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Thursday, January 29, 2009

"She's gay, she's straight, she's gay, she's straight -- Just Pick a Sexual Preference and Go With It"

There's a new trend happening in television. One that is not only completely unrealistic and a shallow attempt at roping in the ratings, but, well ... just flat out bugs me.

To explain this new trend, let's take a trip down Reality Lane. Now, I am a heterosexual woman. I dig the menfolk -- always have, always will. I cannot imagine reaching a point in my life where I would think, "I'm sick of the Oscar Meyer's ... Maybe I ought to try being a lesbian." Not that there's anything wrong with that. I just can't see it happening.

At least not to the ridiculous and ever-frequent occurrences that it's been portrayed on the ol' boob tube. It's the classic case of mid-winter blues for television. They reach a point in a show's history where there's not a whole lot left for them to try out, so instead of canceling they figure, "Hmm, who can we turn into a lesbian?"

Before the ol' sexual identity switch, viewers had gotten used to previous TV gimmicks such as the dramatic untimely death, the long-lost child rediscovered and the classic uber attractive "new girl" to boost the ratings for pre-teen zit poppers. And now, it seems the tables have turned. This sexual preference switch-a-roo is catching on like wildfire. Ratings surge when a character dabbles in their sexual identity -- but the initial switch is always questionable.

Case-in-point: Allow me to take you down the hetero-to-homo hall of fame ...

Subject #1: Carol Willick, "Friends"
It only took one short, and presumably, lame marriage to Mr. Ross Gellar to have Carol Willick -- and later, Carol Willick-Bunch -- running for the ladies. To be fair, "Friends" had a different approach to this sexual confusion conclusion. Instead of tossing the switch mid-season, they started the show off with this tasty little tidbit. Episode numero uno of "Friends," featuring a different Carol than the one that ended the show, revealed that Ross "never knew she was a lesbian" and follows him as he deals with the embarrassment of his first divorce. Sure, over time stereotyped clues to Carol's eventual lesbianism emerge -- she liked beer in a can, she wore lots of flannel, she spent a lot of time with her "special friend" from the gym -- but really, it's still difficult to swallow that at one time she would've been perfectly straight and happily married. I understand the whole 45 years later, she's still single and just looking for some companionship but in this case, it seems she was a happy man-lovin' woman and then took a 180. Whatever the case, props to "Friends" -- they could arguably be one of the first to pull the switch.

Subject #2: Susan Ross, "Seinfeld"
Susan Ross began her journey on "Seinfeld" -- and with George Costanza -- while George and Jerry were busy pitching their show "about nothing" to NBC. George thought she was flirty and cute ... yadda yadda yadda, the two started dating. The relationship ended after a brazen George planted one on glasses-wearing Susan during an NBC meeting -- leading to Susan's termination with the company. The two rekindled for a bit before nose-picking George decided he wanted to make her break up with him. The next time George runs into Miss Ross, whatta ya know, she's decided to go gay. While George claims "he drove her to lesbianism" it doesn't last long as charming Kramer eventually sweeps Susan's partner off her feet. With her mortal enemy stealing her woman, Susan's lesbianism "doesn't stick," according to George, and she ends up back with the bald, stocky man in an engagement. And then she dies. Now in this case, you could make the argument that instead of the typical attempt at ratings, this lesie intervention was purely for the comedy.

Subject #3: Dr. Callie Torres, "Grey's Anatomy"
When Callie Torres rolled into Seattle Grace Hospital she began as the apple of George O'Malley's eye. It only took about a month and a half of will they, won't they -- she likes him, he's too shy -- for it to finally come about but eventually the two were a canoodling couple. Sure, some fans didn't like the fact that Callie seemed much too "beastly" for dear, quiet George ... and yeah, eventually Izzie Stevens stuck her big blond head in the way of their love and Callie has a one-night-stand with Dr. McSteamy but for a good chunk of time Callie was in love with a man and completely heterosexual. Cue Dr. Erica Hahn, resident lesbian. Callie becomes confused when she and Erica become close friends but in an effort to prove her hetero-ness, she continues doing the dirty with Dr. McSteamy. Now, granted this was about the time I stopped watching "Grey's" but friends who, only Lord knows why, keep watching say Callie has now turned into a full-blown lesbian who after the FCC booted her lover Dr. Hahn is now lusting after some young intern. But of course, all the while keeping McSteamy in her McBed. Talk about sexual confusion.

Subject #4: Marissa Cooper, "The O.C."
Arguably one of the most famous hetero-turned-lesbo characters was Miss Marissa Cooper, the all too skinny drama queen of Orange County. Let's face it, Marissa was the prime reason an equal number of dudes (my friends, included) and gals tuned into the show every week. She started out as a wannabe goody-two-shoes kind of girl befriending the new kid in school and being the resident go-to for her friends' drama. But as her crazy mother kept riding the crazy train, Marissa gave in to her bad girl side. And the ratings skyrocketed. Interesting that Marissa's bi-curious-ness just so happened to start up in the midst of sweeps week ... how convenient. Acting out against society, her mother, her ex-boyfriend, Marissa befriends and becomes seriously involved with Miss Alex Kelly. Though short lived -- shocker! -- the relationship between the two will forever go down in TV history as one of the more controversial sexual identity switches of all time.

