It was quite by accident that I found one of the best queer TV series I’ve ever seen. A 400×300 pixel video running on auto-play in the ads section under an article I had been scrolling through. A chance glitch that hung the web-page, and forced me to watch the first two minutes of the show, and by then I was hooked.
Called “Falling for Angels”, the six-episode series is produced by Here TV, an American television network exclusively for LGBTQ storytellers, filmmakers and performers. The theme song is a kitschy number, with an orb of light making its way through five Los Angeles neighbourhoods. The show is divided geographically by these neighbourhoods, like Boyle Heights, Koreatown, or Malibu, which lend their names to each episode. But the spatial diversity is just the backdrop. Here’s what makes this show so special.
Sometimes you wonder if the bigots aren’t on to something when they call homosexuality a ‘western import’, because nearly all the media we consume about queerness is dominated by young, white, cisgender male faces. Very rarely do you find queerness represented as a nervous Taiwanese man knocking on his date’s front door, or an African-American artist trying to make sense out of masculinity through his spoken word poetry. But the lives of queer people of colour are front and centre in this series!
This is important because even in the gay community, standards of attractiveness, desirability and success are defined by the most privileged group in America – white cisgender men. And there is a huge need to move beyond that.
LGBTQ storylines have infamously been about victimhood, separation, and even death (‘Bury your gays’ tropes, anyone?). But there are no tragic characters in “Falling for Angels”. Instead of harping on the isolation and discrimination of gay men in a homophobic world—which has been done to death—the shows follows far more interesting, relatable or even mundane occurences. Such as a couple overcoming a period of unfaithfulness; a couple bumbling awkwardly through a threesome and then deciding it’s not for them; having a friend you can complain to about your partner; two men who have been married to each other so long they’re bickering just like we’ve seen our parents do. It’s refreshing to see gay people going through the motions, rather than being turned into an astounding symbol of oppression.
The episode set in Koreatown exposes the prejudices against Asian men in gay dating culture. There is an alarming number of gay men who specify “No Asians!” in their bios when looking for hook-ups. And even if it isn’t said in so many words, it’s often implied. What’s worse, this prejudice is so common that it becomes internalised. In this episode, a Taiwanese-American, raised in a white neighbourhood, is forced to confront his own ‘gaycism’. He is later put on the spot when his date says, “You rejected me as soon as you saw my Korean face. But I get it. You’re a self-loathing Taiwanese-American that isn’t attracted to other Asians. You bitch about other people not being attracted to Asians but you’re not attracted to Asians yourself!” His date goes on to drop another truth-bomb about the lives of queer men of colour can be so utterly bereft of self-love: “There’s a metamorphosis that happens when you’re having sex looking into someone’s eyes that look like your own.”
In the same episode in Koreatown, the Korean character expresses his discomfort with intimate gestures like kissing, saying he isn’t interested in commitment or attachment. This of course lends itself to interesting interpretations about how masculinity influences intimacy, or whether queer people have the liberty or security to be in long-term relationships.
Yet another theme is about how physical closeness may plummet with time, as it happens with two men who have been married ten years. The pair have to then face something so many couples do – that feeling of “Well, what now?”
The episode I found most interesting was when a couple welcomed a third, much younger person into their relationship. This initially causes more trouble, until the trio address their feelings of jealousy and get comfortable with how polyamory works.
The sixth episode is warm and fuzzy. Set in sunny Malibu, the characters are gathered together for a wedding. Partners that struggled through infidelity, feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt and more are seen holding on to what’s most important to them—each other. Here we see all five storylines converge, joined by two additional examples of a positive queer relationships.
There is nothing characteristically “gay” about the show apart from the fact that it includes same-sex couples. There is no fetishising of queer bodies, no family drama (read: parents hurting or disowning queer children), no unhappy break-ups à la “Blue Is The Warmest Colour”. Bonus: no bisexual erasure!
Increasing the number of LGBTQ people we see in our media can only do good. Daniel Franzese, an actor on the show, strongly believes in this. Currently the ambassador for The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, he claims that screen-time has actually influenced healthcare! “Each year that a story wasn’t being told,” he explains, “we saw a rise in new [HIV/AIDS] infections.”
Last year’s GLAAD media report found that out of 901 primetime show characters, only 6.4% were identified as queer. And this was the highest figure yet! It’s disappointing to say the least. Maybe we ought to have more networks like HereTV to help change things!
Far from offering a slice of glitzy gay life from the West, “Falling for Angels” kicks hard at stereotypes, and propels itself into being a sensitive, multidimensional and brave anthology of stories.
And I think everyone should definitely give it a shot.