In many ways, 2019 was both a stunning—and sad—year for queer television. We gained many queer shows including (the sometimes heavyhanded) Batwoman, but we lost Abby’s, which featured a rare bisexual woman of color protagonist. Grown-ish got even more gay, though it featured lesbian icon Katherine Moennig as a creepy gender-studies professor; on the bright side, though, Moennig reprised her role as the infamous Shane in The L Word: Generation Q.
Here are some of the most memorable, exciting, or just overall thought-provoking episodes of queer television from 2019.
Tuca & Bertie, “The Jelly Lakes,” Season 1, Episode 9
As a whole, “The Jelly Lakes” is a beautiful episode: Tuca (Tiffany Haddish) and Bertie (Ali Wong) hit the road to escape their everyday lives, which have become stressful and put their friendship is on the rocks. Bertie, who is at her wits end, gets cut off by an asshole on a motorcycle, who turns out to be her childhood swimming coach Maple (Jane Lynch). Bertie and Tuca stay with Coach Maple at her cabin, and amid an episode about trauma, we get much-needed softness through Coach Maple’s relationship with her wife Pat (Isabella Rossellini). They’re kind and thoughtful to each other, despite their differences, and their queerness is presented casually and lovingly. Tuca admires their relationship (and develops a crush on Coach Maple), while Coach Maple encourages Bertie, and Pat provides comfort to the entire group.
One Day at a Time, “The Funeral” Season 3, Episode 1
In true One Day at a Time fashion, even an episode titled “The Funeral” is absolutely hilarious. Elena (Isabella Gomez), who has come out as queer, is desperate to find another family member who’s gay. She’s always wondered if her aunt, Pilar, played by queer icon Stephanie Beatriz of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, is queer, so she sets out to figure it out. Naturally, sitcom-style chaos ensues, and Elena learns about herself, gaydar, and building queer community.
Steven Universe, “Change Your Mind”, Season 5, Episode 29
Out of all the songs on Steven Universe, “Change Your Mind” is the one that rotates most through my thoughts and always brings tears to my eyes. The episode that produced that song is undeniably queer, and the song itself pulls at explicitly queer threads: We’ve seen Steven (Zach Callison), along with the rest of the gems and the Diamonds themselves, question their identities and their roles within the universe. Steven comes to find himself, literally, and at the end of the episode, he sings, “I don’t need you to respect me, I respect me/ I don’t need you to love me, I love me/ But I want you to know you could know me/ If you change your mind.”
The Bold Type, “Revival,” Season 3, Episode 8
I adore Kat Edison (Aisha Dee): She’s queer, Black, political, powerful, and extremely confident in herself and her brilliance. Her love life is the only thing that throws her off balance. She’s still recovering from her breakup with stunning Muslim lesbian artist Adena (Nikohl Boosheri), but she pursues a new relationship with her campaign manager Tia (Alexis Floyd). When Adena returns to New York, she brings feelings for Kat and regrets about their breakup. This is the best sort of queer drama.
The L Word: Generation Q “Let’s Do It Again,” Season 1, Episode 1
The premiere of The L Word: Generation Q is an obvious choice for a list of best queer episodes of 2019: The kickoff scene features two queer women of color having period sex; Bette Porter (Jennifer Beals) is running a mayoral campaign; and our beloved Shane (Katherine Moennig) gives her BFF Alice (Leisha Hailey) a giant hug on the set of Alice’s big, sparkly talk show. “Let’s Do It Again” also introduces newcomers who help widen the show’s scope of queerness, leaving us all eager to see what will happen this season.
Atypical, “Shrinkage” Season 3, Episode 7
The much-awaited third season of Atypical gave queer viewers what we’ve been waiting for: Casey (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Izzie (Fivel Stewart) finally getting together. We get the heart-swelling, emotion-filled kiss between Casey and Izzie, high-school enemies turned best friends, and then we get to watch the fallout as they try to figure out what their queer relationship means for their other friendships. “Shrinkage” is a beautiful, thoughtful episode that grapples with the complexity of queerness—a journey worthy of screentime.
Riverdale, “Big Fun”, Season 3, Episode 16
No show on the CW is as strange as Riverdale: What year is it? What’s with the gangs? How is everything magic, and yet nothing is? How are there this many murderers in one town? My favorite episode of Riverdale is one of its strangest, in which Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) and Toni (Vanessa Morgan) break up and decide to work out lingering tension in a high-school production of Heathers.
Good Trouble, “Percussions” Season 2, Episode 1
In “Percussions,” the friends of the Coterie—where Callie (Maia Mitchell) and Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) live in a commune-style community—are all dealing with the show’s usual drama. For Alice (Sherry Cola), who’s still learning about her sexuality, this drama comes in the scope of her own journey into what queerness looks like not just for herself, but for other people. She has a thoughtful conversation with her partner Joey (Daisy Eagan), who shares that they’re nonbinary and want to begin using they/them pronouns. Though the conversation doesn’t go smoothly (Alice still has a lot to learn about gender and sexuality), Joey introduces the concept to cis audiences in an easily understandable way that validatse the experiences of nonbinary viewers.
Black Lightning, “The Book of Occupation: Chapter Three,” Season 3, Episode 3
Black Lightning features Anissa Pierce (Nafessa Williams), a.k.a. Thunder, the lesbian daughter of Black Lightning. Anissa dates Chenoa (Shein Mompremier) before falling for Grace Choi (Chantal Thuy), who is bisexual; both relationships showcase love between two queer women of color, a rare experience onscreen. “She’s a lesbian, so little girls are going to be able to look up and be like, ‘Okay, I’m like her and hopefully my parents will accept me the way her parents accepted her,’” Williams told CBR in 2018. In this episode, Anissa and Grace are continuing to develop their relationship while facing complicated circumstances. Black Lightning never presents their relationship as wrong or strange because of their queerness; they get the same level of drama and thought as their straight counterparts.
Gentleman Jack, “Oh Is That What You Call It?”, Season 1, Episode 3
HBO’s Gentleman Jack rightfully blew up this year. It has the perfect mix of drama, violence, sex, and levity, and offers romance alongside a town of people who are all interesting and strange in their own ways. In the third episode of the season, Anne Lister (Suranne Jones), who has set out to wed Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle) in hopes of gaining her wealth, realizes that her manipulation has given way to actual, real feelings; the couple grows intimate, and Anne proposes to her, for real. This episode also features the pig-involved murder of an abusive misogynist, which feels right.
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