A friend of mine who counsels youth recently told me she’s working with a 14-year-old, newly out lesbian who wanted a list of good lesbian television shows she could Netflix. Despite the fact that “good lesbian television” is sometimes an oxymoron, I jumped on the chance to compile such a list – a lesbian ten commandments, if you will. I felt a sudden surge of responsibility. I couldn’t let this poor girl sit through The O.C. or 90210. I could save her many, many hours of being tortured by badly written lesbians. I’m not ashamed to admit the simple request morphed into a days-long re-watching of some of my favorite shows. Call me dedicated, call me nerdy: the list was born.
The criteria: a credible, long-lasting (read: no sweeps dalliances) relationship between two women. Yup, that’s it. I’m easy. There is a preponderance of break-up-by-death on this list, but in all cases, the journey made up for a less-than-happy ending. Also, if I had been any more specific, I’d have no list.
1. Xena: Warrior Princess
I could literally write a dissertation on Xena (oh that’s right, I did that in college). The first time I saw it, I was on vacation with my family. It was the infamous kiss episode, “The Quest,” and I was so captivated (and so, so gay), I actually wanted my vacation to end so I could get home and watch more episodes. It was the first show that made me openly question my sexuality – thanks, Xena!
Xena was smart, tough, beautiful, vulnerable, and tantalizingly complex. Although the show is often viewed with the same campy lens as its sibling, Hercules, Xena was written with far more depth. The intimate relationship between Xena and her companion Gabrielle was undeniable, and the way it unfolded during Xena’s six seasons left little doubt that they were soulmates.
2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
You know how with some shows that feature lesbian couples, the rest of the show is so boring, you find yourself YouTubing the relevant clips to spare yourself the chore of watching the whole show? Buffy was unfairly well-written, and Joss Whedon proved over and over again that someone, somewhere, could do a lesbian couple that didn’t inspire boredom, suicide, or bisexuality.
Willow and Tara were the kind of couple that everyone loves – straight people, gay people, witches, demons – you would want them at your dinner party. Their sexually charged spellcasting is the stuff of Sapphic legend.
One of my friends has a fire-proof safe in her apartment. The contents? Her passport, birth certificate, family photos, and her Buffy DVDs.
3. The L Word
I never thought I’d say this, but I miss The L Word. Showtime’s lesbian drama started off with a bang and seemed to roll steadily downhill after season two. There was the annoying theme song, the ridiculous storylines, and the bloated cast. But every Sunday night, one thing was certain: there would be an entire show about lesbians on television. Ilene Chaiken’s outsized ego and mangling of the series made it easy to forget how important and groundbreaking that was. Not to mention it gave us Jennifer Beals, in all her divine glory, playing a lesbian like she meant it. (continued on next page)