We’ve seen LGBTQ+ representation make great strides in cinema over the past years. However, bi-sexuality in particular is still plagued by misconceptions in the media. It’s either seen as a stepping stone to being gay or played as a punchline. Hulu’s latest show, “The Bisexual,” attempts to be a more nuanced look at bisexuality. It’s earnestness shines through as it educates us on how people often misunderstand bisexuality. However, as an effective six episode dramedy, “The Bisexual” feels a bit thin.
Leila (Desiree Akhavan) and Sadie (Maxine Peake) have reached an impasse in their relationship. The lovers and business partners decide to take a “break,” mostly at Leila’s behest. Leila moves out of their shared flat and winds up renting from novelist Gabe (Brian Gleeson). While apart, Leila surprises herself when she winds up sleeping with men. In navigating her bisexuality, Leila finds little support among her lesbian friends. Instead, she continues to go out with Gabe, who acts as her wingman. Yet, as Leila explores this part of her life and sexuality, she finds her old life-changing and disappearing before her eyes.
Watching the show, one is reminded of how even people within the queer community can be ignorant of bisexuality. Leila feels abandoned by her community. There’s something interesting in a queer show critiquing its own community. One of the best “Transparent” episodes finds Maura at odds with the lesbians and feminists at a woods retreat. “The Bisexual” has things to say about how Leila is viewed by her lesbian friends. However, rather than delve more into the complicated dynamics at play, the show pairs Leila with Gabe for mildly amusing bits.
Gabe acts as a fun character. However, his storylines are thin distractions that occupy too much time. After an initial successful novel, Gabe can’t find the inspiration to write his second novel. This man tormented by his early success never feels a part of the show. There’s some fun in the concept that a straight man becomes the ally that this woman needs while exploring her bisexuality. But there’s only so far one can take that concept. By the end, “The Bisexual” runs out of ideas for what to do with these character’s relationships.
The central relationship doesn’t hold as much weight as the show thinks it does. There’s a strong later episode that shows us how Leila and Sadie meet and start their company. This marks the high point of the season. However, it’s too little too late. Lelia and Sadie exist for conflict, but without context, for so much of the show. As Sadie explores her fertility, the conflict begins to feel forced and manufactured. It’s plot developments like this that make it seem like “The Bisexual” doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it a light comedy centered around the exploration of bi-sexuality? Is it a relationship drama about two adults struggling to figure out what their goals are? The show mocks “The L Word” early on. However, it fails where that show succeeds. It’s not able to define or add texture to the world of its queer characters.
Akhavan’s career proves her unique voice deserves to be heard. This year’s “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” for example, pairs the horrors of conversion therapy with a deliciously, cathartic sense of humor to get one through the tragedy. There’s a variety to what she wants to say and how she says it that’s rare to find. However, over six episodes, “The Bisexual” runs out of things to say. It eagerly comes out of the gate with a unique look at bisexuality and the microaggressions that demean bisexuals. However, it stumbles as it shifts from this P.C. examination to a romance. Akhavan and co-writer Cecilia Frugiuele struggle to find the compelling voice to get across their points. There’s a lot of talent in front and behind the camera on this project. Yet, the end result is less than the sum of its parts.