LGBTQ Pride is known for its ability to uplift, and much of the recent popular culture that centers on queer characters subscribes to the same tenet. Pose, Schitt's Creek, and Love, Simon (along with its TV spinoff, Love, Victor) are celebratory explorations of gender expression that wouldn't have existed 15 years ago. Yet the queer canon is just as varied as the community it depicts. There's plenty of empowerment to go around, but it wouldn't mean much without a wealth of experiences depicted on screens big and small. Moody foibles, seedy intrigue, and true-to-life relationships are just as essential as romantic comedies like Happiest Season and Alex Strangelove. Pop on 2018's The Favourite and you'll get all of that in one delicious package.
With that in mind, here's a list of Pride viewing recommendations that are as diverse as the people they chronicle.
Luca Guadagnino, a sensual spellbinder best known for directing Call Me by Your Name and I Am Love, leapt to TV with this eight-episode pilgrimage about American teenagers living, loving, and boozing on a military base in northern Italy. We Are Who We Are centralizes two queer drifters: bratty Frasier (Jack Dylan Grazer, delivering 2020's most lived-in performance) and stoic Caitlin (Jordan Kristine Seamón), who form a mutual affinity while searching for the right ways to define their identities. Set in 2016, with the specter of violence hovering in the characters' periphery, the series is a leisurely, poignant, and intermittently lovely coming-of-age snapshot. [Watch on HBO Max]
Please Like Me developed a cult appreciation after making its way from Australia to the now-defunct American network Pivot, but it deserves to be a full-blown phenomenon. The endearing comedy series created by and starring Josh Thomas follows a fidgety 20-something trying his damndest to stall adulthood. Fictional Josh, who is newly out, embarks on budding relationships while his neurotic parents and straight BFF endure their own bittersweet quirks. The show clocked out after four seasons, making it perfectly bingeable without overstaying its welcome. (Thomas moved on to Everything's Gonna Be Okay, currently airing on Freeform.) You'll also spot a pre-Nanette Hannah Gadsby in a lovable supporting role. [Watch on Hulu]
There was once a time when many queer characters who appeared in popular entertainment met some form of punishment for their so-called lifestyle. That cloudy history left some audiences skeptical of Ryan Murphy's second American Crime Story edition, which focused on the 1997 murder of fashion master Gianni Versace (played by Édgar Ramírez) at the hands of 27-year-old spree killer Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss). But Assassination of Gianni Versace is Murphy at his zenith, an acidic portrait of a troubled underdog convinced he can mold himself into a wealthy tastemaker. If you're hungry for intrigue, class envy, and a seductive indictment of the closet, this should be an easy sell, especially since the supporting cast includes Penélope Cruz, Ricky Martin, Cody Fern, and Judith Light. [Watch on Netflix]
Hailing from the robust New Queer Cinema era of the 1990s, The Watermelon Woman was the first feature-length movie written and directed by an openly gay Black woman. Cheryl Dunye's examination of racial progress is part Hollywood meta-commentary and part lo-fi romantic comedy, with Dunye portraying a Philadelphia video-store clerk obsessed with a film from the '30s in which an actress credited only as "the Watermelon Woman" plays a stereotypical mammy. Determined to track down the woman's backstory, fictional Cheryl embarks on an amusing and insightful odyssey. [Watch on Showtime Anytime, Kanopy, VOD platforms]
People forget how radical -- and wonderful -- Orange Is the New Black remained throughout most of its seven-season run. Not only was the prison dramedy one of two series that launched Netflix's now-ubiquitous original programming (House of Cards was the other), but it also featured a cast of characters whose sexuality was frank and fluid. Sure, the protagonist (Taylor Schilling) could be kind of annoying. But she provided a worthy portal into the world of Litchfield Penitentiary, where her delightful cellmates came from varied backgrounds not often seen on TV circa 2013. Stick around for trans hairdresser Sophia (Laverne Cox), fun-loving Poussey (Samira Wiley), witty former addict Nicky (Natasha Lyonne), brash Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) and her therapy dog, and a handful of others who made Jenji Kohan's Weeds follow-up such a treasure. [Watch on Netflix]
Consider this an ode to Hervé, a neurotic, gossipy, overworked assistant at a French talent agency. Played by Nicolas Maury, Hervé might be the funniest person on Call My Agent!, a show that's overflowing with funny people. He desperately wants to become an agent himself, but his mission is complicated by office politics and a hard-on for the company's handsome new co-owner (Assaad Bouab). In addition to Hervé, there's Andrea (Camille Cottin), a power-hungry lesbian with commitment issues. Their day-to-do melodramas, many of which involve satirical appearances from French A-listers like Juliette Binoche and Isabelle Huppert, form the basis of this splendidly addictive series. [Watch on Netflix]