Subject #5: Samantha Jones, "Sex and the City"
Never to ever be outdone or outsexed, the ever-promiscuous Samantha Jones drops a bomb on her fellow galpals when she announces plainly, "Yes, I'm a lesbian." After a long, loooong line of sampling different men, Miss Jones decides to take on a Spanish lover in the form of a woman artist named Maria. Not only does she decide to go to a full blown lesbian, but perhaps even more shocking, she decides to commit herself into a monogamous relationship. For a woman who loves men, and I mean, really looooves men, it seems a bit too far fetched even for Sam. Or as Carrie puts it "You go to bed one night and wake up the next morning and poof, you're a lesbian?" And yes, it IS like saying you've always wanted to be a shoe, and poof, now you're a shoe! Clearly Samantha's quick switch provided quite a bit of controversy in her relationships -- just because she says she's got a girlfriend now, that doesn't keep the boys from knocking on her door for a boot-tay call. But just like last year's Manolo Blahniks, Sam's womanizing went out of style in a hurry.

Subject #6: Jodi Funkhouser, "Curb Your Enthusiasm"
After a long hiatus from television, "Blossom's" Mayim Bialik returned to the boob tube to play Jodi Funkhouser, the lesbian daughter of Marty Funkhouser -- yay! Super Dave! -- on Larry David's annoying hit "Curb Your Enthusiasm." I'll admit, I can only take this show in small doses because while it's hilarious, the sheer volume of Larry David situations is too much for my blood pressure to handle. But I digress. Larry knows Miss Funkhouser only as his friend's lesbian daughter -- it's like the girl has a big tattoo that says "LESBO" across her forehead rendering Larry useless to think about anything else while talking with her. So it comes as quite the shock when Marty tells Larry his daughter is now dating a man -- a fact that brings joy to Mr. David, even though he's a self-proclaimed No. 1 supporter of the lesbians. Larry tries to scare off Jodi's new boytoy by telling him he's got quite the high-heeled shoes to fill, questioning whether or not he can compete with someone who "knows the equipment" firsthand in order to get back "in" with the lesbians. Needless to say, Jodi ends up back with the girl crowd and Larry regains his admiration, and free desserts, from the lesbian community.

Subject #7: Meg Griffin, "The Family Guy"
In the episode "Brian Sings and Swings," the producers finally tackled what we were all thinking for countless years of "Family Guy." Is Meg Griffin gay? Sure, she is constantly mocked for being the ugly child and OK, the butch stocking cap is a little much, but in the end it turns out -- no, Meg is just desperately lonely. When it comes to guys, Meg fails in all departments so when a new lesbian named Sarah befriends Meg, thinking she was a lesbian and invites her to join her Lesbian Alliance at school, Meg jumps at the chance for friends. She even goes as far as forcing a kiss on her new girlfriend Sarah but alas, her hetero ways and Tom Tucker crush make her stop short. So, it's not a true switch of sexual identity, but it's as sad and pathetic as one could get and therefore, deserves a place on this list.

Subject #8: Liz Cruz, "Nip/Tuck"
As one of the late comers to the sexual identity game, Liz has done the confusion rollercoaster proud. It's been a rocky road for Miss Liz and her lady lover ways -- she's had a fatal attraction that left her with one less kidney and fell in love with a fitness psycho that wanted her to go under the knife to become more attractive. So it's safe to say, Liz could've had enough with the ladies. However, when Christian takes advantage of a friend's support, Liz finds herself on a journey wondering if it's men she really wants or just Christian. Turns out, it's just Christian. So, to sum up -- she still considers herself a lesbian, still loves women, but would be in a relationship with a man if that man was Christian Troy. Hmm ... I'm lost.

Subject #9: Julia McNamara, "Nip/Tuck"
OK, "Nip/Tuck" I think you've ridden the lesbian gravy train for long enough. You have to keep some of your female characters straight! This isn't the "L Word." To be fair, Julia's love confusion came long before Liz's and in the reversed order. Julia, who's been married to Sean and had a love child with Christian, has been romantically tied to everyone from a midgit nanny to a much younger college student. In season five, Julia moves on to new grounds and starts a relationship with a crazy woman, and real life Mrs. DeGeneres, Olivia Lord, played by Portia de Rossi. Needless to say, the switch doesn't bode well with Mr. McNamara and in the end, Julia's love affair with Olivia doesn't end in matrimonial bliss. When Olivia goes in for some lifting and tucking, she ends up dying on the operating table. Julia claims it's all Sean's fault -- even though a secret usage of anti-depressants are to blame -- and begins yet another round of the pity party. I give her one more episode before she's back to her man-loving ways.

Subject #10: Ellen Morgan, "Ellen"
I nearly didn't include the famous 1994 sitcom that broke the mold for homosexuality on television but only because this was a true and pure switch. Ellen DeGeneres played more or less herself as Ellen Morgan except one tiny difference -- she was supposed to be a straight woman. After all, network TV would've frowned at such a controversial lesbian main character. But eventually, Ellen just couldn't play it straight anymore. She came out pubicly on the Oprah show and shortly after, her character Ellen Morgan followed suit. In this case, the sexuality preference switch doesn't fit the standard and will always be seen as a historic and honest step forward in television history, rather than a cheap ploy for ratings boosting.


There you have it. Ten examples -- and that's just off the top of my head. Did I miss your favorite straight gal turned lesbian lover? Keep the list going and let's show these TV executives something they're already well aware of -- they've got no creativity.

-- Sara Boyd, sboyd2@greenbaypressgazette.com

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