Archive for the ‘Beverly Hills 90210’ Category

How Not to Apologize for a Raping

August 24, 2009

Oh man. Blake Carrington and Krystle. Last season Blake raped Krystle because he was mad at her for taking birth control, but she forgave him after he gave her some sparkly jewelry and flowers. She has lately returned to his bed because she feels super sorry for him after he “accidentally” killed his son’s gay lover.

Blake: That night that I forced you, the night that I… wanted you to have my child… that was even a bigger mistake than you thought. The last reward that I need is another child. And you were quite right to be angry with me.

“That time I wanted you to have my child” is the greatest vague euphemism for rape I have ever heard. I’ve been thinking a lot about rape on tv shows. This is one of the most realistic scenarios I’ve seen yet. Television rapists nowadays tend to be very different from real life rapists. In a post about Law and Order: SVU, Melissa McEwan notes that if the show reflected reality, it would be pretty boring:

The problem with L&O:SVU is ultimately this: If it reflected the reality of sexual assault, it would be a “boring” show. Woman gets raped; it’s her boyfriend. Woman gets raped; it’s her male lab partner. Girl gets raped; it’s her stepdad. Woman gets raped; it’s her male date. Girl gets raped; it’s her male teacher. Girl gets raped; it’s her dad. Woman gets raped; it’s her male boss. Woman gets raped; it’s a guy she met at a bar. Woman gets raped; it’s her male coworker. Boy gets raped; it’s his male scout leader. Girl gets raped; it’s her male soccer coach. Woman gets raped; it’s her ex-boyfriend…

We’d have to go on a long way like that before we got to a female assaulter or a false accusation. It would even be awhile before we got to a stranger rape on the street (or in Central Park, ahem); women are three times more likely to be raped by someone they know than a stranger, and nine times more likely to be raped in their home, the home of someone they know, or anywhere else than being raped on the street.

Fantastical, larger than life shows like Law and Order: SVU or Nip/Tuck or even Beverly Hills: 90210* have long acted as if violent stranger rape is the only kind of rape that exists or is worth talking about, particularly because it’s very easy to identify as rape, and it doesn’t lead anyone to any uncomfortable places. If one out of four women is raped in her life (which I’m sure is a conservative estimate given how often rape goes unreported) not only do you probably know a rapist, you have probably dated one, are friends with one, or are related to one. And no one likes to think about that.

So we’re good at not identifying rape. Last year on Mad Men, in one of the saddest, hardest to watch scenes I think I’ve ever seen on television, Joan is raped by her fiance. In his recap for TWOP, Couch Baron initially called this a “borderline rape.” Similarly, a recent discussion about Weeds on Shakesville revealed that even among very media-savvy feminists it’s hard to identify rape for what is, and instead recontextualize it as “a bad date” or “rough sex.”

Similarly, Gossip Girl opened with Chuck Bass attempting to rape Jenny Humphrey on the roof at a party, when he is interrupted by her brother, at the time, this was clearly understood as rape, and Chuck, in fact apologized for it to Jenny midway through last season. But as the show progressed Chuck became something of a fan favorite, especially in his relationship with Blair. So the next time Chuck raped someone, even though he had been widely understood to already be a rapist, Chuck and Blair fans (of which I am one, actually, Chair forever!) found it difficult to call a rape a rape. During a blackout, Chuck takes advantage of the darkness to pretend to be Blair’s boyfriend and have sex with her while she thought he was someone else. When confronted, Blair said that she knew it was Chuck all along. But the rape victim’s state of mind isn’t what determines whether something is or isn’t rape. Chuck intended to mislead her as to his identity in order to have sex with her, presuming she would not consent if she knew the truth. Attempting to shortcut someone’s ability to consent IS rape.

There’s a very similar scene on Nip/Tuck, actually, in which Christian believes that Liz, his friend who is a lesbian (I point this out, because it is very clear that they have no prior sexual history which could confuse the matter, AND he has a big reason to believe she wouldn’t consent– she doesn’t like dudes), is asleep, and he begins to have sex with her. Of course it turns out later, she likes it. Very few of my tv watching companions understand this to be a rape scene. But Christian waited until she was asleep in order to have sex with her, assuming she would not consent. Attempting to shortcut someone’s ability to consent IS rape.

