Network television has a bumper crop of gay male characters this season, but, as in past years, the lesbians are few and far between. On the more positive side, though, at least one of the gay women who’s coming into America’s living room during primetime every week deserves some attention.
Actress Julie White plays a lawyer named Anne whose wife recently died. So now the character is part of a wacky but endearing support group on the NBC comedy Go On. The show stars Matthew Perry in his latest effort to recapture the success he enjoyed as Chandler on the NBC megahit Friends.
What I appreciate most about Anne—besides the fact that she’s charming and likeable—is that she isn’t defined solely by her sexuality. Her lesbianism was front and center in Go On’s debut episode, but, since then, she’s been allowed to evolve as a human being who’s doing the best she can at dealing with the loss of the woman she shared her life with—and she’s doing pretty darn well at it.
This well-rounded aspect of Anne appeals to me because most lesbian characters on network TV are limited to being either a punch line or a token. And, even more frequently, a punch line or a token who’s overflowing with lesbian stereotypes.
Not so with Anne on Go On. Of course Perry’s character, Ryan, dominates the spotlight, but Anne’s had her moments as well.
The stand-out episode began with her hesitating to attend the lesbian wedding of a friend because she fears the experience will bring up too many memories of her own ceremony with her now-deceased wife. When Ryan—who’s also struggling to move on with life after his wife’s death—volunteers to be Anne’s +1 for the event, she accepts his offer.
Once they arrive at the wedding, another female guest makes some meaningful eye contact with Anne. When the attraction proves mutual and Anne gets past some confidence issues, Ryan fades into the woodwork and the two lesbians chat amiably. Anne then goes out with the woman later in the episode, which is a sign that she’s moving forward.
What I liked most about the episode—as well as others before and since—is that Anne’s lesbianism isn’t played for either a laugh or a cringe.
Indeed, Go On successfully treats her being a widow as fully comparable to Ryan being a widower. Both characters are sometimes angry at the loss they’ve suffered, and at other times they seem to be making progress at advancing toward a new, post-mourning balance in their lives.
Along the way, those of us who have a hard time finding LGBT characters on TV who are interesting and fleshed out may have found what we’re looking for.
The Anne character is someone large numbers of viewers can relate to. She’s a woman who’s lost her spouse and has now joined a group of people who’ve suffered a similar loss of a loved one. She also has her own persona within the group. And, oh, yeah, and she’s a lesbian.
It’s a first for network television to feature a gay woman dealing with this particular situation.
Because the Anne and Ryan characters have both lost their wives, there’s a strong bond between the two of them. "It makes Matthew's and my journey very similar,” White has been quoted as saying. “We really have a lot to offer one another as friends, getting through something very similar."
As the various episodes have played out over the last couple months, the Anne character has emerged not only as the only member of the LGBT community on the show but also the most clear-headed and logical member of the support group. In White’s words about her character, “She’s definitely the Mr. Spock of the situation.”
By Rodger Streitmatter
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