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What Gay TV Sex Is Billy Crystal Complaining About, Exactly?

"Sometimes I just feel like, ah, that's too much for me," Crystal said during a recent panel interview. Only, there's not really a lot of gay sex on TV, so it's hard to know what he's talking about.

by Eleanor Morgan
21 January 2015, 3:00pm

Image via David Shankbone

Billy Crystal, the man who played one of the first openly gay characters on TV in the 70s, told the Television Critics Association a few days ago that gay scenes aren't "to his taste".

During a panel interview, Crystal said: "I've seen some stuff recently on TV in different kinds of shows where the language or the explicit sex is really, you know, sometimes I get it, and sometimes I just feel like, ah, that's too much for me. Sometimes, it's just pushing it a little too far for my taste and I'm not going to reveal to you which ones they are. I hope people don't abuse it and shove it in our face to the point where it feels like an everyday kind of thing."

Crystal later felt the need to clarify his comments in the Hollywood Reporter, after, you know, getting more than a few "shut up you pale old homophobe" responses. "What I meant was that whenever sex or graphic nudity of any kind (gay or straight) is gratuitous to the plot or story it becomes a little too much for my taste," he said in a statement.

Fine. Being misquoted is a real shitter. Only, his initial response came directly after being asked if playing gay was difficult for him at the time, as well as his thoughts on what has happened to television in the years since. He was talking about gay sex on TV and how he's weirded out by it.

But it's hard to know exactly which gay sex scenes the man is referring to. There's not much sex in Modern Family, one of America's most popular sitcoms and one that revolves around a married gay couple, for example. Has he just discovered Queer as Folk and been appalled by its rimming scene? What TV is he watching and where can I find it?

Because from where I'm sitting, you're about as likely to find a really good, sweaty gay sex scene – between two men or two women – in any major television show from the last couple of decades as you are to wake up next to Crystal himself, smiling at you across the pillows like Mike Wazowksi.

Take The Sopranos. Probably the biggest, most ambitious series ever made and one that has informed television ever since. Friends of mine are still re-discovering its brilliance on their third and fourth watches of the entire series. Maybe Crystal is a latecomer, too. But even so, despite its dense exploration of all areas of human sexuality, its only real foray into gayness is with the closeted Vita Spatafore, whose real predilections we become privy to when he's caught noshing off a security guard on construction site.

"Ah, that's too much for me."

In The Wire – another televisual masterpiece still being discovered by people every day – the most feared stick-up man is Omar Little, who happens to be gay. Little's sexuality doesn't define him at all, though – his actions do. And when we do get an insight into his private life, the scenes are well-lit, realistic and, even with the mist of violence surrounding Little, tender and beautiful. There's no aggressive, strip-lit fucking – just beautiful, glistening black male bodies coming together for some nice kissing once in a while.

Perhaps Crystal finally, after all these years, got stuck into Six Feet Under on Netflix one evening and spilt his dinner down his front when he got to one of Keith and David's naughty scenes. Again, though, no gratuitous bumming to be found there. Mostly just two men throwing each other around and the suggestion that bumming has just taken place.

Let's see... Breaking Bad? Could Crystal have ploughed through that, nursing a cold one on his giant, L-shaped sofa, and been left utterly agog at some man-on-man rutting? Nah. Just bleak, incredibly uncomfortable scenes like the one where Walter forces himself on his wife, Skyler, in a grim venting of pent-up aggression.

What about House of Cards? That's a big'un. You can just hear Crystal saying something like, "Spacey? Fabulous performance," through a mouthful of bread, waving a knife around at a dinner party, before offering his tuppence-worth on the show's "comic timing". There is gay sex, between Rachel and Lisa, which is lovely, emotive and, ultimately heartbreaking. If you watched their scenes and thought they were gratuitous, you should probably give your optician a bell.

Elsewhere, there's the finely choreographed, charged foreplay scene between Francis Underwood, his wife Claire, and their young SS agent, Edward Meechum. We get an inkling into Underwood's past when he sits with an old classmate on the floor of his college library and acknowledges that the two men "fooled around a couple of times" but the three-way scene isn't noteworthy for showing NAKED MAN FLESH. Because it doesn't. Rather, it's the first time we see the couple's desires for other people come together so neatly, and with such perfect illustration of their pathological need to overpower.

"Ah, that's too much for me."

What else? Crystal looks like a man who loves unwinding with a good legal drama, a man who'd probably describe The Good Wife's Julianna Marguiles as "a fine, fine woman". And, if he watches the show, he's got quite a few vignettes between bisexual investigator Kalinda Sharma and various women to get in a tizzy over – the kind of scenes that ardent fans cut together with sugary punk soundtracks on YouTube (see below). Again, though, we're talking the odd flash of bare shoulder and gentle pecking rather than skirts being ridden up, hands being shoved inside pants and the rattling of doorframes.

"Ah, that's too much for me."

Maybe Crystal felt progressive one night and had a go at Transparent, the Golden Globe-winning show that revolves around a Los Angeles family and their lives after their dad, Mort (Jeffrey Tambor – the dad in Arrested Development), reveals that he's transgender and develops his identity as "Maura". Maura's oldest daughter, Sarah, leaves her husband for a teenage flame (Tammy – a female) in the show, too, and there's some saucy scenes between the two women, including one in the back of a car that involves some deliberation over whether or not Tammy has made Sarah ejaculate on the seats. "This is love, she, like, made me squirt," she says to her sister later on.

"Oh, this is silly! It's just pee, Janice!" Crystal may or may not have remarked to his wife, stamping his fist on the marble breakfast bar and getting really quite cross about such a gratuitous representation of lesbian sex being thrust in his face.

Maybe it'll turn out that he's just been watching too much of The L Word. In which case, Billy, I hear you. Far too many pairs of perky tits squashed together for any reasonable human being to take there. But we're not really at any kind of point in time where gay sex is depicted on mainstream television well or regularly enough to actually be seen as what he refers to as "an everyday kind of thing". For the most part, it's still an other-ness that we only get the odd flash of. If only it did feel like an everyday kind of thing.

@eleanormorgan

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