Veronica Mars has the best and the worst depictions of rape on tv. The first season did something amazing and subtle. We find out, first episode, that Veronica was raped, she doesn’t know by whom at a party where she was drugged. One of the season’s big mysteries is who raped her. It’s nice to see a rape survivor who is completely proactive about solving the case, who doesn’t turn it over to someone else to save her. What she learns is that she was drugged by accident, when a drink spiked for someone else was handed to her, and that her drugged ex-boyfriend, with whom she was still in love joined her in what he thought was consensual, but secret sex. It was an upsetting, deeply conflicting solution to the seasons mystery. Without a pervasive rape culture, Veronica never would have been raped. If no one thought it was acceptable to drug a woman’s drink to get her to have sex, she wouldn’t have been in that position in the first place. But the person who had sex with her in no way intended to rape her, and was also drugged against his will. Both Veronica and Duncan, in this scenario, were victims of rape culture, which was a powerful, profound, and very complex situation for a tv show to take on.

Of course, the second season fucks it all up and ruins the awesome completely. Because it turns out that Duncan was not the only person to have sex with Veronica that night. Cassidy “Beaver” Casablancas secretly master-minded the whole thing and raped Veronica. In the season finale, there is a suggestion that he raped Veronica’s friend Mac, which is denied in the third season. (He takes her clothes, and when she’s found she cries, “He took everything.” Which I thought meant he raped her, but it turned out I was wrong. I know, first time for everything.) And the third season opened with ANOTHER rapist, who rapes Mac’s roommate Parker, and later nearly rapes Veronica. It was incredibly sad to have such a subtle, feminist show morph into procedural levels of sensationalism. I mean, seriously, Two out of three protagonists were raped with the third only narrowly escaping? Our plucky heroine is nearly raped twice? What is the purpose of that? Veronica was an amazing heroine. I would have loved her even without the writers putting her virtue in jeopardy every six seconds. (And at this point, I’d ever prefer if Veronica were nearly the victim of multiple murders, so great is my distaste for depictions of rape for edginess. Newsflash, by definition, nothing that happens to a quarter of all women is edgy.)

I suppose my concern, at the end of the day, is that these rapes are made so sexy and titillating that rape takes on the shape of being a crime about sex, rather than a crime about power, and it’s confusing. In Dynasty, Krystle forgives Blake, but they both call it rape. On General Hospital, Laura marries Luke. But they still called it rape. But 20 years later it’s hard for people who write about tv and committed feminists to consistently identify rape as what it is. We know from advertising how persuasive a medium tv is. I feel it’s a distinct possibility that the relentless sensationalizing of rape and its divorce from reality have affected our judgment negatively and profoundly.

*In the first season Kelly tells her friends at a sleepover that her first time was rape, and she was raped by a friend from school, but this instance is overshadowed by the 9 million strangers who stalk and rape or attempt to rape Kelly over the run of the show.


When worlds collide

June 8, 2009

On the episode of 90210 classic that I watched last night Kelly mentioned watching Sex and the City.

First of all, I’m so sure St. Prude Kelly watches a show that once featured a red clown’s wig as a merkin. Second, I don’t think of these shows as existing in the same era at all. In episode fifteen of season ten, Donna asks David if they can stay in and watch the Sopranos.  Same problem! Even though 90210 ran for ten years, I tend to remember it as having a very early 90s feel, although now that I’m on season ten the music is what I think of as contemporary, even though it’s a decade old. I guess there’s a part of you that remains stuck in your high school years no matter how much time actually elapses.

Speaking of that extreme decade, Doostyn and I were talking earlier about how the new Melrose is probably going to suck all the joy out of the franchise, just like the new 90210, but worse than that, it’s starting before all of Melrose classic is out on DVD. (Currently they’re only up to half of season five.) How unfair! Since Sydney and Michael will be back I’m worried I’ll get spoiled for the events of the last two seasons. Thanks a lot tv.

