GROWING UP NOT UNDERSTANDING THE WORLD, and feeling as though the world did not understand me, I found refuge in the warm glow of a television set and the psychodrama of kitsch TV shows. In fact, it recently dawned on me that I started making friends only in my late 20s, after an adolescence consumed by TV characters that I hold dear to my heart even today. Over the years, all of the television shows I have addictively followed were not only brilliant, but they played a part in helping me make sense of my journey in exploring sexual identity, isolation and belonging. Good television can operate as a pedagogical tool, inviting viewers to empathise with and understand the rest of humankind. Now, allow me to take-over the remote and re-run some of my favorite TV shows ever…
THE GREATEST SHOW OF OUR TIME
Please Like Me
I randomly stumbled across ‘Please Like Me’ a year after its 2013 premiere and have loved the show since. Although the characters were overwhelmingly Caucasian – with little to no people of color represented on the show – for me the show goes down in history as ground-breaking because it is so real.
The lead character, Josh Thomas is a sarcastic, narcistic 20 something-year-old queer man, imperfectly getting through his adult life and that is why I both love and relate to him so much. It is rare that gay men are presented to us on television with an honest portrayal of queer life (from coming out to your first gay sex experience) that truly captures the versions of being gay that aren’t enhanced for entertainment.
Set in Australia, the show was gorgeously shot, psychologically observant comedy gold that let its vulnerable characters own their jokes. Throughout its 4 seasons, Please Like Me tackled issues such as homophobia,racism, depression, workplace harassment and STDs. To date, no other show I have seen has had commendably realistic gay sex scenes (a lot of them) and in the second season, many of the scenes and three of the main characters were based in a mental health institution. Offering a sobering perspective on a sometimes brushed over subject.
All seasons of Please Like Me are now available to view, on Netflix.
THE SHOW THAT TAUGHT ME TO EMBRACE MY INNER BITCH
The Real Housewives of Atlanta (#RHOA)
For the uninitiated, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, is the only Housewives franchise that matters. A societal phenomenon worthy of its place in the Smithsonian National Museum of Africian American History & Culture as well as any further cultural explorations. Admit it, at some point in the last twelve years, you have uttered the phrase, “Who gon’ check me, boo?” or maybe you’ve reaffirmed something you said by saying, “I SAID WHAT I SAID!”. RHOA is more than just another “reality” show, the series has become a many-character study into what is perceived as black excellence, strong black female representation and diversity.
It has given us a glimpse into the chaotic aspirational lives of some of the most deliciously hilarious women to exist on tv. Although the show’s main attraction was the ladies, the indisputable stars in the early seasons for me, were Ms. Lawrence, Derek J and Dwight Eubanks. Three fabulous queer black men that were unapologetically bold with their style and presence on the show. I remember being initially uncomfortable seeing men in heels on television but later embraced and loved that someone so unique existed for me to see at a time when I myself was grappling with what it meant to be an openly black queer man. Over the years, the show has at times shed a light on straight women’s problematic view of gay black men’s masculinity and their inability to view us as more than their gay mammies that affirm their diva status’.
I have religiously followed RHOA through its twelve-season rein, and what has always stood out to me is the courage of its cast members. These women have been brave to share all their imperfections and complexities to the world and have done so with such authenticity and of course sharp tongues. And to date, the RHOA ladies continue to resist societal expectations and assert their dominance within their individual spaces of blackness.
THE SHOW THAT MAKES ME TRULY HAPPY TO BE ALIVE
RuPaul Drag Race
When it first debuted in 2009, RuPaul’s Drag Race seemed like a less problematic, queer spin on America’s Next Top Model. However, over the years the show has not only cemented itself as an important pop culture reference point, but it is possibly the best talent competition ever. Contestants on other performance competition shows traditionally bank their futures on one talent when Drag Race queens are exceptionally talented at putting on their own makeup, making their own costumes and wigs, modeling (both on the runway and in front of the camera), celebrity impersonations, improv comedy, dance, and, above all, lip-synching.
I have recently re-watched every season of the show over the quarantine period and while part of me has felt guilty for not doing something more productive with my time, a bigger part of me has welcomed how at home and happy this show has made me feel since I first randomly came across it one late night surfing channels. A huge part of finding happiness, success, fulfilment and living into your full potential is learning to love yourself, and this is a message the show’s host and creator RuPaul preaches on every episode.
There is a great heart to Drag Race and many powerful lessons on individually, self-love and artistic expression. The show’s contestants have have given us the privilege to witness their amazing talents and have opened up dialogues on personal issues such as HIV diagnoses, family intolerance, suicidal thoughts, and self-hatred. To be honest, the show has dragged me (awful pun-intended) out of many depressive episodes when I felt low and alone and felt as though no one loved me. It so profoundly taught me that, in the words of Mother Ru, “if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?”
Artwork by Fanie Buys