This may come as a shock to you, dear reader, so please brace yourself: I am not a TV-ready cool gay. "How now!" you scream at your electronic device, "you must be a TV-ready cool gay because you have a newsletter. I know because I am reading it right now. You are a millennial Carrie Bradsaw-type (aren't we all?)" First of all, thank you for calling me a millennial; it is technically accurate but nevertheless very kind. Second of all, I'd say I'm closer to Stanford than Carrie but even that's a stretch. Stanford Blatch was, as Cardi might say, "regular degular", but he was also hopping around NYC at art openings and chic parties with the city's hottest writer. A basic he was not.
Do we need "basic" representation on TV? I mean, it's not a civil rights issue but I was curious if, with the ever-broadening pantheon of LGBTQ+ characters, whether the time had truly come for gays with boring taste and quotidian interests to have their moment in the sun. This was different, I decided using criteria I was making up on the spot, than a gay normie, like Rich (Diedrich Bader) on Better Things or the gay fussbudget like Captain Holt (Andre Braugher) on Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
It was definitely different from Riverdale’s supposedly nerdy boy-next-door Kevin, who is constantly serving lewks and taking the HOV lane from Riverdale to Poundtown with various hotties. And don't get me started on the intense self-possession of the grown-ass teen queens on Genera+ion and Gossip Girl.
We haven't had a Gay Basic icon since resolutely regular Oscar (Oscar Nunez) on The Office and that was years ago. Maybe this is a civil rights issue! (It is not.) Should I organize a march in the home furnishings aisle of the local Target? (No.)
Instead, maybe I should just take a glance a a few programs adjacent to the fabulous Justice Smith performance in Genera+ion. A few clicks over on the HBO app, there's a trio of gay basics whose presence suggest that, in terms of representation, things might be expanding. They are gay, yes, but more importantly they are tired, they are weird, they, too, wonder how those teens on Genera+ion are so on fleek, and they don't realize that people don't say on fleek anymore. Finally, I'm home (box office).
You might call this trio of characters locals, which is--as far as I can tell with very minimal googling--slang popularized on Gay NYC Twitter as a way of describing quotidian basics who don’t live in New York or LA and therefore don’t tweet about Adele being at Pieces or whatever New York gays tweet about. No shade intended to Gay NYC Twitter, a cool kids cafeteria table I'm desperate to sit at even though my current lunch assignment is an outdoor table at a suburban Panera.
The fact that you can be a local even--gasp--if you live in Manhattan, is the crux of the joke at the expense of The Other Two's Cary Dubek (Drew Tarver) and his boyfriend, Jess (Gideon Glick).
Despite Cary’s proximity to fame, one of his hallmarks has always been an endearing flailing basicness, hilariously drawn out in a season one episode where he befriends a bunch of InstaGays and tries unsuccessfully to understand their lives.
Season 2 finds him settling down with Jess, who is even less interested in the trappings of scene life than Cary. That's all well and good until they meet a couple of canny gay grifters (Tuc Watkins and Noah Galvin) who seem to have all the makings of a couple of boring locals but turn out to be much more urbane than Cary and Jess.
The Other Two consistently finds the most inventive way to attack a comedic premise and the show particularly shines when exploring Cary's uncoolness. It isn't just that the urbane couple is surprisingly sex-positive and more experienced than Cary and Jess; the couple also lives in the suburbs and chats about their kids and their house and all the other Panera-adjacent trappings of life. They are geographically locals but they're not locals, a fact that is underlined by a scene where Cary gives them the most tourist-trap tour of New York, concluding with the best (only?) joke about the Highline ever made.
It's too facile to say is that basicness is just a part of not living in a city or being young and hip and sexy. The beauty of characters like Cary and Jess is that they may be boring in the world of the show, but for the viewer that trait becomes an endearing asset. Well, an endearing trait and also a great punchline.
On Hacks, Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins) seems slightly more cosmopolitan but is nowhere near a cosmopolis. When we meet the character, he's a workaholic whose hobbies include spreadsheets and light shade-throwing. He lives in Sin City, but as the hyper-devoted manager of fading comic Deborah Vance (Jean Smart), Marcus's day-to-day couldn't be farther from the bright lights and seedy nights of the Vegas strip. He spends most of his time in Vance's mansion, which has a decor style that's compared to a Cheesecake Factory in the pilot.
(Now, I know what you're thinking--this is not a basic, this is a well-dressed smoke show and can I get their number? Okay, yes the Hollywood basic is still Hollywood handsome. Nevertheless!)
What's most delightful about Marcus's basicness in season 1 of Hacks is that the solution for him isn't to get wild and, conceivably, cool. No, he develops a crush on a stringent water usage monitor (Johnny Sibilly) and decides to get his attention by turning all the sprinklers on. He even has one of those "dancing my cares away; finally living out loud" slow-motion montages but, again, it's in sun-bleached Vegas as a bunch of suburban sprinklers soak his well-tailored but fairly conservative clothes.
The beauty of this basicness is that it doesn't stop Marcus from pursuing love. And the pursuit of love doesn't stop Marcus from diving right back into work. Being uncool and a little priggish isn't a character flaw! Well, yes we can!
It wasn't so long ago that the most prominent priggish gay on TV, to my memory at least, was Will Truman (Eric McCormack), a stick-in-the-mud who was surrounded by a clown car of big characters. But would you call Will a basic? What about Ted on Queer as Folk, a nebbish accountant whose struggled with self esteem issues and, briefly, a meth addiction? I'd say these characters are definitely forbearers of the current breed of basics. But for Will and Ted, and even for Oscar to some extent, being a bit boring as as flaw that kept the characters from being as interesting as the other gays around them. Just as with other LGBTQ+ representation on TV, those that came before today's characters paved the way for greater specificity, more nuance, and the freedom to be a chain restaurant-eating, Maxxinista-identifying, hayrides and apple picking-enjoying, spreadsheet-making locals and still be delightfully queer.
Photo edit: Sean Simon
Editorial assistant: Sean Simon