Jumping the Shark

June 3, 2009

Many people date the demise of 90210 to Brenda Walsh’s departure, but with it came the awesomeness of Valerie Malone, so I must disagree. Others cite the end of college for the cast and the entree into the boredom of the real world. Again, I have to disagree.

I cite the decline of the show as the episode in which a Beverly Beat reader captures a leprechaun and holds the staff at gunpoint for money for his sick child.

That and Kelly’s secretly married (to a schizophrenic wife) boyfriend. Who knew the return of Dylan McKay could be so boring?

Whaddya, Crackin’ Wise?

May 27, 2009

I was watching a bad quality episode of 90210, season 9, last night when I heard a familiar voice say: “Just drive already!” Thanks to the bad video quality, I didn’t recognize her face, but I would recognize the gangster’s moll syntax of one Sydney Andrews, anywhere. Here, she is playing a schemer named Sophie who has set her sights on David Silver, despite capturing the heart of Steve Sanders.

While I’m glad that Laura Leighton was getting work (Sidebar: She’s returning to play Sydney on the new Melrose Place, coming next fall. I’m so excited! I hope it’s not as disappointing as new 90210.) it’s a little confusing, since Melrose Place and 90210 are in the same universe– Melrose started as a spin off when Jake was working on construction at Kelly’s house and they became involved, theoretically, if Kelly saw Jake on the street, she should be like, “Hey Jake!”

So at first I thought she was going to reveal herself as Sydney, having used Sophie as an alias, but then she pulled out this diary of how to make it in hollywood and checked off “Find place in Beverly Hills.”

This might be a question like “How many apts. are there in the place?” that will have to go unanswered, since I think I am 100% of people that care.

Talking at Cross-Purposes, or The Single Entendre

May 20, 2009

On the Season 8 episode of (classic) 90210, “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” Steve and Brandon end up in a very confusing situation with two girls from the Peach Pit that they want to hook up with. But how confused could they reasonably be? Let’s go to the tape…

Scene 1: The Peach Pit

Steve: Is that your car that I’m blocking in outside?

Madeline: Not today, but you made my girlfriend late for work yesterday.

Steve: Oh, did she leave that lovely note for me?

Madeline: Yeah, she did.

Steve: Listen, don’t sweat the note, I deserved it. I’m Steve.

Madeline: Madeline. You know, I’d buy you a coffee to make it up to you, but you already have one.

Steve: Oh this? This isn’t mine, this is my buddy’s.

Madeline: Guess he doesn’t mind sharing.

Steve: Eh, what’s a sip of coffee between partners?

Madeline: Partners, huh? What you work together?

Steve: We work together, live together…

Madeline: No kidding!? That’s a lot of togetherness…

Steve: Chalk it up to desperation. You know, I think this is the only relationship we’ve both had that has ever worked. How about that coffee?

Madeline: It’s on me.

Steve: I have to apologize. What about lunch tomorrow?

Madeline: Um. I’ll check with my girlfriend, it was her car after all. Tell you what– you bring your boyfriend, we’ll make it a foursome. What do you think?

What do I think? I think shenanigans! First of all, Madeline is wearing a man’s denim work shirt, rolled up to her elbows, which immediately sets off the TV LESBIAN siren, and she makes sure to mention her girlfriend to Steve. Now, some women definitely do call their gal pals “girlfriends” but these people live in LA, and do not know each other, bare minimum, Steve should have asked, “Girlfriend girlfriend?”

But hey, boys are clueless… but even the most clueless straight men do not call other straight men their “boyfriends,” nor do they talk about their “relationship” working or not working.  There are ways this scene could have been written ambiguously, but this doesn’t cut it.

Scene 2: Lunch at a restaurant. Madeline and Libby, Steve and Brandon.

Madeline: So… you guys live together in your parents’ house?

Brandon: Yeah, have done for a couple years now.

Libby: And some people assume men are naturally unfaithful.

Brandon, sensitive over the fact that he’s been caught cheating by Kelly: So, seen any good movies lately?

Libby: Did I assume too much?

Brandon: You could say that.

