The representation of LGBTQ people on TV has come a long way over the years. It wasn’t so long ago that it was a painful, even dangerous process presenting characters as gay. Those who ventured to put non-straight stories on television were subject to hate mail and worse. Luckily, times have changed. Now, there have been enough TV same-sex couples over the years that critics can analyze them to assess which were good representations and which were lacking.
20. LOVED: David and Patrick, Schitt’s Creek
Schitt’s Creek was a comedy, but it was the warm and nice kind of comedy. And the kings of the heartwarming moments were David and Patrick, played by Dan Levy and Noah Reid respectively. By the end of the show, they were married. The finale episode was called “Happy Ending” – it was a double entendre, but it was still sweet.
One scene in the show, where David sings “The Best” to Patrick, even brought the cast to tears. Levy told magazine Entertainment Weekly in March 2020, “I had always pictured that moment to be quite funny. The rest of our team behind the cameras were crying. I thought I had done it wrong.”
19. LOVED: Captain Holt and Kevin, Brooklyn 99
Andre Braugher’s Holt was not a demonstrative person at the beginning of Brooklyn 99. When the show first got started, fans were intrigued by Holt’s references to his husband. Speaking for the audience, Jake declared, “I can’t wait to meet Kevin. I assume he’s the fun one in the relationship.” He was not.
Holt and Kevin were almost exactly alike in personality and it made them the perfect couple. The chemistry between Braugher and Marc Evan Jackson only made that aspect of the show even funnier. Many of the characters on the show have admitted they want Kevin and Holt to be their dads, and fans may well agree.
18. LOVED: Cameron and Mitchell, Modern Family
Modern Family’s Cameron and Mitchell, played by Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, quickly became an extremely popular television couple. But just because they were in a sitcom it didn’t mean real-world issues didn’t affect them. They couldn’t marry until same-sex marriage became legal in their state – just like countless real couples.
Though Modern Family is over now, Cameron and Mitchell are still considered groundbreaking for their era. In 2020 the website IndieWire said, “Seeing a loving (and bickering) gay couple on primetime was a revelation… Modern Family was the first time a major network had shown a long-term, committed queer relationship.”
17. LOVED: Ellen and Laurie, Ellen
Ellen’s coming out on her self-titled sitcom was extremely difficult for her. Famous people such as televangelist Pat Robertson cruelly nicknamed her “Ellen DeGenerate,” ABC insisted on putting a parent advisory rating on every episode of the show from then on, and at one stage an irate telephone caller even threatened to detonate a bomb inside the studio.
But both Ellen the character and Ellen the person got the last laugh. Ellen the character began dating a woman called Laurie, played by Lisa Darr, and eventually grew comfortable enough to propose to her. And Ellen the human being now controls a vast entertainment empire, and is happily married to actress Portia De Rossi.
16. LOVED: Callie and Arizona, Grey’s Anatomy
Callie Torres and Arizona Robbins, played by Sara Ramirez and Jessica Capshaw, were absolutely beloved by fans of Grey’s Anatomy. The duo had the nickname “Calzona” and they went through a lot – a lot. Plane crashes, car crashes, affairs, amputations and more all featured in their extremely dramatic up-and-down relationship.
Alas, the relationship didn’t last in the end: Callie and Arizona divorced. Fans hoped that Callie might show up for Arizona’s last episode on the show, but despite the best efforts of show creator Shonda Rhimes it transpired Sara Ramirez just wouldn’t be available. But who knows? Maybe one day the actresses will team up again and Calzona will be back on.
15. LOVED: Rue and Jules, Euphoria
HBO’s Euphoria presented a relationship between two teenage girls. These were Rue, played by Zendaya, and Jules, played by Hunter Schafer. Schafer talked to website The Wrap about the coupling, saying, “I think Jules, from the first episode, knows Rue is there for her and would do just about anything for her.”
Schafer went on, “And [Jules] finds something really beautiful and meaningful and intimate, and somewhat physical, with one of the people she feels closest to in life, who happens to be a femme person. And I think that’s really exciting for how it might affect her vantage point on her own sexuality and sense of romance.” One to keep an eye on.
14. LOVED: Mr Ratburn and Patrick, Arthur
The adorable children’s cartoon show Arthur featured a same-sex wedding in its 2019 season 22 premiere. The episode saw Arthur’s rodent teacher Mr. Ratburn get married to his aardvark boyfriend Patrick. Despite the characters being talking animals and nothing NSFW going on, Alabama Public Television still ended up banning the episode.
