We are all aware of classic TV series of the 50s and 60s. Many favorites showed wholesome white families and their day-to-day lives, problems, humor, and affection. They came to be known as "nuclear" families. Dad went to work, mom stayed home, and the kids thrived. "Leave it to Beaver," "Ozzie and Harriet," and "Happy Days" come to mind.
Other shows depicted the lives of single women who were fully heterogeneous - "Laverne and Shirley," "That Girl," and more recently "Two Broke Girls." And popular shows that featured both single men and women (e.g., Seinfeld and The Big Bang Theory) have not included queer people, male or female.
So, when did TV shows actually begin to feature queers, even a minor lesbian character, or a lesbian relationship? Actually, that can be traced back to 1988 and the tv series "Heartbeat," in which a nurse (a lesbian side character) lived with her girlfriend. The series only lasted two seasons. After that, there was a smattering of encounters in the late 80s and early 90s, where females (lesbian or not) shared a kiss. And even one episode of "Picket Fences," had a bit of a coming-of-age story of a lesbian encounter between two teens. But these incidents were probably for shock value, to generate publicity and higher ratings, despite conservative and Evangelical backlash.
Fast forward to 1997. The lead character of the sitcom "Ellen" (Ellen DeGeneres) came out as a lesbian on the show. At the same time, Ellen DeGeneres came out as a lesbian on an Oprah Winfrey show. Because of greater societal acceptance of homosexuality, her show did not suffer a rating decline, and, because of the very appealing nature of the daytime "Ellen Show," ratings, in fact, climbed for a number of years after.
And for those of you who are cable news buffs, Rachel Maddow, who has been an "out" lesbian for years, has some of the highest ratings among such shows in the thirteen years that she has had her show on MSNBC.
These TV personalities paved the way for writers and producers to validate queer women by not just featuring them as lesbian characters on TV shows but ultimately making entire shows around a queer community.
Lesbian TV now crosses all genres featuring LGBT characters of all types, among them, of course, queer women and even trans characters. Let's take a look at some of the popular and better-known lesbian TV shows, whether on regular cable channels or through a streaming service.
Reality shows have become highly popular these days - everything from talent and cooking competitions to some rather bizarre topics - Dr. Pimple Popper, Hoarders, and My 600-Pound Life come to mind. So why not reality queer TV shows as well? Here's a few that might be of interest:
This is a 6-part series, released on Logotv.com in 2007. It is often considered the first modern lesbian TV show to be shown on any major U.S. network. It's a story about six lesbians in Los Angeles, their relationships, careers, issues, and their surfing competition to win a trip to Hawaii. The first season ends as the competition is about to begin, but Season 2 has never been produced and released.
Five lesbian friends are trying to get their own nightclub off the ground in Los Angeles. It's a reality series with a diverse cast from an ethnic standpoint - white, black, and Asian-American. The women face the same issues that most fledgling entrepreneurs face, along with ups and downs in their personal and professional lives, including lesbian dating, finances, relationship challenges, group decision-making, seeking funding and investments, etc. They lead busy lives but manage to stay focused on their end goal.
The lesbian couple, Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher form a duo of stand-up comedians who speak to their own complicated lives through their live routines. Their goal is to show that lesbian couples have the same issues that all couples do, with the hope of fostering greater awareness and acceptance of non-traditional unions. They are hilarious.
From 2004 - 2009 Showtime ran a TV series, "The L Word." It depicted the lives of lesbian, bisexual, and trans women and was a groundbreaker for that time.
The Real L Word is a later version of the original but is reality-based, following a group of lesbian women in Los Angeles and New York, their careers (all are very successful), their love and social lives, and the complicated relationships with their families. Two seasons so far.
Reality shows can become messy because they are based on the lives of those who are featured. This docu series is no different. There are eight episodes in this first season, which was launched just last November.
Tampa Baes focuses on an existing group of lead characters who obviously live in Tampa. The story picks up in the midst of their friendships with all of the drama, humor, fall-ins, and fall-outs., as well as complicated relationships. The interesting caveat here is that one of the friends has moved back to Tampa after a broken relationship and re-connects with four other friends who are couples, and their social groups. This sets up lots of drama but not without humor too.
It is probable that there will be a second season although exactly when has not been announced.
Queer black women have two societal stigmas - institutional racism and being lesbian to boot. This web series is comprised of interviews with black lesbians living in Brooklyn, New York. The first season ran in 2012, followed by a second season after that. It's an eye-opener that provides insights to those who are not aware of the unique position that black lesbians hold in the LGBTQ+ community and within a larger straight society.
Drama is a wide swath of fiction (even though sometimes based on real events) genre that tends to cover serious subjects and is performed either on the stage, the big screen, or the smaller screens of TV and computers.
Lesbian TV drama covers lots of plots, themes, and plot twists. While not specifically based upon queer women, many TV shows have had queer characters and some small sub-plots surrounding them. One popular show that comes to mind is Grey's Anatomy, where Callie and Arizona actually got married in one episode, depicting a lesbian love story that was featured in other episodes.
