophobic. He rants about an openly bi classmate to anyone who’ll listen. Even when he comes out he’s strictly “masc for masc” despite… not fitting the ideal he aspires to. The character can be unpleasant but there’s something tragicomic about his failed attempts to appear butch. C
Os Nossos Dias (2013-2015). Portuguese soap. Xavier plays hockey and keeps up a butch façade for his family. David is a chef who strings along two girlfriends. When Xavier expresses his feelings David punches him in the face. After some time apart David confesses his bisexuality. Censors forbade kisses but the gorgeous men were allowed some shirtless cuddling. C+
Sturm der Liebe (2005-). German soap. Boris, the manager for a luxury hotel, falls for Tobias, a warm and loving handyman. Boris seems a little old to be closeted till you meet his vicious father. When daddy learns of the romance he turns into Wile E Coyote, setting traps to get the handyman fired. C+
Dr. Klein (2014-). German soap. Dr. Klein is a little person working at a children’s hospital. Her friend Patrick, a widowed restaurateur, falls for Kaan, a struggling medical student. Patrick’s last relationship was with an older man. He must now cope with a young and skittish partner. Kaan’s insecurity can be partly traced to his panto-villain mother. She was happy to belittle Kaan’s girlfriends but will throw women at her bisexual son when she learns he’s seeing a man. S4 went in interesting directions. S5 will air in 2019. B
Ninguém Como Tu (2005). Portuguese soap. Joao is a gay teen studying jujitsu. His straight friend, Henrique, is studying ballet. Joao supports Henrique when obnoxious parents and a mean ex-girlfriend try to sabotage his dance career. The homophobic family arguments grew tedious but the gay/straight friendship was well portrayed. Joao’s feelings go unrequited, but he’s awarded an underwritten boyfriend, Sergio, as a last-minute consolation prize. The censors forbade kissing but allowed a sneaky scene of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. C
Relaciones Peligrosas (2012). Spanish soap. Sensitive teen Alejandro is catfished and humiliated by bullies. One of the bullies, Diego, repents and becomes his lover. Their romance is cut short by Diego’s malevolent father. The series finale reconnected them in a hasty flash forward to “five years later” but the censors cut away from every kiss. The one note villains and antiseptic romance make this one of the weaker entries on this list. One line I enjoyed: “Ricky Martin came out when he was 40. I’m barely 17.” D
Some writers don’t know what to do with happy couples. After spending months getting a pair together they feel the urge to break them up. Arguments over parenthood, career or monogamy can split a couple quickly.
Simona (2018). Argentine soap. Insecure Junior spends 38 episodes toying with his dreamy co-worker, Blas, before confessing his feelings in episode 39. No sooner are they together than Junior’s falsely accusing Blas of infidelity. Junior dumps Blas, dates other people, then returns several times over the course of the lengthy run. Blas takes him back every time. Junior’s lucky he’s cute.
Spoiler: They end up renaming the bar they work for “Blasnoir,” the fan name for their ‘ship. C+
Merli (2015-2018). Spanish soap. Merli, a brash and vulgar teacher, clashes with his uptight son Bruno. Bruno gets a lovely coming out arc and an unrequited crush on his best friend Pol. Just when Pol was coming round the actor playing Bruno left the show. Bruno moved away to study abroad.
Spoiler: Often when one actor leaves the show the other mourns a bit before finding a new love interest. In this case Bruno returned for the series finale. He and Pol were reunited. An epilogue showed them happily wed. S1 B. S2-3 C.
Rita (2012). Danish soap. Rowdy teacher balances work and single motherhood. Her teen son comes out early and woos another teen. Sadly, once they connect they make the mistake of moving in together. It’s too soon. He wants to go out and party while his beau wants to stay in and watch television. He dumps him out of simple boredom. The break up stands out for how low key it is. C
Andra Avenyn (2007-2010). Swedish soap. When teenage Kim is injured in a boxing match he spends some time in the hospital. There he meet-cutes Adam who is recovering from a gay bashing. Adam’s interested but Kim’s deeply in the closet. They connect, then split. Eventually Kim comes out. He seeks Adam again but he’s too late. Adam is now being kept by an older man. A shame as the actors had chemistry. I’ve read that Kim finds a new love interest in the spin-off show, Riverside, but have yet to find subtitled clips. C
If a story was filmed before 1990 it’s likely that the LGBT+ character was killed off via murder, suicide or AIDS related illness. The “bury your gays” trope still exists but is no longer the default. Occasionally a writer will revive a character from his coma or even resurrect him from the dead with a new actor in the role. Here’s one particularly gruesome exception. Major spoiler ahead:
Física o Química (2008-2011). Spanish teen soap. Sensitive Fer swaps kisses and fights with the tough David. They eventually become a cute, loving couple. But the writers killed Fer off in the series finale. He attempts to talk down a school shooter only to get shot in the stomach. David sobs over him as he bleeds out. His lifeless body is carried away by paramedics. Fans were outraged and horrified. The writers offered no satisfying explanation. I can’t grade this one as the ending sours an otherwise sweet show.
Happy Ever After?
Eventually all shows must end. A successful final episode will wrap up as many plot-lines as it can. If the actors are still around and the writers are generous the couple may find happiness in each other’s arms.
O Beijo do Escorpião (2014). Portuguese soap. Uptight pilot Paulo loves his bro-y co-pilot Miguel. Things get ugly, then sweet. After a drunken hook up Miguel accuses Paulo of rape. When Paulo survives a near fatal accident Miguel drops the facade and confesses his bisexual urges. They’re fired by their homophobic boss and start their own business. Their success stretches credibility, but it leads to some heartwarming character growth and a seaside wedding. Smoldering actor Duarte Gomes had his kissing scenes censored in Os Nossos Dias. Here he’s allowed to show affection. C+
Botineras (2009-2010). Argentine soap. This soap switched genres midway from a sports comedy to a crime drama. Football players Manuel and Lalo survive a murder investigation, blackmail and a brutal attack that stalls their careers. It could have ended in tragedy but they hold on to each other and rebuild. The dialogue can get overwrought but when a key scene arrives the writers make it count. C
Skam (2015-2017). Norweigan web series. This one is special and I’ve plugged it multiple times on this site. Each season focused on a different teen with a secret “shame.” Season three focused on Isak, a scrappy lad lured out of the closet by the mysterious pansexual Even. An early scene of Isak silently researching Even online had me hooked. Their story is written with care and the actors acquired a rabid fan base. A
Skam’s clips were released in “real time” over social media and nearly broke Norway’s internet. The first season has been remade in six countries but Isak’s season is only now being adapted. Skam Italia launched their season this month. The actors are great and are approaching the story from a different perspective. Skam France will air their version in 2019. The official sites are geo-blocked but dedicated fans are porting and translating the clips as they air. If you read this far you’re probably the target audience. The episodes are short and easy to binge. Try a few and you may get hooked!
Who are some of your favorite LGBT+ couples on television?
What keeps you watching a long running show? What stops you?
What LGBT+ stories would you like to see told?
- LGBT movies with teen male protagonists.
- LGBT movies with adult male protagonists
- LGBT movies: Some favorite moments
- LGBT movies featuring gay adoption
- LGBT movies featuring conversion camps