A Lesbian Reviews MTV's Faux-Gay Comedy 'Faking It'
The managing editor of leading lesbian website AfterEllen.com says the series from showrunner Carter Covington "tries new stereotypes with moderate success."
The line between best friendship and a romantic relationship is sometimes thin, especially if one of the parties happens to be a little gay. On MTV's new comedy series Faking It, teens Karma (Katie Stevens) and Amy (Rita Volk) are so close that they call each other before school in the morning, and their mothers know who they're talking to without asking. Their current extracurricular actives include watching Netflix together in their pajamas, but outgoing Karma is looking for more excitement and she thinks she knows how she can find it: by pretending to be a lesbian.
To be fair, Karma didn't come up with the idea. That honor went to Shane (Michael J. Willett), the school's most popular and good-looking gay senior, who uses his gaydar to decide that Karma and Amy are a couple and that he's "craving lesbian energy in his life." At the Faking It high school in Austin, Karma says the "outcasts are the in crowd," which means that anyone who isn't down with LGBT is seen as out of touch, including Amy's future Stepford Wife stepsister, Lauren (Bailey Buntain). At this school, calling someone a Republican is an insult. These teens believe in keeping Austin weird, and that means christening a lesbian couple as homecoming queens simply for existing.
Except they don't. Not completely, anyway. At his party, Shane corners Amy and tells her she should be out and proud. Meanwhile, Karma is inside being hit on by straight ally Liam (Gregg Sulkin), the hottest guy in school. He likes to think he respects Karma being a lesbian, except he doesn't at all. It's clear he is dismissive of women after a drunk girl wanders over. He tells her they are simply f--- buddies and to leave him alone. If he's supposed to be crushworthy, he's going to need to learn some respect. When he thanks Karma for advice and refers to her being gay, she realizes he thinks she's a lesbian. She almost balks, until Shane announces to everyone at the party that the school should rally its support behind the hottest new couple at school and vote for them as homecoming queens. This kind of promised popularity makes Karma forget all her concerns. Being a lesbian isn't weird, it's sexy!
The problem with most of the characters on Faking It is their un-likability. Outside of Amy, who is willing to do just about anything to make her best friend happy, everyone is self-obsessed and only concerned about their status in the school social sphere. The typical high-school tropes are trotted out with interesting attempts to turn them on their heads, but ultimately they revert to the same boring cliches, even if the gay kids are finally popular figures instead of punching bags.
In reality, high schools in even the most open-minded towns still struggle to keep their queer students from being marginalized -- although there are a handful that have shown their students embracing same-sex couples on their homecoming courts or naming a transgender girl prom queen. But using the subject as a plot device feels somewhat disparaging, especially when the lesbian couple at the center aren't really lesbians.
Faking It is not without its fair share of funny quips, but they often fall prey to easy lines about tuna fish and the Isle of Lesbos. The more refreshing parts of the pilot are when Amy is at the center, as she's clearly the only one struggling with her sexuality and what coming out truly means for a 17-year-old. She doesn't take the fakery lightly, and her selflessness when it comes to Karma is what rings true about the show. Meanwhile, Karma's flirtations with Liam just feel wrong, especially when he kisses her and then cites further relations as a challenge he's more than willing to take.
Amy's stepsister, Lauren, is an archetype we've seen so many times before that it's almost insulting to have her on this show. She's a less funny Dalia (Carly Chaikin) from Suburgatory and less cruel than Mean Girls' Regina George (Rachel McAdams). Instead, she is a hyped-up Southern belle with two uncomfortable-looking lapdogs that follow her around as she seeks to insult the masses and get voted as homecoming queen. Stop me if you've heard this one before.
For Faking It to become the socially conscious and quirky show it hopes to be, there would have to be an improvement in the balance of sexualities. The focus on the Liam and Karma relationship comes off as much more sexually intense and physical than any other pairing on the show. Shane doesn't have a boyfriend -- as of now -- and while it is hinted at that Amy has stronger feelings for Karma that she has yet to reflect on, they are mild in comparison. Even the way the lesbian couple is spoken about pokes fun at them, with their peers giving them gluten-free muffins and staging a photo shoot for the school's Tumblr in order to show off their tokenism.
When at a school assembly, Lauren announces that Karma and Amy are mocking the gay rights movement, the pair kiss to prove their love is real. The kiss solidifies not only that they're willing to continue the mockery, but also that they don't mind becoming poster children in the process. If Karma can move past her narcissism and Amy can figure herself out without the spotlight on her faux relationship, then there might be a win in this. But if there are more trite jokes about gay women and highlighting the disrespectful Liam as a good guy because he's willing to be friends with a gay man and a feminist, there might not be much worth watching in the future.
Faking It premieres Apr. 22 at 10 p.m. on MTV.
Trish Bendix is the managing editor of AfterEllen.com. She lives in Portland, Ore.