A cheating parent, a weirdo younger brother, and a monster crush on somebody who’s ‘bad company’ – it’s a clusterfuck of clichés that usually scream “unoriginal content” when it comes to any show made after the “Freaks and Geeks” era. And yet, all of this is easy to overlook in the 2005 UK TV series “Sugar Rush”. Why? Because lesbians. Among a few other things, that is.
Chock full of very British humour, and a soundtrack that takes you back a decade,“Sugar Rush” follows the lives of 16-year-old Kim, and her sexually forthright and hedonist classmate, Maria “Sugar” Sweet. And it’s set in none other than Brighton, UK’s gay capital.
The show’s portrayal of “women-loving-women” is what really did it for me. To quote a friend of mine, queer women are pretty starved for representation – and no, “hot lesbians” on RedTube do not count.
Between “Girls in Uniform” (a highly regarded German film from the ‘30s) and the award-winning lesbian vampire romance web series “Carmilla”, few mainstream productions have brought queer women into focus, much less teenagers. So premiering a year after the smashing success of “The L Word” – that holy grail of lesbian pop culture – “Sugar Rush” was really breaking new ground with characters that young.
As a result, the show pretty much discards the idea that you have to wait to be a certain age to be sure of your sexual orientation.
The series opens with Kim masturbating to the thought of Sugar. For a moment it throws you off, but then you realise that in a global culture of telling girls to deny their desire, this is nothing short of revolutionary.
Across literature and film (and even real life!), there’s no dearth of male characters who enjoy their libido. In comparison, there are few narratives that show women doing the same. Yes, “Orange Is The New Black” boldly broached the subject in 2013, but “Sugar Rush” had already done it eight years prior.
Not only does Kim take her pleasure into her own hands, she approaches her impending homosexuality (LOL) in a way that is very very different from what we’re used to seeing. The usual doom and gloom that surrounds most coming out stories is happily absent from this one. In fact, our plucky protagonist goes on to (spoiler) have a string of girlfriends, and by season 2 she’s successfully navigated Brighton’s gay scene.
Kim’s makes various (and consensual!) forays into sex while exploring her identity, but at no point does this become the sole purpose of her life as a (gasp!) lesbian.
In fact, while most media finds it difficult to tell stories about queer people in a way that isn’t reductive, “Sugar Rush” rises to this challenge is a great way.
There’s a trope of ‘tragic lesbians’ who either break up, or die (really!?), and this series makes every attempt to steer clear of it. That isn’t to say that these characters don’t all go through periods of conflict. In fact, the show’s exploration of Kim’s relationship with Sugar, her mother Stella, and her first proper girlfriend Saint are particularly striking.
Much of the first season is taken up by Kim trying to work out her dynamic with Sugar. While on the one hand, she is attracted to her irreverent and self-absorbed friend, she also begins to see the parts of their relationship that are toxic and exploitative. And all of this contributes to a character arc that is captivating while still being believable.
Kim’s conflict with her mother also raises a lot of questions about how women are often cast in domestic roles that just don’t suit them. And Kim’s relationship with Saint shows us a whole new side of our protagonist as she goes through stages of jealousy, insecurity, and forgiveness.
The show has a lot of other great stuff to offer as well, from a Thelma and Louise style car chase towards, to Kim’s brother’s cross-dressing. But, disappointingly, “Sugar Rush” was cancelled after its second season and has not been revived in the 12 years since its release.
Even then, in its 20-episode run, it gave queer women a complex and fleshed out narrative that was a long-time coming. And I can’t help but think I would have loved to watch this show back when I was a high school student, trying to figure myself out, just like Kim.