Loud and Queer at the Emmys: Noms Spotlight the Diversity of TV's LGBTQ Characters and Storylines

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While 'Schitt's Creek's' homophobia-free utopia earned an impressive 15 Emmy nominations for its final season, the Television Academy also recognized several other shows, from 'Euphoria' to 'Killing Eve.'

Schitt’s Creek bid adieu earlier this year in a series finale that pulled out all the romantic stops. Co-created by Daniel Levy, the CBC/PopTV show follows a richesto-rags family forced to move to a small town they’d “bought” as a joke, which turns out to be an unglamorous but welcoming utopia free of homophobia. In its last few seasons, the show had become as much about David’s (Levy) relationship with Patrick (Noah Reid) as it was about his family, as one beau navigated his first serious relationship and the other struggled with being newly out of the closet. The finale, titled “Happy Ending,” showcased the series’ queer sensibility, with grooms David and Patrick briefly derailed (David mistakenly believes his fiance had gifted him not just a massage but the eponymous perk), then having their wedding officiated by David’s costume-loving mother (Catherine O’Hara), who became an exaggeration of her already camp self by decking herself in full papal gear and knee-length Pre-Raphaelite curls.

If Schitt’s Creek wins best comedy, it’ll be the first time since 2014 that a series with a central queer character takes home the trophy. The show finds an analogue in 2010-14 winner Modern Family, which also centered on adult siblings — one gay, one straight — and their aging parent(s). But you’d arguably have to go back to 2000, when Will & Grace clinched the award for the first and only time, for a best comedy victor in which queerness isn’t relegated to the B-plots.

Television and LGBTQ representation have enriched each other for the past two decades, and the 2020 nominations largely reflect the variety of queer stories and characters on TV. Admittedly, there’s room for improvement in the two big categories, with only the homoerotic cat-and-mouse thriller Killing Eve joining Schitt’s Creek among the queer-centered series nominees. But there’s no shortage of Emmy recognition for LGBTQ performers — or for actors playing queer characters. The 2020 noms also show healthy progress on two fronts where Hollywood has often failed LGBTQ representation: racial diversity in the queer community, and gay, trans and otherwise nonstraight love stories.

After his lead drama actor win in 2019, Billy Porter was practically guaranteed another nod for Pose this year. But Porter was joined not only by other faces familiar to the TV Academy, like Orange Is the New Black’s Laverne Cox, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy v. the Reverend’s Tituss Burgess and Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Andre Braugher, but also relative newcomers like Euphoria’s Zendaya and Hollywood’s Jeremy Pope.

And if the industry has often faltered in letting LGBTQ characters find and keep love, that’s certainly not the case this year. In addition to Schitt’s Creek — for which Levy also was nominated for his performance — the Emmys recognized the romances in Euphoria, Pose and Hollywood through those show’s acting nods. What’s notable here is how different, and from so disparate walks of life, these queer relationships are. On Schitt’s Creek, David and Patrick’s love story is largely domestic, the outwardly quaint husbands the owners of an artisanal gift shop. On Euphoria, things are more somber, with high-schooler and recovering addict Rue (Zendaya) in love with her trans best friend Jules (Hunter Schafer), who’s grappling with the aftereffects of her sexual past. Pose found Porter’s HIV-positive ball emcee Pray Tell once again willing to risk love, this time with a much younger man whose youth he feels wary toward. And on the more fantastical end, there’s Hollywood’s alt-historical romance between Pope’s fictional screenwriter and Jake Picking’s Rock Hudson, who, unlike his real-life counterpart, publicly comes out in the late 1940s and opts for an open love in lieu of a fear-filled closet — and a career in the movies.

And yet the most progress on TV might still be happening when it’s chronicling real life — and real queer people. The breakout Tiger King, nominated for best documentary or nonfiction series, gave us the kind of sideshow gay character perhaps too outlandish to dream up: Who’d believe the meth-using, straight man-chasing, big cat-loving, wannabe governor Joe Exotic if he weren’t flesh and blood? RuPaul’s Drag Race and the similarly drag-centric We’re Here — nominated in the competition and unstructured reality categories, respectively — offer spectacles of gender play that scripted TV still doesn’t seem to know what to do with. As the show announces, the queens are here, and queer, and still wonderfully stranger than fiction.

This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.