But there are plenty of lesbian TV shows where the plots and themes are based solely on lesbian lifestyles and main characters. Here are several you will want to watch.
Wentworth is one of Australia's most notorious prisons and is the setting for one of the most popular lesbian TV shows in the UK. While fictional, it addresses the topic of lesbian relationships in prisons, in a violent and often dangerous setting. There have been seven seasons so far, and there is no sign that the series will be coming to an end soon.
This is America's answer to Wentworth and is set at Litchfield prison, where a woman has been sentenced to 18 months for a drug money run 10 years ago. From its very first episode through six seasons, there is a very realistic picture of lesbian lifestyles behind prison bars, and the drama of relationships, jealousy, breakups, hookups, and more. Communication must be mostly in-person and pretty much in the open. No secret lesbian chat via phones, for sure. And when relationships are everybody's business, the opportunities for disagreements and fights are much greater. Because it is a drama with a strong twist of realism (and a bit of comedy), it is claimed to be one of the best lesbian TV shows out there in recent years. Six seasons and no end in sight - it is just too popular.
Queer women run the same diversity as straight women. They struggle to have their own identities within their communities, with their careers, with their relationships, coming out, and decisions about marriage and families. The L Word takes place in Los Angeles and features a group of women who are varieties of LGBTQIA+. Their lives are all interwoven as some of them date, get into relationships, and then break up, hook up, stay closeted, and such. The series was so popular it ran six seasons and has now changed its name to Generation Q, already a hit from its season one. Season two is coming soon.
Here is a show for teens, as they navigate the crises and issues of their young lives. While many lesbian TV shows center around multiple queer characters, Trinkets has just one - Elodie - and viewers follow her identifying as queer and then into her world of dating. The show's main plot is unrelated to queer lifestyle, but it treats the journey of one young lesbian and her coming of age. A nicely done piece for teens.
Gypsy is a Netflix original that first aired in 2017 and is somewhat of a thriller. It seems a highly successful (and lesbian) psychologist starts to go after female relatives and friends of her patients, obviously against all ethical standards of her profession. She descends into mental un-health and cannot separate her fantasies from reality, and the results are horrific. She truly believes that to become involved with these partners of her patients she will be able to treat them better. One involvement that is especially frightening is with Sidney, a patient's ex-girlfriend.
If you enjoy drama, spiced up with a bit of British humor, you will enjoy Lip Service. It is a bit like The L Word, following a group of lesbian friends in Glasgow, Scotland. Part of the drama revolves around Cat, an architect, who is surprised by her former lover's return after disappearing for two years. The complexity around that relationship is just one example of the lives, foibles, and struggles of this group, both in the lives outside of their bedrooms and certainly in those bedrooms. So far, two successful seasons promise to bring more.
Here is another British Dramedy featuring a 15-year-old lesbian with a dysfunctional family that has moved from London to the southern coast. There, she falls in love (or lust) with her new best friend Sugar, and the drama proceeds from there. This TV series had two seasons and was based on a novel with the same name.
Buy both seasons at Amazon
An Amazon TV series now in its fourth season that includes a variety of members of the LGBTQ+ community. The father of a family has finally come out as trans and is making the transition to womanhood. While there are certainly bits and pieces of humor throughout, the main theme is on family relationships between straights and gays. It has become wildly popular and it looks like a fifth season is coming.
Small town Ohio is nothing like Los Angeles, and when daughter Spencer moves there with her family, she does struggle to adjust to the glitzier, more sophisticated lifestyles of fellow teens. At the same time, she is struggling with her sexual orientation. Her dad and brother have their own issues. Overall, this is a good film for teens and young adults, as it addresses many things - homosexuality, drugs, drinking, pregnancy, and even domestic violence. It ran for three seasons.
This is a period drama from 19th century England and is based somewhat on the diaries of Anne Lister, a lesbian landowner who is determined to save her familial home by whatever means available. She re-opens their coal mines and makes a decision to marry into wealth, but never to a man. She moves into a lesbian relationship with Ann Walker and, in 1834, they take marriage vows, wholly in violation of British law at the time, and live as a married couple until Lister dies. Ann Walker then inherited the Anne Lister estate and lived there for the remainder of her life. This series is not a blockbuster but certainly interesting from a historical standpoint. Overall, Gentleman Jack is a show to watch if only for its historical perspective. If you like period drama, this is a great choice.
Two Mexican American siblings are living in East L.A. and have very little in common, other than they share the same name. Lyn is a straight social animal; Emma is queer and far more introverted. They are thrown together due to a death in the family, and their feelings toward each other come bubbling to the surface - not to mention they must confront a secret their mother has been holding.
A ghost story with a queer main character in the 1960s? Yes, it happened in this movie, now streaming on TV. Theodora is a lesbian and travels to Hill House, a supposed haunted mansion with Eleanor, with whom she is in a relationship, though it was portrayed very subtly. In fact, the mansion is fictional, as is the entire show. Theodora's sexual preference was pretty clear throughout the show. The Haunting was not a blockbuster, but it is noteworthy that a lesbian could be somewhat honestly portrayed at the time.