Maria Vera Whelan, the senior director of PBS’s children’s media department, ended up releasing a statement which read “PBS Kids programs are designed to reflect the diversity of communities across the nation. We believe it is important to represent the wide array of adults in the lives of children who look to PBS Kids every day.” And there didn’t seem to be any complaints from actual kids.
13. LOVED: Casey and Izzie, Atypical
The show Atypical presented an enemies-to-lovers relationship in the form of teenagers Casey and Izzie. The girls started off as supporting characters, but before long they gained a fandom of their very own. They even gained their own portmanteau relationship name, Cizzie. That’s how you know a TV coupling has made it.
Casey and Izzie are played by Brigette Lundy-Paine and Fivel Stewart, both of whom were interviewed by Pride magazine in 2019. Stewart said of Atypical, “It’s just a very real take on emotions. The confusion, the reality of what you’re already in and something else happens, and you have to be uncomfortable with these feelings. And I feel like that’s what’s so amazing about this show.”
12. LOVED: Willow and Tara, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
When Buffy the Vampire Slayer was at its height, creator Joss Whedon decided one of the cast should come out as gay. This ended up being Alyson Hannigan’s Willow, Buffy’s magic-using friend. Gradually the show began using “magic” as a metaphor for Willow’s self-discovery. Then she met Tara, played by Amber Benson, and fell in love with her.
The pairing of Willow and Tara was beloved by fans. But sadly, happiness never lasts in the Buffy world. Tara was killed and Willow temporarily turned into a world-destroyer in her grief. But, many years on, the show’s producer Marti Noxon admitted that perhaps it had been a big mistake letting Tara die.
11. LOVED: Eve and Villanelle, Killing Eve
Killing Eve presents a relationship between an assassin called Villanelle and an MI6 agent called Eve. It’s not a healthy relationship by any stretch of the imagination. The characters, played by Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh, never kiss (so far) or send each other Valentines – but there’s intense sexual tension between them.
The 2020 season 3 finale sees the pair trying to get away from each other – but they probably won’t succeed. The show’s executive producer Sally Woodward Gentle told Entertainment Weekly, “I think that what was really appealing was for both of them to have an honest conversation… They both did it together, and in a way that’s a good jumping-off point for a discussion about where they are.”
10. HATED: Carol and Susan, Friends
Friends was quite progressive for its time in presenting a lesbian couple. During the show’s run, it even achieved three GLAAD Media Award Outstanding Comedy Series nominations, one of which resulted in a win. But Carol and Susan, the couple in question, aren’t really considered to have stood the test of time.
In September 2019 Entertainment Weekly published an article by Lacey Vorrasi-Banis titled, “The one where Friends helped keep me in the closet.” The writer said, “The landmark representation didn’t come without a price… the lesbian stereotype was a seemingly bottomless well drawn from time and time again.” She cited several Friends jokes in which Carol and Susan’s sexuality was the punchline.
9. PROBLEMATIC: Tina and Bette, The L Word
Lesbian drama show The L Word was generally considered to be pretty groundbreaking when it first aired in 2004. But alas, the writing stopped being fresh after a while, and then there was the trouble with one of the central relationships, Tina and Bette, played by Laurel Holloman and Jennifer Beals.
In 2016 Buzzfeed published a take-down of The L Word with the words, “What does Bette actually see in Tina? Tina is always in a mood, even when Bette isn’t cheating on her with carpenters. Ninety percent of Tina’s character is sighing and the other 10 percent is talking about home renovations. Oh Bette, you flashdancing goddess, you could have done better.”
8. PROBLEMATIC: Adam and Kurt
Adam, alas, was a character who only seemed to distract from the couple the fans really wanted to see – Kurt and Blaine. But the two of them broke up and then Kurt ran into Adam, played by Oliver Kieran-Jones. And wouldn’t you know it, he ran his own glee club. But audiences just didn’t like this new direction much.
In 2018 the website Screen Rant wrote, “It makes [for] a fun, flirty sort of thing for Kurt to have after ending a serious relationship. Yet, Adam did not have an interesting personality. Honestly, it just made us wish that Adam Lambert’s character Elliott came in a season earlier. He and Kurt definitely had a lot more chemistry.”
