You’d be forgiven for thinking not much new TV came out in 2020, with many of us taking up re-watching old favourites for a hit of nostalgia and comfort during lockdown, but 2020 was a brilliant year for TV. We had Michaela Coel’s earth-shattering I May Destroy You, the final series of the beloved Schitt’s Creek, and of course the lockdown classics Tiger King and Sally Rooney’s Normal People.
We Are Who We Are
Later in the year though, comes We Are Who We Are, an eight-episode drama starring Chloë Sevigny as a colonel in the US Army. The series is set in a military base in Italy where Sevigny moves with her wife Maggie and son Fraser—who is in fact the real focus of the show—along with his friend Caitlin, who sometimes goes by Harper. The pair and their friends navigate all that comes with being a teenager on a military base in Italy including friendships, loss and music as well as gender expression, identity and love.
The show, which is directed by Luca Guadagnino—whose other work includes the acclaimed Call Me By Your Name—embraces the chaos of teenage life and presents characters who, at times, couldn’t be further from likeable: another stellar performance comes from Harper’s father, played by Kid Cudi as a Donald Trump supporter. All eight episodes are available on BBC iPlayer; there’s a remake of a Blood Orange music video and a scene at one of his gigs, if you needed another reason to tune in.
Just when I thought I’d run out of shows to introduce my housemate to, I learned that he had never seen Desiree Akhavan’s masterpiece The Bisexual. Starting with Akhavan’s relationship with her partner (played by Maxine Peake) and following the women as they navigate sexuality, friendship, running a start-up and more, this show is an unabashed look at the stigma still associated with the bisexual identity in society and in television. In fact, it is one of the only representations I could find that doesn’t feel token or tacky. It also features a flashback episode to 2005 and the outfits in the episode are worth a watch in themselves. Available on Channel 4.
Queer As Folk
One of 2021’s biggest television moments so far has been Russell T Davies’ It’s A Sin, which quite honestly we could talk about for days—if you enjoyed Olly Alexander as Richie then make sure to watch his documentary Growing Up Gay on BBC iPlayer—but for now I want to cast our minds back to the 90s and to Davies’ iconic series Queer As Folk. The show, which enjoyed two seasons, follows a group of friends in Manchester. The episodes are brimming with sweaty dancefloors and nights out to Canal Street. Although beloved, the producers have said the three male leads should be seen more as gay male archetypes than characters. All episodes—along with Banana, Tofu, Cucumber and It’s A Sin, all by Davies—are available via Channel 4.
Mae Martin, a Canadian comedian who began performing as a young teen, rose to fame in the UK on shows such as Russell Howard’s Good News. Mae’s history of addiction is the basis for much of their work, including the 2020 six-part comedy series Feel Good, which features Fresh Meat’s Charlotte Ritchie as Mae’s partner and Lisa Kudrow in the role of mother (stellar casting doesn’t even cover it). Season 2 is expected later in 2021, so catch up on all episodes via Channel 4 before then.
Pose hit screens in 2018 and was an instant hit. The series, created by Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story, Glee) follows the New York drag ball scene of the 1980s, a place that Blanca (portrayed by Mj Rodriguez) describes as ‘a celebration of a life that the rest of the world does not deem worthy of celebration’. The actors, who make up the largest transgender cast in television history, live in drag houses and dedicate themselves to weekly categories at the ball which is expertly overseen by emcee Pray Tell, played by Billy Porter.
The show explores chosen family, transphobia, classism and racism against the backdrop of the gentrification of New York, the HIV crisis and the rise of the yuppie. Packed with unforgettable characters, the filmic hour-long episodes will have you beaming and crying in equal measure. Both seasons are available to watch on BBC iPlayer.
As promised, I’ve stuck to the small screen, but at the time of writing some amazing films are available for streaming. Highlights include Beautiful Thing and Pompeii, both available on demand via Channel 4; it is also my public service to tell you Ugly Betty is now available on Disney+.