Television has been our saving grace this year. For the past ten-ish months in quarantine, we’ve had bugger all to do except binge *everything* on the small screen to distract us from the daily horrors of the news. Thankfully, 2020 has been one of the best years on record for television – especially when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation.
Queer superheroes have been rescuing their respective universes from impending doom, while drag queens have continued to sashay, shantay and panther down the runway. Various characters – old and new – have also proudly flown the rainbow flag, inspiring a whole new generation of queer viewers in the process.
Here, we’ve rounded up our 20 favourite LGBTQ+ shows the year. Remember, this isn’t a ranking – we’ve listed our choices in alphabetical order, with our number one show of the year at the bottom. Can we get a drum roll please?
Atypical delivered its boldest and most confident instalment to date in 2020 as it continued to develop the groundbreaking story of Sam Gardner (Keir Gilchrist) in new and intriguing ways. The dramedy also introduced one of the most shipped couples on air right now with Casey (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Izzie (Fivel Stewart), whose relationship finally transcended friendship. It was about time! Now, bring on season four…
Canada’s Drag Race
Although the Canadian iteration of Drag Race was in dire need of a RuPaul-esque host, it delivered in every other aspect thanks to fierce contestants such as Priyanka, Scarlett Bobo, Rita Baga, Jimbo and Lemon. Priyanka’s lip-sync against Kiara to the beat of Celine Dion’s I Drove All Night still ranks as the lip-sync of the year slash past few years, and her subsequent win ushered in our current – as our reigning All Stars winner Shea Couleé puts it – “Melanin Dynasty”.
Dead to Me
Jen (Christina Applegate) and Judy (Linda Cardellini) returned for another dose of middle-class chaos earlier this year with season two of Dead to Me – with a refreshingly queer turn. The latter’s relationship with recurring character Michelle (Natalie Morales) felt quite groundbreaking – especially in a drama this mainstream – for treating a romance between two women as completely normal, with no elements of homophobia and ignorance in the storyline. Other shows need to take note.
Instead of a fourth regular season like fans anticipated, The Boulet Brothers resurrected their beloved horror reality series for a spine-chilling, All Stars-esque showdown with beloved past contestants such as SAINT, Frankie Doom and Victoria Black. It was gorier, freakier and (somehow) more outrageous. Above all, it was innovative – it presented drag in a way that’s never been seen on television before. GIVE THIS SHOW MORE LOVE!
The ridiculously attractive students of Las Encinas continued to wreak havoc for their final semester in Élite’s critically-acclaimed third outing. Of course, it boasted another bonkers mystery, a bonkers mystery that hit the mark purely because of the charismatic teens – especially Arón Piper and Omar Ayuso’s championed gay couple Ander and Omar. Honestly, we can’t get enough.
Yes, we know this is technically cheating because it only returned for one episode, but Trouble Don’t Last Always was an EPISODE. Know what we mean? Fresh off her historic win at the Primetime Emmy Awards, Zendaya returned as troubled teen Rue, who, on the brink of another relapse, spent an hour discussing drug addiction and her lack of faith with sponsor Ali (Colmon Domingo). It was one of the most powerful hours of television this year, and a perfect introduction to the show’s forthcoming second season.
The Haunting of Bly Manor
Unlike its spine-chillingly scary predecessor, The Haunting of Bly Manor was, at its core, a love story. The terror at the titular manor ultimately took a backseat to the brewing romance between Dani (Victoria Pedretti) and Jamie (Amelia Eve), resulting in one of the most heartbreaking finales of 2020. (Is Sheryl Crow’s I Shall Believe still a trigger for anyone else?) Like Dead to Me, Mike Flanagan’s second horror adventure depicted romantic love between two women as entirely regular, which still isn’t the case in most television and film productions.
Ryan Murphy’s seven-episode limited series highlighted the racism, sexism, homophobia and decades-old power dynamics that are still prevalent in the entertainment industry today. While the show may have garnered a mixed response from critics, it’s received plenty of praise from viewers who loved getting the chance to see a more diverse depiction of Hollywood where everyone (who deserves it) gets a happy ending.
I May Destroy You
Michaela Coel’s second TV creation pushed boundaries for dramatic storytelling as it explored sexual assault and the MeToo movement with the star’s semi-autobiographical character Arabella, a young woman attempting to rebuild her life after being spiked and raped. While these topics have been explored in various productions in recent years, so few have done it with as much honesty, grit and humour as Coel, who also directed, wrote and produced the series. (Give her all the Emmys, now.) Paapa Essiedu’s character, Kwame, also shined a light on abuse within the LGBTQ+ community, while serving as a positive role model for Black gay men – both aspects of which are rare for British television.