7. PROBLEMATIC: Piper and Alex, Orange is the New Black
There was lots to recommend Orange is the New Black, but to many people it seemed like the central couple wasn’t one of them. In 2015 The Daily Dot website wrote, “Piper and Alex’s relationship is not only annoying, it’s the single worst aspect of the third season… Moreover, their relationship is aggressively boring compared to everything else going on in the show.”
But despite all that Alex and Piper, played by Laura Prepon and Taylor Schilling respectively, stayed the course. Both of them remained on the show right up until the very last episode. And then, in the final moments, it was revealed they were still together. But that didn’t stop fans decrying it as a toxic, manipulative relationship.
6. PROBLEMATIC: Annalise and Eve, How to Get Away With Murder
Annalise and Eve, played by Viola Davis and Famke Janssen, circled around each other for a while on hit show How to Get Away With Murder. But it seemed they were never meant to be. Not only was Eve absent in moments when it would’ve made sense for her to be there, but some fans also took issue with one particular scene.
In January 2019 the website Autostraddle published an article about one particular scene when Eve slams Annalise about her alcoholism. The writer said, “To hear that from Eve, of all people, is really unfathomable. This was just awful, awful writing… It all just begs the question: Why did this show need Eve to come back anyway?”
5. PROBLEMATIC: Lexa and Clarke, The 100
The pairing of Lexa/Clarke is disliked because of what happened to them rather than the relationship itself. At first, the couple was utterly beloved. The two ladies, played by Eliza Taylor and Alycia Debnam-Carey, gained a large fandom of their very own. And then March 2016 came, and without warning Lexa was violently killed off.
Fans were so angry that they started a fundraising campaign in Lexa’s name. It called the writers of The 100 out for “the mishandling of a beloved fictional character (Lexa) who served as a beacon in the lives of many young LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ persons.” It actually ended up raising over $30,000 for suicide prevention charity The Trevor Project in the end.
4. PROBLEMATIC: Renly and Loras, Game of Thrones
In the original book series which formed the basis for Game of Thrones, neither Renly or Loras are ever explicitly stated as being gay. This changed for the TV series, and not everyone was happy. It wasn’t because the two of them were seen sleeping together – it was because of the stereotypical way it was all done.
The series took a lot of liberties almost immediately with Renly and Loras’ relationship. In the book series, each chapter is told from the point of view of a character, and Renly and Loras never have POV chapters. This means their relationship is only ever conveyed through the impressions that main characters have of it. There are no sex scenes between the two, or overt acknowledgments of either character’s sexual orientation made in the books.
3. PROBLEMATIC: Willow and Kennedy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
After Willow’s beloved girlfriend Tara was killed, fans were furious. So perhaps it was understandable that they reacted to the next woman in Willow’s life, Kennedy, with something less than enthusiasm. The couple frequently tops lists of the worst relationships in the Buffy-verse and even the worst relationships on TV.
In 2016 Digital Spy ranked the Buffy couples and said of Willow/Kennedy, “Objectively, scientifically, the worst. It’s not that we wanted Willow to grieve for Tara forever. But when your girlfriend’s death is so devastating to you that you literally almost destroy the world, maybe it’s okay to take longer than a few months before leaping into a new relationship, y’know?”
2. PROBLEMATIC: Karofsky and Blaine, Glee
Almost everyone on Glee seemed to couple up at some point. Sometimes this worked and sometimes it very much didn’t. Among the relationships considered to mark a low point in the show – there’s rather a lot of them – the coupling of Max Adler’s David Karofsky and Darren Criss’s Blaine Anderson is one of the most disliked.
In 2015 the website TVLine ranked Blaine/Karofsky the worst couple ever on Glee, writing, “Remember when Blaine moved back to Ohio and started dating the guy who made his ex-fiancé’s high school experience a living hell, then flaunted that relationship in Kurt’s face as if anyone would ever be able to handle something like that? Me neither. This never happened.”
1. PROBLEMATIC: Piper and Stella, Orange is the New Black
Although the pairing of Piper and Alex wasn’t particularly popular, the pairing of Piper and Stella had even fewer fans. The audience of Orange is the New Black didn’t like Piper as a character, and were shocked to see her betray Alex. The Piper/Stella relationship proved completely disastrous, though.
In the end, Stella stole Piper’s money, and Piper took revenge by getting her ex-girlfriend sent down to Maximum Security. And after that, Stella pretty much disappeared from the show entirely. It was a messed-up relationship, no doubt. But on the other hand it did help catapult actress Ruby Rose, who was openly gay herself, into fame.