Nearly three decades before Pose fictionalized it, two documentaries introduced mainstream audiences to the decadence of the Black and Latinx queer ballroom scene. As one Paris Is Burning subject declares, "In a ballroom, you can be anything you want." That landmark 1991 film dipped inside Harlem nightclubs, where competition was fierce and slang like "shade" and "realness" hadn't yet been co-opted by white people hooked on social media. A year before Paris' release, Madonna spent time in similar clubs. Two ballroom fixtures she met, José Gutierez Xtravaganza and Luis Camacho Xtravaganza, went on to help choreograph her megahit "Vogue," which brought the titular move to the masses (as depicted in Season 2 of Pose). Madonna's seminal backstage doc Truth or Dare, which featured Gutierez, Camacho, and other queer dancers, provided another peek into lives we wouldn't otherwise encounter. Together, Paris Is Burning and Truth or Dare comprise a revealing double feature. [Watch Paris Is Burning on The Criterion Channel, Kanopy, VOD platforms; watch Truth or Dare on VOD platforms]
Cristina Ortiz Rodríguez, otherwise known as La Veneno, became a charismatic media personality in Spain in the '90s, bringing her experiences as a transgender sex worker to late-night television. Veneno tells its namesake's story through the eyes of young journalist Valeria Vegas (Lola Rodríguez), who wrote the biography that became the series' source material. Still forming her own trans identity, Valeria strikes up a bond with Cristina (played in different eras by Jedet Sanchéz, Daniela Santiago, and Isabel Torres), steadily grasping how profound La Veneno's self-actualization was. Veneno, at once fun-loving and painful, is an homage to the hard work that goes into creating the image we present to the world. [Watch on HBO Max]
Freaky got a bit lost in the COVID shuffle when it premiered digitally in November. Time to fix that. Blending body-swap comedy (think Freaky Friday) with slasher tropes (think Friday the 13th), Freaky is a rollicking genre mashup about a teenager (Kathryn Newton) who inadvertently swaps places with a notorious serial killer (a career-best Vince Vaughn). The protagonist has a fabulously gay BFF (Misha Osherovich), but that's not the film's only queer credential. Christopher Landon, who also made the stylish time-loop thriller Happy Death Day, directed the movie and co-wrote it with fellow gay horror aficionado Michael Kennedy. You're in for a frighteningly good time. [Watch on VOD platforms]
The first seven seasons of MTV's matchmaking competition featured straight contestants, but the suitors in Season 8 -- dubbed Come One, Come All -- were sexually fluid, meaning anyone could potentially pair up. Even in 2019, bisexuality and pansexuality remained under-explored topics in popular culture, rendering this version of Are You the One? open-minded and far more captivating than its predecessors. There's still the manufactured melodrama and drunken excess that accompanies any dating show, but with that came a renewed purpose that mainstays like The Bachelor and Love Is Blind have yet to match. [Watch on MTV]
This 2015 documentary follows comedian Tig Notaro in the year after her candid stand-up set about breast cancer went viral and vaulted her profile. Notaro's dry delivery made her an ideal figurehead for such raw subject matter, so it's no wonder her career hit hyperdrive in the aftermath. Chronicling her cancer experience, the origins of her charming relationship with actress Stephanie Allynne, and her friendships with fellow comics like Sarah Silverman, Tig is an intimate portrait of resilience in an age of showbiz exhibitionism. [Watch on Netflix]
Before Ellen, Will & Grace, or Modern Family, there was Roseanne. Defying the gay panic common in Friends, this working-class exemplar featured a number of well-adjusted queer characters whose sexuality was never some cheap joke. Roseanne Conner's boss (the great Martin Mull) was a happily partnered gay man, and her close friend Nancy (Sandra Bernhard) came out as a defiant lesbian in Season 5. When a woman at a bar kisses Roseanne in a famous 1994 episode called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the exchange prompts her to confront homophobia -- a progressive stance that had ABC threatening to ax it altogether. The show's namesake soiled her reputation with a heinously racist tweet in 2018, but her original work holds up. The spotty Roseanne revival, now called The Conners, has also introduced gender-nonconforming and transgender characters. [Watch on Peacock]
Matthew Shepard inspired this famous West Wing episode about the murder of a gay teenager -- an incident that prompts White House Press Secretary C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney) to advocate for hate-crime legislation. Airing halfway through The West Wing's stellar debut season, "In Excelsis Deo" arguably solidified the Aaron Sorkin show as appointment viewing. Its delicate subject matter, which also included a plot about a homeless Vietnam War veteran, was thoughtful and evocative, so much so that "Deo" won an Emmy for its writing. As a bonus, it's technically a Christmas episode. [Watch on HBO Max]
One of 2020's best movies, Bad Education should be experienced without much prior information. Here's what you can know: On paper, it's the inside story of the largest public-school embezzlement in American history; in practice, it's a slick character study about Long Island administrators who let their greed run too far. Directed by Cory Finley, who broke through with the chic teen-murder psychodrama Thoroughbreds, the film was a victory for HBO, winning Outstanding Television Movie at last year's Emmys. Oh yeah, and it stars Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, and Ray Romano, so you know it's a must-see. [Watch on HBO Max]