Steve, putting his arm around Brandon: Yeah, but we’re getting past that, aren’t we, Brandon.

Brandon: Funny you should mention that Steve, because no, I’m not!

Libby: Is this something you’d like to talk about privately?

Brandon: No.

Steve: Actually, it is.

… Steve and Brandon go talk. Steve returns alone.

Steve: He’s a little uptight about work.

Madeline: I know, relationships can be really tough.

Steve: He’s a great guy, the problem is, he got committed at such a young age.

Libby: Oh, is he much younger than you?

Steve: No.

Madeline: You know, you guys just need to relax. Come to our house for dinner. We have a hot tub, Libby’s a good cook.

Libby: You bring Brandon, we’ll provide the romance.

Ok, it’s barely believable that Brandon wouldn’t notice something was hinky, given that he’s extra self-absorbed, thanks to the break-up. But Steve should have noticed the weirdness of the unfaithful line. When he returns to the table, oy, we are in the land of the single entendre. Why would Steve assume these girls know anything about Brandon’s past relationship? What does he think is going on?? In order for cross-purposes to work, we the audience have to see how each interpretation is equally likely. If it’s this obvious to the audience that these women are lesbians, then why don’t the guys notice?

Scene 3: The girls’ house and Brandon has just “figured it out.”

Steve: Libby and Madeline…

Brandon: Are gay.

Madeline: Wait… you’re not a couple?

Steve and Brandon act disgusted.

Brandon: Me and Steve? NO!

Madeline: But you live together, Steve said you’re his boyfriend!

Steve: WHAT?

Steve vigorously shakes his head, no.

Rude much, boys?  Way to act like there’s something repulsive about being gay in front of these two girls…. who are gay. If the writers now recognize that Steve calling Brandon his boyfriend is too much of a gay signal… why didn’t they know that 30 pages earlier when writing the peach pit scene? ARGH.

I’m all for suspending disbelief, but in this case disbelief has been expelled and forced to repeat a grade.

9021Oh Honey, No

May 14, 2009

Season seven of 90210 ends with a bang. Specifically, the inaugural bang of one Miss Donna Martin, who has finally decided to give it up to David Silver after a bizarro season seven episode where her grandmother, in black and white flashbacks starring Donna and David (who are also pictured in olde tyme photographs on the mantle) as her grandparents, and how they got married after knowing each other for a week, and then he put a baby in her and left to go die in World War II. This makes Donna decide that having sex with David is The Right Thing To Do, since the cross she wears was taken to war by the inseminator, so Jesus wants her to, or something. Also when she tells her grandmother that she and David have a hotel room for the night, Grandma is all pervaciously: “Oh?” And Donna’s all: “Not like that!”

And then Grandma makes disappointed face and sighs: “Her mother’s influence.” Even Grandma thinks David deserves a bejammer.

(This episode is completely awesome, fyi. (Well, incompletely, St. Kelly picks up a bemulleted child she finds sleeping on her deck chair. He ran away from home because his mom is pregnant or something. Oh! And Valerie starts dating Smith Jerrod, who is playing basically the same character, an accidental actor, super hot, but down to earth. ))

Donna’s all “I have a present for you…” as she hands him a condom, foreshadowing the deflowering of one Joey Potter, who, after freaking out at Pacey Witter for bringing a condom on a skiing trip, tucked her hair behind her ear and simpered: “Do you still have that condom?”

And Pacey was all, “Don’t worry, I’ll throw it away.”

And then Joey was all, “I want you to throw the wrapper away.”

Which is a moment I love, since teenagers really are super awkward when they’re trying to both negotiate this sort of thing and be cute at the same time.  (My favorite example of this is when the gang in flashback of Veronica Mars is playing “Never  have I ever” and Lily, trying to make Veronica confess her virginity, says: “I’ve never not had sex.”)


Season eight begins with Donna in the confessional having told her priest of her impure thoughts and deeds, and Brandon voice over saying: “But she hadn’t confessed to her mother, which made David furious.” Um. WHAT?

David spends the next several episodes trying to get Donna to tell her mother that they are now having a sexual relationship. WHAT? What IS that? That is not normal. Finally, Donna tells her mother (when they’re in the hospital after St. Kelly gets shot) that it was “wonderful and loving.”

