Queer Girl Friday: ‘grown-ish’ Calls Out Straight Girl FOMO, ‘Instinct’s’ Alan Cumming Makes History

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I’m Selina, Awards Circuit’s queer Girl Friday for everything LGBTQIA+ on TV! Each week, I take on some of TV’s biggest stories through the rainbow lens, which have been put to the test as network TV rolls out its spring wave of new content. Coming in on top is CBS’s ‘Instinct,” a new police procedural that’s half “Castle,” half “Mentalist” that’s made history with the first openly gay lead of an American broadcast drama, played by actor Alan Cumming. But don’t discount last fall’s new kids on the block, as Freeform’s ‘grown-ish’ continues to take on issues surrounding love, identity and the fear of missing out so ingrained in the lives of 2018 millennials.

As I’ve previously noted, ‘grown-ish’ has tackled numerous pitfalls in the lives of college-age millennials who find themselves in the uncharted world of online dating, friends with benefits and an overall hesitant approach to romance. The past few episodes have provided nuanced and often scathing views on love, where twins Jazz and Sky (Chloe and Halle Bailey) find themselves bored and alone on Saturday nights due to unconscious dating bias against dark-skinned black women and Zoey (Yara Shahidi) is left confused about her relationship status with three men who can’t define their own feelings. The series also brought a queer perspective to the largely heterosexual proceedings, pointing out another millennial trend that treats queer girls as experiences rather than people.

In the episode “Crew Love,” the girls of the friend group play “Never Have I Ever,” a game that usually serves as a vehicle for humble-brags and embarrassing stories about one’s love life. Questions about previous personal encounters soon come to the surface during the game after Zoey reveals she’s never kissed another girl. Ana (Francias Torres) finds herself to be the only other girl who hadn’t kissed a girl, finding little in common with the more adventurous women in her circle of friends. As Zoey eloquently puts it, “I thought for sure I’d have the highest morals of the group, but you’ve done nothing.” The statement gives Ana major FOMO (fear of missing out, the newest millennial affliction) and worsens her discomfort about her friends’ comments, causing her to “do things” that night: drinking openly at the school dance, hitting on Dean Parker, and finally trying to kiss a girl for the first time (in this case, an uncomfortable Nomi (Emily Arlook)).

Why is it that queer girls always end up as the outlet for a straight girl’s FOMO? As Nomi says while pushing Ana away, we don’t want to be your “gay experience.” On the surface, someone’s interest in exploring their sexuality sounds like a good thing, but in reality it depersonalizes queer people into an “experience” rather than real people: a humble brag for the next game of “Never Have I Ever” that objectifies queer women and puts down their feelings in the same stroke. After all, Zoey’s question wasn’t about meaningful relationships, it was about a specific act, tossed out amongst stories of drinking, smoking weed and skinny-dipping.

Queer women are looking for love, or at the very least, someone who’s serious about their attraction; who the hell wants to be somebody’s winning point in a party game? While Nomi does eventually kiss Ana, giving her her “experience” story and solving her FOMO, “grown-ish” still points out that kissing people for party points is straight-up objectification, and it’s not a cute look.

Things are very different over on network TV, where CBS’s “Instinct” has officially made media history with the first openly gay lead on an American broadcast drama. As The Guardian notes, it’s frankly shocking at there hasn’t been an openly gay leading character in an American TV drama, but at least we finally have one? The Guardian chalked up the situation to what showrunner Michael Rauch calls “corporate apprehension” in broadcast television, a fear of backing a character that audiences may not like (and thus, not tune in for).

Cumming’s character Dylan Reinhardt definitely toes the line between a fully-realized queer character and a cookie-cutter “CSI” detective, appearing as a highly intelligent former CIA agent who’s retired from the spy world to become an abnormal psychology professor and best-selling author (hello Castle, I’ve missed you so).  Dylan is happily married to lawyer-turned-bartender Andy, a cute brunet whose relationship with Dylan is monogamous, happy and clearly loving. Dylan’s sexuality isn’t hidden– his polished demeanor and Lady Gaga references are quick nods to the character’s affable queerness– but amidst Dylan’s repartee with cop detective Lizzie (there you are, Kate!) and his psychological profiling (providing major “Mentalist” vibes) his sexuality becomes “the fourth or fifth interesting thing” about the character, as Cumming told THR.

In my mind, this is the kind of quiet progress that proves network TV is heading in the right direction. 20 years ago, a gay character would’ve been relegated to some snappy comebacks every other episode, doomed to play third fiddle to a squared-jawed straight hero who saves every damsel in distress. Dylan isn’t struggling with his queerness or doomed to be the stereotypical Gay Best Friend: he’s a real person, with his own secrets, skills and overall badassery that can keep viewers coming back for more.

The drama may not remake the Sherlockian wheel, so to speak (I picked out the killer about 15 minutes before her “big reveal”), but the fact that CBS chose a polished, talented gay character as its lead in the network’s next immortal police drama is a mark of how far LGBTQIA+ have come in the public eye. How can I not rejoice in that?

Have you been watching ‘Instinct’? What do you think of the new CBS drama? Let us know in the comments below!