WHY #SIRENSUSA IS ONE OF THE BEST LGBTQIA SHOWS ON TELEVISION
AMBER LOVE 21-JAN-2015 It’s no big secret that viewers are being more critical and more vocal about their desires to see people like them on the big and small screens. We’ve been talking about having more diversity in books and comic books for years now. Television is catching up. One of those shows making a difference is USA Network’s SIRENS starring Michael Mosley, Kevin Daniels, Jessica McNamee, and Kevin Bigley.
TV has come a long way since SOAP (1977) which had a white gay male character in a sitcom. Sometimes we get fantastic and still funny gay characters like Will from WILL & GRACE (also white male). The world was turned on its axis when Laverne Cox stole the show on ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, and for the first time, the public was talking about transgender issues – yet, I still get the vibe there’s so much about the “how do you have sex?” components in these talks whether it’s trans or lesbians being discussed. Previously, viewers could expect any non-white gay character to be an over-the-top interior decorator or something.
Since 2014, I’ve seen a lot more talk about what’s called “bi erasure” or the practice of ignoring half a person’s sexual identity when they are in a relationship that others choose to define as lesbian or heterosexual or gay. For me, Nolan Ross on REVENGE has been the best example of a bisexual character. I felt it was something in BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER that got masked or dropped when Willow began dating Tara then Kennedy despite that she had been with Oz first. I don’t recall her attraction to Oz ever ending. Nolan Ross, however, is fabulous and straight forward and gives absolutely no fucks about what people think of his relationships.
Bi-erasure was also a huge discussion/outrage by comic book fans who worried that John Constantine’s bisexuality would be changed to heterosexuality with the new TV adaptation on a major network. Yet in the pilot, John refers to a man he was close to quite often and though he doesn’t say, “I was your father’s boyfriend” to the girl he helped, the subtext is there.
The practice of erasing sexual identities can infuriate people who are already marginalized. Do we really need more gimmicky terminology for the heterosexuals of the world like “lumbersexual” or “beardsexual?” No. What you have is as simple as, “what’s your taste in men” in a heteronormative way or perhaps, as strong as a fetish where you have a hard time enjoying sexual experiences without it. Still – that’s heterosexual.
Amongst the population that is truly marginalized are asexuals who sometimes self-identify as ACE. For the most part, these characters are ridiculed in the writing. They are presented as characters that don’t know what to do with another human being as if sex education didn’t exist or is purely scientific. As we saw with STAR TREK, even Spock’s Vulcan persuasions were explained that they control their sex drives until Pon-Farr. But, in the J.J. Abrams reboot, Spock and Uhura clearly dig each other in a pure heterosexual way.
THE BIG BANG THEORY launched in 2007 starring Jim Parsons as the robotic, science-driven Sheldon. Sheldon went years observing his three other friends, Leonard, Raj, and Howard pursue women like horny dogs. Even Raj, who needed to be drunk to talk to a woman, was always presented as in search of a female mate. The show was growing tiresome with having only dumb blonde Penny representing women, so they wisely brought on uber intelligent Bernadette and Amy, each with the specific purpose of being dateable to one of the male cast members who wasn’t pining for Penny.
Sheldon’s asexuality was forcefully changed to a heteronormative identity through this type of erasure. I’m not a regular viewer of the show, but I catch it in reruns when I’m bored because I do find it charming. I worry that the mission critical storyline that is the ticking bomb for when they end the series will be “when will Amy and Sheldon have sex?” The 2014 Valentine’s Day episode showed Sheldon finally kissing Amy for the first time after years of dating.
I can only imagine that the asexual viewing audience grew tiresome of Sheldon’s sexuality being a punchline. If the show has erased his asexuality in favor of heteronormative ideology, that might be considered worse than punchline fodder.
I didn’t know that I would love SIRENS when I first watched this show created by Denis Leary. I expected to find it entertaining in low-brow sitcom kind of ways. Hey, I like low-brow sometimes. I like tuning the shitty world out and unwinding once in a while. It’s been a while since a show that probably isn’t going to win any awards won me over. Truthfully, it’s been since PSYCH, also a USA Network show.
SIRENS has that same lighthearted feel PSYCH had. It’s lead by Michael Mosley as Johnny and Kevin Daniels as Henry. The third of the EMT trio is Brian played by Kevin Bigley. Then we get Johnny’s on again, off again girlfriend police officer Theresa played by Jessica McNamee. Brian is the rookie and although he has as much screen time as his partners, he feels at first like the “every show needs a dumb cute guy” role. But, wait. Then they bring on Billy, cop partner to Theresa. Billy is way more dumb and his looks and giant dick are subject of half an episode.