A docudrama that recounts the history of the gay rights movement, from the Stonewall Riots in 1969 to the present day - well at least until 2017 when it was released by ABC American. While Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, along with other places in California and New York, the rest of the country was still dealing with the civil rights movement. Out of that movement came the Gay Rights Movement, and this piece encapsulates it through the lives of a diverse LGBTQ+ community. Add to that actors such as Rosie O'Donnell and Whoopi Goldberg, and the show was a winner.
Soap operas were perhaps the first television series that captured large audiences. And many are still popular today. Venice is a similar series revolving around the life of Gina Brogno - a lesbian interior designer. This is a series that follows her career life, as well as relationships with her family members and her many love interests. This is definitely a soap opera in the classic sense, but with an edgier take and somewhat more complex plot developments.
Kids years ago read Superman comics. Later, the stories became a television series. Comic books lost popularity for a while until the Marvel superheroes came along. But the "age" of superheroes did not stop there. Comic series were made into television series and full-length movies which were also then made available via streaming services. Here are some that became well-known.
This is actually a Netflix original series, about the fictional title character Jessica Jones, a one-time superhero and lesbian who is no longer. Now she runs a detective agency and is struggling just to get her rent paid. Her clients all seem to be people with special abilities. The Netflix rendition, with Jessica played by actress Carrie Anne Moss, is based on the novel of the same name - it's a pretty graphic book and show - parental discretion is strongly advised.
While Jones was touted as the first queer actress in the superhero world (2018 release date), Ayo of the Black Panther comic series was the first black lesbian superhero. Black Panther was later made into a movie, and it is now available on the streaming Disney Channel.
Another 2018 release, this tale can be streamed on Netflix. It also touts the first black lesbian superhero - named Annissa Pierce, Thunder, or Blackbird. She is involved with the mission of Jefferson Pierce who can harness electricity and is out of retirement to clean up crime in his neighborhood. Anissa can change her body density, can heal quickly, and can also emit shockwaves. That she is a lesbian is clear, given her amorous scenes with her lover. The series can be streamed on Netflix.
Wynonna Earp is a descendent of wild west tv star Wyatt Earp. She returns to her hometown Purgatory to take on the role of demon protector. Basically, the souls of wild west criminals who had been killed by Earp are being resurrected, now known as Revenants. She teams up with her sister Waverly and Doc Holliday, Earp's best friend, to defeat the Revenants and keep them from escaping into the rest of the world. The series is based on a novel series. Season four ended this past April, but, so far, there is no plan for a fifth season, the producers claiming financial issues as the reason. That was the same issue after the third season
Imagine a future world of robotic police dogs and bees being pollinated electronically. Overall, humans are pretty much manipulated and controlled via technology. While the main plot deals with the lives of a group of people living in this environment, there is one episode that is a beautiful love encounter between shy girl Yorkie (played by Mackenzie Davis and more social Kelly. They are at a resort town which is technologically simulated for a wonderful respite. The series can be streamed on Netflix.
Yes, lesbian tv shows can include queer humor and laughs. And there are comedies that show queer people in some of the best lesbian TV shows.
Two women star in this series. They are both students in New York and still are navigating lots of situations, encounters, love interests, and more. This navigation creates some hilarious scenes. The long-term goal of the writers and producers is to enlarge and enrich the image of queer women. Will there be a new season soon? We don't yet know.
It's hard to define dark comedy, but Little Horribles is probably a good example. While the tone is comedic, the main character is a self-absorbed lesbian who is also spontaneous with poor decisions. Later, of course, she relives these disasters with painful memories and huge regrets. Trying to figure out if she will change her attitudes and behaviors is anyone's guess. The tales can be streamed on YouTube.
A review of Potluck will probably not be seen in Marie Claire. Who actually thinks that a female queer web series, set around weekly potluck dinners, is the stuff of which a great series is made? In fact, this one is hilarious.
Three queer friends got to a local potluck meal every week, along with family and friends, in search of new relationships and maybe love. The scenarios are truly funny, given this cast of characters. It may remind you a bit of the television series "Mom" and all of the characters from their AA meetings.
In English, this translates as "girl seeks girl." And it's a web series about a group of lesbians in Madrid, their experiences and especially their foibles which are fruit for great humor. This is basically a Spanish soap opera but without the serious tone that most have a reputation for.
There is only one season with 17 episodes, and they are worth the watch on Veoh.com
Whether you are looking for period drama such as Gentleman Jack, an almost reality series like Orange Is the New Black, fantasy based on a former superhero comic book series, comedies of lesbians navigating their lives, or of serious treatment gay rights history and issues, you will find what you are looking for in this list. And who knows? If you are a fan of lesbian TV shows that depict a true story, try a fictional series for a change. Variety and new experiences can stretch your understanding of yourself and others.
Taimi is free to download. Taimi Premium subscription provides access to features unavailable or limited in the free version of the app.