Season three of Killing Eve didn’t hit the same heights as its predecessors, but with Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer’s killer chemistry as the titular character and Villanelle, it still ranked above most dramas this year.
Hulu’s long-awaited Love, Simon spin-off made a star out of Michael Cimino, who succeeded Nick Robinson as the franchise’s lead character, Victor Salazar. The series, which has been renewed for a second run, garnered praise for exploring the highs and lows of young gay love and the difficult process of coming out. This is the kind of show we craved when we were younger, but never thought possible – and we’re sure many of you will agree.
One Day At A Time
After being unceremoniously cancelled last year by Netflix, One Day at a Time successfully shifted networks whilst retaining its signature heart and humour, and continued to tackle topics such as sexuality, sexism and racism. Sadly, the sitcom was axed for a second time, with Sony Pictures TV indicating that the series would be shopped to another network. Because the show can’t catch a bloody break, it was cancelled for the third time in December, meaning the show’s animated special was the final ever episode.
For some reason, critics just aren’t jelling with The Politician. But please, don’t listen to Rotten Tomatoes – they gave Sarah Michelle Gellar’s live-action Scooby Doo a measly 30% approval rating. Forget them! The second season of Ryan Murphy’s satirical comedy amped up the style and the camp, and featured deliciously wicked performances from Bette Midler and Judith Light, while highlighting the dire political landscape of the United States. What’s not to love?
Ryan Murphy and Sarah Paulson’s prequel to the classic movie One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest became a ratings smash for Netflix earlier this year, debuting in the top spot in over 50 countries. Paulson shined in another batshit performance as the infamous nurse and heartless title character who uses her authority to torture her patients, while Murphy delivered a chilling depiction of the brutal treatments inflicted on psychiatric participants in the 1940s.
RuPaul’s Drag Race
What would 2020 have been without Jaida Essence “LOOK OVER THERE!” Hall, Gigi Goode’s Oscar-worthy performance as Maria the Robot, Crystal Methyd regurgitating the life cycle of a bird, Shea Couleé’s long-awaited induction into the Drag Race Hall of Fame and Jujubee’s instantly iconic impersonation of Eartha Kitt in the Snatch Game? The “sensible 74” line alone, like, c’mon.
The sophomore season of Sex Education was funnier and queerer than its debut, throwing a spanner in the works for Eric Effiong (Ncuti Gatwa) and Adam Groff (Connor Swindells) with the arrival of Rahim (Sami Outalbali). The series also offered some much-needed asexual representation with Mirren Mack’s new character, Florence, and pansexual representation with Ola (Patricia), who comes to the realisation that she harbours feelings for Lily (Tanya Reynolds). Sex Education solidified its status as the queerest teen show of all time, and we can’t wait to see how it ups the ante next year.
Canada’s most beloved comedy came to a triumphant (and bittersweet) end to this year, featuring more legendary ensembles from Moira (Catherine O’Hara), meme-able quotes from Alexis (Annie Murphy) and adorable moments from David (Dan Levy) and Patrick (Noah Reid). Although we are devastated – we repeat, devastated – the show has come to an end, the sixth season of Schitt’s Creek felt like the perfect swan song, and its Emmys galore was one of the few bright moments of 2020. At this year’s ceremony, the show made history when it swept all seven major categories – the first time for a comedy or a drama series – including all four major acting awards. Deserved.
The Umbrella Academy
Following a stellar first season, The Umbrella Academy transported the titular superhero team back in time to 1960s Texas, where the characters were met with racist, homophobic and sexist abuse – particularly in Vanya (Elliot Page) and Allison’s (Emmy Raver-Lampman) arcs. The action sequences were also turned up a notch, and the emotional stakes were higher than ever with the introduction of characters such as Lila (Ritu Arya), Raymond (Yusuf Gatewood) and Sissy (Marin Ireland).
Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka and Shangela jerked many tears this year with their HBO reality series, We’re Here, which followed the legendary icons as they travelled across the United States and recruited small-town residents to participate in one-night only drag spectacles. The series, which earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program, further explored the lives of the Drag Race favourites while exploring the country’s modern attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community. It was hilarious, emotional as hell, and full of charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent (as well as synergy).
TV Show of the Year: We Are Who We Are
Call Me By Your Name’s Luca Guadagnino served another slice of queer teen nostalgia this year with the arrival of his debut television project, We Are Who We Are. Chronicling the lives of angsty teenagers Fraser (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Harper (Jordan Kristine Seamón), the eight-episode series showcases the up-and-coming LGBTQ+ generation, while exploring topics such as race, gender and identity. The series also features star-making turns from the two aforementioned leads, and reminded audiences that when we live life as our most authentic selves, we’ll shine. We Are Who We Are. It’s in the title.