Winning points about representation:
- racial diversity
- sexual diversity
- gender diversity (binary but kind of balanced with supporting female characters)
- mental illness sensitivity
- fetish/kink sensitivity (paramedics see everything)
Johnny, the main character, is plain and little cookie cutter. A white guy in his 30s dealing with fears of failure since he has baggage about his father’s abandonment; they later reconnect. Like a magical band-aid, as Johnny’s relationship with his father mends, he figures out that he can’t keep living with Theresa’s lack of commitment in their relationship status. There’s a monkeywrench introduced when they point out that Theresa’s goal is to leave the police force and join the FBI which would likely mean leaving Chicago.
This is a good point to explain Theresa. She’s a vibrant Irish cop and she is sick of Johnny’s shit. He won’t commit so she gives up and asks him for casual sex, no strings attached, no breakfast in the morning, I’m satisfied so GTFO sex. She booty calls him and he responds. After a while, Johnny goes through the self realization that casual sex is not for him. He wants a bigger commitment from Theresa. Theresa’s dominant sexual agency feels right given how they’ve created her to be the leading cop in the plots. She isn’t going to take shit from anybody. She gets shot and even shrugs it off like Rambo. She’s beautiful and fiery and you do not want to fuck with her on the job or with her feelings.
One of the main characters, Henry, is a 38-year-old African-American gay man. He admits to dreaming of “settling down” some day, but he is comfortable in a non-monogamous life. I wouldn’t go so far as to slap the polyamory label on Henry, but the way he handles his relationships and even hook ups is with the same ethical standards of the poly community. Those are my tweets below about it:
Acting contracts probably come with social media clauses these days. I doubt Robin Lord Taylor would live tweet GOTHAM as he does every week if it wasn’t expected of him. It’s kind of a big deal when “bigger” stars do it like Rebecca Romijn and Christian Kane on THE LIBRARIANS. Nonetheless, Kevin Daniels and Kevin Bigley are great on Twitter for SIRENS. They favorite and reply. They connect to fans which is something we want. So one of the times I was rewatching SIRENS now that season one is on Netflix, I was tweeting my love of the way the show handles sexuality and Daniels favorited my tweets; Bigley actually replied giving me that big dopey fan grin I’m glad no one could see.
Brian – side note about Kevin Bigley that pertains to nothing here, he looks so much like my friend Pete DeLuca from Brooklyn, host of Pete’s Basement Podcast, that it weirds me out a little. Okay… Brian is the first young darling of the show. He’s naive, but has a head on his shoulders. He comes off at first, as the “Joey” of the friends, but he’s really the heart of the trio, eager to learn, has goals in mind for himself, and looks out for other people. The writers get a lot of credit for having Brian do some research before asking a woman out. He takes the steps to learn about what she’s interested in without expecting the pay off of fucking her. Bigley is simply adorable in this role.
The trio of guys assigned to the one ambulance have the older curmudgeon Cash who plays the mentor. Another African-American on the cast played by the hilarious Bill Nunn.
Goofy Billy is Puerto Rican played by Josh Segarra who makes his own jokes about Puerto Rican perception by the other guys. Yes, as I said before, his giant dick has a plot.
Claire “Stats” Bender, played by Maura Kidwell, suffers from OCD and it’s not mocked, but explained without being insulting or condescending. “Never give her 13 grapes,” one guy says. “I’m sorry, I really thought I gave her a dozen!” Stats counts everything from pieces of mail to pieces of food and she has an eidetic memory. Rather than her eidetic memory throw up an awkward barrier to other people, when Stats recalls facts, Johnny helps point out that whatever she says is true and thus, provides comfort to the patients. Stats doesn’t have that dolled up supermodel makeover that a lot of women on medical dramas and police shows get. She’s cute as she is and I’m glad she does not look like CASTLE’S Kate Beckett.
Voodoo is played by Kelly O’Sullivan. She’s beautiful, smart, blonde, and in a normally male-dominanted career like Stats. On another show, like a medical drama or police procedural, Voodoo would be just another beautiful blonde romantic interest. In season one, episode six, Brian confesses that he’s romantically interested in Voodoo. The other guys tell him he needs to drop the thought because she’s asexual and will never date him. Brian doesn’t just go push his male ego on to her. He goes home and does research on asexuality before talking to her. “I don’t march in parades or anything,” she says to him. “You want sex. I don’t.” It’s crystal clear and unapologetic.
I’ve explained the great characters and casting. It’s funny as Hell. The majority of the writing credits go to Denis Leary, Bob Fisher, and relative newcomer to TV credits Julieanne Smolinski.
New episodes begin January 27, 2015!