TV teens breaking ground

TV teens breaking ground

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It was just a kiss. Or was it?

The premiere episode of the new season of ABC's "A Million Little Things" on Jan. 23 was titled "The Kiss." Danny (Chance Hurstfield) was nervous because he was about to have his first kiss live in front of everyone in his school's production of "Grease."

But that isn't his only concern. His first kiss is going to be with a girl and Danny likes boys. He wants his first kiss to be with Elliot (Bodhi Sabongui), the boy he has had a crush on since last season. The two went on a date in an episode last season, but nothing advanced because Elliot felt uncomfortable with Danny's mom, Delilah (Stéphanie Szostak), saying they "looked cute together." 

Although Danny has been working with Elliot on the musical, they have barely talked, which upset Danny.

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Before the big kiss scene on stage, the atmosphere between them is tense as they wait in the wings. Then Danny finally confronts Elliot about their relationship.

After Danny said to Elliot, "All I did was like you. You barely talked to me all rehearsal… I'm just so sick of people hiding their feelings. I'm about to have my first kiss with Skyler Burns, and I kinda wish it was

with --," Elliot leaned in to kiss him. 

That first kiss for Danny and Elliot wasn't just meaningful for them, it was part of a new trend of showing kids coming of age queer on TV.

Danny and Eliot are 13-year-old junior high school kids — the age when crushes begin in earnest. But TV has been slow to acknowledge that

happens much younger than high school. In the '90s, "Dawson's Creek" broke ground with a gay high school coupling. But having kids come out in the context of their families and in real adolescent time is new.

Danny came out to his family last season, and it was a complicated experience for him. So when he comes home post-after-party and tells his mother about his first kiss, it's a breakthrough for him and her.

Danny jumped on his mother's bed, where she is holding his new baby sister and said, "I had my first kiss!"

She smiled and said she knew; she was at the performance. Then Danny said no, not that and told her all about Elliot.

The performances by Hurstfield (13) and Sabongui (14) were realistic and deeply moving. 

NBC's Emmy-winning drama "This Is Us" has a lot in common with "A Million Little Things." The ensemble drama set in Philadelphia and Los Angeles is now in its fourth season and has had two complex queer storylines, both in the same family.

Tess Pearson (Eris Baker) is the 14-year-old daughter of one of the series main characters, Randall (Sterling K. Brown). We have seen her grow up over four seasons, from a small child to an adolescent with a cool haircut and hip attitude. It was Tess who figured out that Randall's birth father was gay, and his "friend" was actually his partner.

In the show's Thanksgiving episode in 2018, Tess comes out to her family in one of the most realistic coming out scenes in TV history. Like all real-life coming out scenes, it happens in stages.

Tess is riding in a car with her aunt Kate (Chrissy Metz), who is chatting away. Kate says, "Pretty soon you're gonna have your first kiss. And your first boyfriend."

Tess blurts out, "Or… girlfriend." To her credit, Kate barely takes a shaky breath before she repeats, "Or girlfriend." There it is: Tess says it, Kate accepts it. The door is opened, and Tess is relieved, even if we can see that a lot is happening for Kate.

When the two get back to Tess' house, Tess asks Kate not to tell her parents, Randall and Beth. Kate agrees, but assures Tess that Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) and Randall will love her no matter whom she chooses to love.

When the episode first aired, Issac Aptaker, executive producer of "This Is Us" and screenwriter for the gay teen rom-com "Love, Simon," said in an interview, "That wasn't a premeditated decision to tell Kate, [Tess] kind of got swept up in this conversation, so then [she had] a second to think about it and go, 'Uh oh, I'm not ready yet.' She needed to make sure that Kate got that."

At the end of the episode, Tess decides to tell her parents. They handle it well, but after she goes upstairs to bed, they look at each other — it's not as easy as with Aunt Kate.

In the current season, the family moves to Philadelphia. Tess wants to start at her new school authentic and open and out. But she finds it is more complicated than she expected. With the help of her uncle Kevin, she figures it out, and the support she gets from her new classmates is affirming and positive.

These depictions of young teens finding their sexual identities at the same time as their straight peers are critically important to the

TV landscape. Danny, Tess and Elliot are realistic teens coming of age in what their respective series show us is real-time. It makes the storylines more believable as well as more moving. 

But in addition to being good drama, these storylines offer queer kids role models for their own coming out, as well as messaging that it's OK to be LGBTQ.


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