Every once in a while, a show comes out that captures the attention of the entire woman-aligned queer community. One day there’s a show you’ve never even heard of, and the next it’s all over your Twitter and TikTok feeds, not just because the main characters were hot and gay, but because the show just feels real. As we start to see more lesbian representation in shows, it is interesting to note that not all of these shows receive the same treatment. So what sets some shows apart from the rest?
A perfect case study is to look at the success of A League of Their Own, which arguably has the highest rate of queer viewership since The L Word (Note that this is purely a personal analysis based on qualitative factors, and could very well be incorrect). While The L Word was marketed as essentially Sex and the City for lesbians, nobody was quite as confident that A League of Their Own was filled with lesbians. That made it an even bigger surprise when it took over the queer corner of the internet. They’re incredibly different– one is about being rich, the other baseball– but they have more similarities than just a supposedly straight girl’s life changing kiss at a party, and I would argue that it’s their similarities that brought both of them their success.
- An Introduction to the Queer World
When other shows try to have queer representation, they take a queer person and place them in a world that is straight except for their singular romantic interest. The Wilds had Toni and Shelby on an island, First Kill had Calliope and Juliette, in Killing Eve, Villanelle and Eve only had each other. Aloto and tlw created a script where the majority of named characters were lesbians, meaning that there were multiple romantic opportunities and friendship opportunities. This density of queer characters is something that also made Batwoman special.
What sets these two shows apart is that they took an ostensibly straight character– Carson Shaw (Abbi Jacobson) and Jenny Schecter (Mia Kirshner), respectively– and placed them in a majority gay world. Learning what a lesbian was opened up both of their worlds, and we found out that they were queer. We accompanied them on their journeys into an unknown world and were able to learn right along with them. This element of emotion connects with baby gays and seasoned lesbians alike.
- Friendships at the Forefront
A part of having a majority-queer cast is that there’s the possibility for meaningful friendships. Yes, we all loved Carson and Greta’s (D’Arcy Carden) relationship, but what resonated even more strongly was the friendships between Greta and Jo (Melanie Field), Jess (Kelly McCormack) and Mita (Roberta Colindrez), and Max (Chanté Adams) and Clance (Gbemisola Ikumelo). Friendship is such an important tenant to queer culture. Since even before the 1940’s, we’ve had to search out our own networks to escape families that didn’t want us. We know what it’s like to have friendships replace the role of familial love, and to have those friends turn into your brothers.
With tlw we had a group of friends that came together to share their lives with each other each and every morning, communing over a (very late, very long) breakfast. In aloto, we had the team dynamic, and the queer friend group that formed within that. So many of us, especially younger queer people, crave being a part of such a community, and that makes the parasocial relationship between fans and tv characters grow even faster.
- An Initial Ship to Latch Onto
Every fan base loves to ship their characters together, and the only thing that sets lesbians apart is the intensity with which they do it. One good couple can launch a thousand fan pages, or however the saying goes. If you want your show to blow up on social media, you need to create a relationship that people feel strongly about. Love it or hate it, if the relationship is well done, you’ll be Tweeting about it. Bettina and Carson/Greta (do they have a ship name) were that central ship for all of us. Admittedly, tlw took the more controversial take, but it’s still early in the aloto universe and I have faith that we’ll hit messy eventually.
- The Token Straight Friend
Like I said before, queer people are used to watching themselves be marginalized on screen. When the scripts are flipped and the straight person is token, that’s when the show is truly made for the lesbians watching. At one point, a token gay character may have helped increase acceptance of gay people. But if we want to make a show for queer people rather than for straight people about queer people, then it’s not enough to just be the token. The straight friend can achieve nearly the same purpose as the token gay while making the show infinitely more exciting for viewers.
Maybelle (Molly Ephraim) and Kit (Pam Grier) were the straight allies who loved their friends because they were queer, not in spite of it. Just as Maybelle created more acceptance on the show, her character shows straight viewers at home an example of unapologetic allyship. That’s who they can choose to be. The gay viewers also see an example of love from outside the community. It affirms that they are worthy for who they are, and these characters often become some of the most beloved.
- Men That Are… Not Great
This is mostly a joke… mostly. The aloto coach is terrible, the men who frequently heckle Greta and other players are even worse. Carson’s husband is loving and respectful, but at the end of the day he only sees Carson in the box that he wants her to be in. He limits her, and he is forced to be dismissed. Tim, Mark, and the rest of tlw cis men are also frequently horrible. Even Angus, who was once sweet and beloved, eventually showed his true colors.
Of course, men don’t need to be terrible for lesbians to enjoy a show. That lesbians are all man hating is a stereotype that I absolutely do not agree with. However, being willing to decenter men, and never hero-worship men, is a sign that the writers truly care about their lesbian audience. They are prioritizing Us.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the additions to A League of Their Own that make it resonate with an even larger group than the original. While The L Word was mostly white and rich, aloto makes a point of starring a black baseball playing lesbian in addition to the white-only Rockford Peaches. Max’s storyline was fully complete and her world was equally as fleshed out as any of the others. Contrary to TLW, which brought in a trans male character (also, coincidentally, named Max) for diversity points and then isolated him and treated him terribly, aloto doesn’t make Max’s story seem tacked on at the end. She has her own love story, her own friends, her own family and her own world. A world which brought us The most powerful storyline of the season: Older lesbians.
Aloto showed us that it was possible to have a happy life as a lesbian well into adulthood. Max’s Uncle Bertie and his wife host elaborate parties for the black queer community, where we see happy other happy couples hanging out comfortably with each other. Bertie and his wife have a happy domesticity together. That life is possible.
It’s that sense of happiness and possibility that has made A League of Their Own and The L Word so successful inside of the community. Carson Shaw and Jenny Schecter brought us into a world that was filled with people like us, people who were living lives we can, even today, aspire to. This is the bar that all queer television should be striving to hit.