Finding Hope in A Year of Unbalanced TV

Finding Hope in A Year of Unbalanced TV

A year ago, I was writing about how we all needed to check out the fourth season of The Bold Type, how Vagrant Queen was a show for your Earper longings, and by the way you should check out Motherland: Fort Salem. Little did I know where we’d be 12 months later…

The Bubble’s Gone

In 2019, it felt like the bubble for peak TV was never going to end. Every day we were getting more and more shows with more and more queers, and we had actually doubled the number of scripted series between 2012 and 2019. Today? Shows have dropped by 15% (and counting), and ones that got renewed are now canceled.

Netflix canceled a number of high-cost shows, claiming COVID, while ABC suggested Stumptowns cancellation was COVID and cost of stars. At the same time, shows like Dexter are coming back, so costs are clearly subjective. But in the time that all that began, things got worse in a lot of places.

COVID was, at first, brutal to smaller productions because of costs, but then it also began to affect plots. Watching this last season of Grown-ish for example has been jarring because there is no COVID. On the other hand, shows like 9-1-1 (and it’s Rob Lowe buddy 9-1-1: Lone Star) as well as the Greys/Station crossovers have all embraced COVID and put it into their plots. Saved by the Bell touched on it at the end of their first season, and queer-of-the-week medical drama The Good Doctor opted to move to the post-COVID world.

Final Seasons For…

That reminds me… here are some shows with heavy queer rep that we already know are on their last seasons:

  • Atypical
  • Black Lightning
  • The Bold Type
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine
  • Claws
  • Dead to Me
  • Dear White People
  • Lucifer
  • NCIS: New Orleans (the only NCIS with a regular queer female)
  • Shameless
  • Shrill
  • Supergirl
  • Van Helsing
  • You Me Her

It’s March. That’s how much we know already, which is not an insignificant number. A lot of these are medium/long running shows as well.

Look To The Past

While a lot of new content is being hit hard and falling after one season, we’re also seeing a rise of revivals. It started with The X-Files and Rosanne (which is now The Conners) but now with Punky Brewster, the ’80s are back in force. The late ’80s to early ’90s shows are finding new popularity, likely because none of us are really going anywhere for a while yet.

Now, I have strong feelings about ‘nostalgia porn’ where a show milks my feels (and I have them) in lieu of actually writing strong characters. At the same time I will throw down with anyone who isn’t all-in for Cherie being a lesbian on Punky, because elementary school Mika is screaming in joy. I also freely admit I didn’t like the new adventures of Mulder and Scully any more than I liked anything they did post movie (with a few exceptions, nothing after the movie was to my linking). But…

If you read fanfiction (there will be no judgements!), you’re familiar with the idea of a coffee-shop AU, where you take your known characters and drop them in an alternate universe (AU? Get it?). The reason stories like that work is that we don’t have to climb the mental mountains of figuring out which character is which. You know, like who is the jock and who is the funny one and so on? All of that is done already because you know the awkward cinnamon rolls from the outset.

This concept is a large part of why superhero movies and TV shows work so well. We already know the basic concepts of the characters for Batwoman and Black Lightning, and even if there’s a last-second recast for a main character, it’s an acceptable twist because we know this happens.

With a revival or rebooted show, we similarly have the tropes and archetypes pre-created. We knew who and what Punky was before the show began, and seeing a future her that was still her, only a little different, was logical and sensible (even if your shoes don’t match). Saved by the Bell worked because they leaned into the things that made the original very tongue in cheek. And by that measure, The Conners works because they let Rosanne go.

Is it All Good?

Maybe, maybe not. There’s only so much pre-existing content that can be mined for this kind of thing. Not everything is going to come back (though the idea of a Dukes of Hazzard reboot where they’re running COVID vaccines all over Duke County is amusing), and not everything will successfully return.

To an extent, the reason people want to reboot and revive is that in a time when costs for shows are at an all time high, having a solid, dependable show that does moderately well is where networks will survive. Or in otherwords, networks are becoming less willing to risk it all on something new.

And that has a major drawback. Where will we get the next Vida if we don’t take a chance? Where will a family like One Day At a Time‘s Alvarezes find a place? That scares me, a lot. Because while I love the return of old favourites, I mourn the loss of my new ones, and if the hope comes from the revivals, where will there be room at the shrinking table?

I don’t have an answer, but I hope like we did in the past, we take a chance with something new.

About Mika A. Epstein

Mika has been deep in fandom since she could say 'Trekkie.' With decades experience in running fansites, developing software, and organizing communities, she's taken on the challenge of delving into the recesses of television for queers long forgotten. Making this site with Tracy is nothing short of serendipity. Mika lives with her wife and their cats in Southern California. Of course she has a hybrid, but she'd rather ride her bicycle.

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