The year in small screen

The year in small screen

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Two showrunners helped make 2018 the most LGBTQ ever on TV.

Out gay showrunners/directors/writers/producers Ryan Murphy and Greg Berlanti have been the powerhouse creators of hit series for nearly two decades. Berlanti is the showrunner for nearly every series on the CW and has created all the Arrowverse shows, as well as being executive producer for Lifetime’s new psychological thriller, “You.”

Berlanti set a television record this year with 14 programs. Meanwhile, Murphy has been charting new territory since “Glee” premiered a decade ago. The best TV series of the year was his drama, “Pose.”

With characters true to real LGBTQ life, “Pose” features incredibly nuanced performances evoking the stories of the AIDS crisis, as well as the underground ball world depicted in Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary “Paris Is Burning.” A second season is due next year.

“Pose” broke ground in several ways, most notably by using trans actors in trans roles to tell trans stories. Set in the late 1980s — the height of the AIDS pandemic, ball culture and the rise of Donald Trump — the show tells the story of two ball houses, their “mothers” and the trans and gay kids who gravitated toward that world and counter-posed it with the rise of the real-estate mogul and the money and power culture he represented.

Tony Award-winning actor Billy Porter gave a stunning performance as Pray Tell, the balls’ emcee, who also makes gowns for the queens, is HIV-positive and must bury a lover who died of AIDS.

Standout performances by trans actresses Mj Rodriguez, Indya Moore and Dominique Jackson were the foundation for the storytelling, as each woman tries to make her mark in the world. Heartbreaking, heart-warming, engaging, compelling — all these adjectives apply.

Murphy also provided two other major queer series in 2018: “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story,” a limited series; and season eight of his anthology series “American Horror Story: Apocalypse.”

“Versace” recounts the disturbing tale of Andrew Cunanan, the spree killer who murdered gay designer Versace in front of his Miami mansion, in addition to killing several other gay men.

The series is lush and beautifully shot, if uneven. “Versace” is notable for the tour-de-force performance by Darren Criss as Cunanan, for which he won an Emmy and was nominated for a Golden Globe.

“American Horror Story: Apocalypse” was the gayest season yet of the complex horror series, with noted queer actors Sarah Paulson, Billy Porter and BD Wong in lead roles. Paulson also made her directorial debut.

The season fused previous stories from “AHS: Murder House” and “AHS: Coven,” the first and third installments in the series. The end of the world was the thread that wove all the pieces together of witches and world domination.

Though at points unnecessarily violent, the acting is riveting and the discreet stories within the larger whole are powerful. It’s Murphy’s most visually sumptuous series yet.

Murphy utilizes a coterie of magnificent actresses sure to elicit Emmy nominations. Among this year’s standouts are Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Billie Lourd, Angela Bassett, Frances Conroy, Adina Porter and Paulson. Berlanti executive-produces “Riverdale” and developed “Supergirl,” both on the CW. The latter is based on the Archie comics while “Supergirl” is based on the DC Comics’ character.

These two series provided numerous LGBTQ storylines in 2018 and, in the fall season, “Supergirl” added the first trans superhero: Trans activist Nicole Maines joined the cast as Nia Nal, a reporter who is also a superhero called Dreamer. At ComicCon in July, Maines, 20, told the audience, “It seems only fitting that we have a trans superhero for trans kids to look up to. I wish there was a trans superhero when I was little.”

“Black Lightning,” a new addition to the CW, debuted Thunder, the first black lesbian superhero on TV, notably played by native West Philadelphian Nafessa Williams. The series, created by Salim Akil and based on the DC Comic of the same title, details the battle between good and evil, with an emphasis on gangs and drugs in Freeland.

“Killing Eve” stars “Grey’s Anatomy” alumna Sandra Oh. It’s impossible to describe the queer content without giving away significant plot points, but the British-made thriller focuses on Oh as MI5 operative Eve Polastri and her search for an assassin, Villanelle (Jodie Comer). BBC America has renewed the series for a second season.

“Will & Grace” told the back stories of the gang this season. Grace’s (Debra Messing) #MeToo story — she revealed being sexually assaulted as a young teen at her first job — was as riveting as it was real. The addition of “Friends” alum David Schwimmer to the cast provided more storyline potential for next season.

Two other sitcoms, FX’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and Showtime’s “Shameless,” also featured major gay storylines, while HBO’s “Insecure” earned showrunner and star Issa Rae another Golden Globe nomination.

“The Bisexual,” which debuted last month on Hulu, was one of the best queer shows of the year, proffering both excellent performances and a totally fresh premise. Desiree Akhavan created, wrote and produced the funny and poignant series and stars as Leila, a young bisexual woman who rejects a marriage proposal from her longtime lesbian lover to investigate whether she also has feelings for men. Akhavan and her show are a delight.

The 2018 Netflix reboot of “Queer Eye,” with a new Fab Five and a broader appeal, was one of the most enjoyable reality series of the year and a huge ratings success. The show went beyond makeovers to address real issues: in one episode, police brutality against black Americans; in another, the special issues trans men face. The series even made over its first woman, a cancer patient.

The series proved charming, relatable and fun, and explored a breadth of issues that addresses the problem of toxic masculinity and how damaging it can be to men themselves. A new season begins in 2019.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the three best primetime news shows of 2018 feature gay anchors: CNN’s Anderson Cooper’s “AC 360,” Don Lemon’s “CNN Tonight” and MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.” In a political climate this fraught, it’s good to have a reliably queer take on the news every night. 

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