Too much information for a parent, Donna!  Observe boundaries! (Although, when I was dating my mythological ex, my parents wanted to meet him, and I didn’t want to put pressure on our relationship, so I was stalling, and then my Dad was all: “Sweetheart, if he’s good enough to have sex with, he’s good enough to meet us.”  Au contraire, pater, I respect you enough to not want you to have to meet some of my patrons.)


This season also brings us to the music that I remember from the 90s (including Ru Paul. Chante, sashay.), which is a welcome change. (Although it brings with it lots of cropped tops. Ugh.) David is trying his hand at being an agent for a smokin’ hot anti-Semite. We learn this valuable info when Donna walks by the Hotzi saying, “No one’s gonna Jew me down!” on the phone. and then it echoes and reverberates as the picture blurs. Donna is such a good person that she has a physical response to intolerence that on tv usually means someone is wasted or about to pass out.

I wanted to wrap up one other thing from season seven, the drug issue. Pot is an immediate gateway drug, as one episode after he first smokes it, Steve Sanders is about to try heroin for the first time, but first his buddy dies after snorting a line.  As if he’d been partying with a van der Woodsen, his heart just stopped.  Steve, naturally, goes for the reefer stick to ease his pain, but Brandon saves the day by reminding him what to live for. That night at the Peach Pit After Dark, they come across a bizarre vigil for the red shirt druggie.  Steve, seeing a bong, flips the fuck out.

SS: Who left this here? Who left a pot pipe [sic] here? Whose bong is this? No one’s, huh? Fine.  [Steve hurls the bong against the brick wall.] Listen up. Don’t leave any drug paraphenalia here. Let’s not make this “cool,” this isn’t “cool” this is stupid. And I know what I’m talking about. I’m alive today because Dick died first. I was next in line to catch that same bus. I told him to save me some. And then I found him in the bathroom. Want to know what his last words were? [voice breaking] I don’t want to die. That’s what he said. He knew he blew it, he knew it. So if you want to come here, hang out, and memorialize, and remember Richard Harrison, then remember that he was a scholar, he was a leader, he was an athlete.  That he was a 22 year old who had a brilliant future in front of him that got wiped away because he was doing drugs. You remember that. And remember his last words: I don’t want to die.

Oh Steve. Maybe the person who left the bong was thinking: “If only Dick Harrison had stayed home smoking his bong and eating doritos rather than snorting horse down at the PPAD, he’d still be with us.” I mean, practically the only way weed can leave you dead on the bathroom floor is if you have asthma.

Meow, Ladies.

May 12, 2009

Update on my post about incest in 90210 and Melrose:

Oooo Kelly accidentally touches a nerve!

Val: [Brandon] was the love of my life and you screwed it up for me.

Kelly: See, that’s your problem, Valerie. First Tom was the love of your life, then Colin was the love of your life, now it’s Brandon. You do so much lying you don’t even know what it’s like to tell the truth anymore.

Val: No. You just can’t deal with how close Brandon and I are.

Kelly: No, I think you have that a little backwards, it’s you who can’t deal with me and Brandon.

Val: Then why are you trying to take away the only family I have left?

Kelly: First he’s your love and then he’s your family– I think you have that confused there; those two things don’t go together.

Val: Get out!

Kelly: With pleasure.

Bad Dads (and I’m not talking about Lost)

May 11, 2009

I thought 90210 jumped the shark after Brenda left (and in my mind she is still living in London with Dylan and he never had a baby with Kelly on the new series lalalala) but really it just gave itself over to soapy awesome.

One of the very special storylines of season 7 is that we learn that Valerie’s father didn’t just die, oh no, he was a molester, and she’s GLAD he’s dead.  (And maybe she killed him? I don’t even know. Whatever, she was super happy about it.)

