Never was it more clear how starved we are for queer content on television than in witnessing the tepid internet reaction to NBC's Will & Grace revival, or the upcoming sequel to Showtime's The L Word. Both were fun and important, neither demanding a renewed existence—but the lack of LGBTQ-centric TV (and, especially, the lack of intersectional, lesbians-stay-alive TV) is so dire that we seemingly have to be excited, because there's not much else. The TV industry would rather rehash old shows than find other LGBTQ creators who have new stories; fortunately, there's now new TV everywhere, including on Facebook, which hosts the fantastic queer comedy Strangers.
Created by Mia Lidofsky, Strangers is a genuinely affecting, lovely, and sometimes devastatingly-relatable series that just finished its first season on Facebook's "Watch" tab (both Watch and Strangers launched the first week of September). The show, co-produced by Beachside and Refinery29, follows newly single Isobel (Zoë Chao), a bisexual woman discovering and exploring her sexuality. After a break-up, Isobel begins renting out her house on an Airbnb-like site and meets a handful of strange and wonderful people (and familiar faces: Jemima Kirke, Jemaine Clement, Shiri Appleby), each who help Isobel navigate her personal life both directly and indirectly. That's the main sell, and I encourage you to watch the first short season (seven episodes, between 13-19 minutes) right now since there are some spoilers ahead.
What immediately struck me about Strangers is its gung-ho commitment to showing an out bisexual character free from the usual harmful stereotypes that accompany bisexual characters on television. As Megan Townsend, GLAAD's Director of Entertainment Research & Analysis, revealed at the 2017 Television Critics Association press tour, 83 of the 278 regular and recurring LGBTQ characters on television "fall under the bisexual umbrella" but many are characterized by "damaging tropes." For women in particular, these characters "are depicted as lacking morals or kind of to be scheming manipulators, and that is tied to their bisexuality." Aside from one misstep in Strangers—Isobel and Jamie (Peter Vack) break up because she cheats on him with a woman which does lean toward the "greedy bi" trope—the series mostly steers clear of harmful stereotypes, which makes it even more realistic.
Unlike other series, Strangers isn't afraid to use the b-word, either. Isobel is bisexual and says so explicitly; she doesn't dance around it and she won't let anyone—not even Cam—label her otherwise. During a fight between the friends, Cam angrily calls Isobel a "self-loathing lesbian" while Isobel, without missing a beat, responds "I'm bi."
Throughout, Strangers avoids a number of frustrating mistakes that often hinder queer stories on television. Isobel isn't the lone queer character: her best friend Cam (Meredith Hagner) is a lesbian and Isobel's renters are everywhere on the queer spectrum. Isobel's sexuality, though prominent, isn't her only defining characteristic—nor are her relationships the show's only focus, as its episodes touch on themes of friendships, career goals, and family.
Isobel admits that she doesn't really know what she wants—not in terms of who she's dating, but out of general relationships and life. Does she want casual sex? A long-term relationship? Monogamy? A threesome with the hot married couple renters? Does she want to stick with her job? Become a writer? Flee overseas? Strangers is characterized by questions that don't always have answers, because it knows how hard it is to even ask these questions, let alone try and figure them out.
When it comes to queerness—especially new-ish queerness— Strangers understands that, too. "I just really don't know how to have safe sex with a woman," she bemoans in the pilot, worried about STDs. In "Tinder Hearts," while on a date, she faces the harsh—and unfair—reality some bisexuals have while dating (and especially so after recently coming out.)
"Your profile said you were gay," Isobel's date says, almost accusingly, upon learning Isobel used to date a man. "How new to this are you?" Cutting the date short, she explains to Isobel, "I've had to do this before. I really don't have the energy to do it again," either remarking on dating a woman who is bi instead of strictly-gay, or dating a woman who has only recently started to date other women—or both. Later on, Isobel's main female love interest (she also has a male love interest!) Hailey (Isabelle McNally) echoes, "I've been through this before." Strangers even touches upon the ingrained homophobia that queer people may not know is within them: In "Getaway," Hailey confronts Isobel about her discomfort showing affection in public.
Sure, Strangers can get pretty whimsical (Jemima Kirke running into the ocean and casually dispensing wisdom like a wine-induced manic pixie), and out-there (Shiri Appleby as a queer minister of a new age "post-gender-binary" religion), but it's smart even in those moments. Strip away the humor of Appleby's preachings about Jesus's queer identity and you still get a side character casually explaining the importance of non-binary pronouns: "When the language does not even allow for your basic existence, new words must not only be created but they have to be aggressively inserted into the culture." Strangers is the rare series—queer or otherwise—that doesn't forget those outside the gender binary.
Strangers is a strong and self-assured first season, easily navigating tricky areas like harsh fights between best friends ("Couples Counseling," which exposes both Isobel and Cam's negative personality aspects while still making you want to be friends with them), Isobel's first real relationship with a woman, and even the shitty male-dominated film industry ("Tinder Hearts," with guest star Matt Oberg as a shroom-toting screenwriter). It's a queer rom-com that never forgets Isobel's bisexuality, that features interracial flings, and that doesn't throw any of the queer characters under the bus. Rather, it succeeds in telling so many fascinating stories in just a small amount of time—and the result is so good, you won't mind that it's broadcasting on Facebook.
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