This is, of course, revealed to us via a black and white, art school style video like Dawn and Jeff’s “Love Will Tear us Apart” high school video from Series 7: The Contenders. (Starts around 7:10)

Val lies in bed. The door opens and everything goes slanty as a man enters. Cut to her dad waving on the porch. Now he’s on top of Val… now he’s on the porch again, blowing a kiss! He’s on top of Val again, kissing her, and the way she’s pulling him toward her, she doesn’t seem to mind. When she pushes him away, her hand is covered in BRIGHT RED BLOOD. It’s like Schindler’s List, ya’ll.

But you know what it’s also like? It’s like when Allison on Melrose had her recurring nightmares (black and white, slanty door, dolly dropped on the floor) that were trying to tell her that her dad had molested her. It’s never a good sign when something reminds you of Allison.

I love Val’s confrontation with her mom:

Mom: You want to talk to me it has to be in the middle of the night?

Val: You always were a sound sleeper.

Mom: What do you mean?

Val: You must have been. To be able to sleep through the night when your husband was coming into my room.

Mom: What are you talking about?

Val: I’m talking about RAPE mother. Incest? Child Abuse? Our Family? Your husband? Your daughter? Does that ring any bells?

Most sexual abuse does take place in the family, sure (although I think on 90210 it’s mostly strangers trying to rape St. Kelly) but isn’t this repressed and recovered memories thing so nineties?

On a very special 90210

May 1, 2009

The following 90210 dialogue made me laugh out loud:

Random Frat Dude: Hey Sanders, before we play golf, I’ve got a little present for you…

Steve Sanders: Oh?

RFD: Check it out.

SS: Ah, you know what? I never really got into pot. But go right ahead, I’ve always been more of a beer guy.

RFD: Oh come on, Sanders, believe me. Golf is an impossible combination of concentration and relaxation–

SS: Mrnf.

RFD: Pot is the ultimate bridge, Sanders, come on.

SS: All right, I’ll try anything once.

RFD: There you go! And if you like, I’ll give you some for later, you know, a little Valentine’s gift for you and Claire…

SS: Oh yeah?

RFD: Oh yeah! There’s only one thing that goes better with pot than golf and that’s SEX my friend!

SS: Really?

RFD: Fssyeah.

SS: Well in that case, roll me a big fat joint!

90s tv wrote some checks reality failed to cover.  First off, the only thing that goes better with pot than golf is raw cookie dough dunked in nutella, duh. Second, although I haven’t finished watching this episode (and I’ll be happy to correct myself if I turn out to be wrong) I’m pretty sure we’re gearing up for another one of those Steve Sanders Makes A Bad Decision That Could Cost Him His Degree– Or His Life! episodes. It seems so antiquated already that people used to make such a big deal out of pot, especially in comparison to drinking.

The same year (1997), 7th Heaven ran an episode about the dangers of The Reefer Stick in which Annie, the mother, admits to having smoked pot once and naturally it ended with a terrible car accident and a dead teen. The revelation that she once smoked pot causes a rift in her marriage to the Reverend Camden (although it’s healed by the end of the episode). Seasons later Simon runs down a kid on a bike, but it’s okay, because the kid had been smoking pot (and therefore deserved to die).  But say what you will about Sev Heav, it also came down hard on drinking.  Mary Camden drank half a beer once and got kicked of high school and was then forced to move to Buffalo.  On 90210, the gang drinks to actual excess with no consequences all the time.

Nowadays, I feel like the booze and the pot are treated similarly on most tv shows. On The OC when Seth starts smoking pot it affects his grades and his girlfriend Summer is like, “Whatever, I get it, we all went through that phase freshman year while you were busy being a nerd, but you’ll want to shape up.” Which seems like a refreshingly realistic reaction.  That 70s Show obviously normalized the pot circle in the basement for the prime time audience and seemed result in the usual array of teens: Dumb Kelso, Smart Eric and Donna, crafty Hyde. And on last week’s Gossip Girl, lovable stoner Nate said to no fanfare that he knows the best dealer at NYU.

The most obvious way tv failed to prepare us for reality, is that there is a sad lack of congenial, overinterested in your sex life drug dealers who want to give you pot for free.

It’s a business, people!  There’s no such thing as Mary Jane happy hour. Although that does kind of seem like a good idea for any place in the business of vending snacks…

St. Gay of the Perpetual Chaste Bro Hug

April 20, 2009

Television is a relatively progressive medium when compared to say, film.  For the simple fact that there is a lot more time to fill, far more tv shows than movies pass the Bechdel Test (The test is: are there (1) two women (2) who talk to each other (3) about something other than a man.  You’d be surprised how many movies don’t even pass part one. This is important because if women aren’t talking to one another, then they aren’t advancing plot, and once again women are relegated to the audience of heroic manly deeds).

But tv is also like a parallel universe with strange rules.  Angry grown ups say things like “Mother flipper!” and no one says “Goodbye!” or “Later!” when they’re hanging up the phone.  For this reason it’s possible for tv shows to appear extremely dated even when they’re currently airing.

One of tv’s enormous failures is its inability to portray gay men as actual human beings (and lesbians as people who exist at all, but we’ll get there).  While popular mythology suggests that the gays are promiscuous drug using whores and OMG if we let them marry each other it’s humans and DOGS next!!! On tv the gays are usually best friend props to straight women and completely desexualized.

In the 90s the gays tended to be chaste saints dying of AIDS whose primary purpose was to give us breeders an Important Lesson about living life to the fullest.  In Beverly Hills, 90210 season seven, Kelly works at a hospice and befriends a dying patient, Jimmy Gold.  (Two asides here, first, IMDB tells me he was the accompaniest in Girls will be Girls, a Booze Tube favorite film, second Jimmy Gold? The other Jew along with David Silver? Come on, 90210!) Jimmy contracted HIV from his dead boyfriend who wasn’t faithful, whereas Jimmy hasn’t dated anyone since his partner died. He teaches Kelly about the magic of living life to its fullest, before dying concluding his three episode arc.

(The Real World’s Pedro was another dying AIDS Saint, whose icon was recently trotted out for a bizarre movie remake based entirely on docu footage.  Between this and Grey Gardens it’s like an art/life ouroboros.)

On Melrose Place our main gay, Matt has not yet, in the four seasons I’ve watched gotten AIDS, but he did date a soldier with it, and the soldier’s paranoia contributed to the end of the relationship. But Matt is constantly engaging in a tv behavior that cracks me up: the chaste bro hug.

Now when straight people on tv are in a relationship, they often hold hands, kiss, cuddle and wake up in bed together. When gay guys are in a relationship they pull each other into four second hugs while thumping each others’ backs like they’re trying to dislodge a chunk of Chinese food.  The night before Billy’s doomed wedding to Allison, Matt hooks up with the best man, who Billy previously assumed was straight.  We the viewers see Billy watching through the window as Matt pulls Best Man in for a bro hug and then the camera turns to Billy’s disgusted and horrified face.  The next day Billy can barely name what he saw, but Matt tells us it was kissing.  Billy (rudely!) interrogates Best Man as to whether he’s ever been attracted to him.  (Presume much?)

And let’s not forget the disaster that is Will and Grace. Will was freaking hot, so how come he never dated anyone longer than a couple months? Why did he never seem to have a boyfriend? Why was a show about a gay guy and a straight girl really just about a straight girl and her gay handbag?

Fast Forwarding to the naughties, boys can kiss on tv!  Adorable Erik van der Woodson from Gossip Girl has a steady boyfriend! Progress!

Except not quite. The Perpetual Chaste Bro Hug has transformed into the Perpetual Invisible Relationship.

Now we trade on the idea that the first thing to go in relationship (other than leg-shaving, amirite brah!) is the sex. Hetero tv characters in their teens and twenties switch up partners like they’re in their teens and twenties while gay characters end up like Nancy Drew who was given boring Ned for a boyfriend specifically so that readers wouldn’t wonder why she didn’t have one.

Sure, gay guys have boyfriends, but they’re rarely seen, and the inner workings of their relationships are invisible which would be fine if the topic of the show were “Establishing world peace” or “How to bake awesome pies,” but on shows like Gossip Girl or Secret Life of the American Teenager, relationships are the topic, and it’s an area of life in which we’re only comfortable letting the gays be bystanders.