'Love, Simon,' 'Instinct' mark progress for gay characters

Progress for gay characters in movies and TV continues in ways large and small. This week, that includes the arrival ...

Posted: Mar. 16, 2018 4:05 PM
Updated: Mar. 16, 2018 4:05 PM

Progress for gay characters in movies and TV continues in ways large and small. This week, that includes the arrival of "Love, Simon" -- a coming-out story, marking TV producer Greg Berlanti's directorial debut -- and "Instinct," an otherwise nondescript CBS crime procedural, starring Alan Cumming as a brilliant crime-solver who, in a first for that genre, just happens to be gay and married.

"Love, Simon" is a sweet, at times touching movie, starring Nick Robertson as a gay teenager who can't summon the courage to talk to his friends (among them "13 Reasons Why's" Katherine Langford) and parents (Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel).

Based on Becky Albertalli's novel, Simon strikes up an anonymous email friendship with a classmate facing the same dilemma, forging a relationship that also leaves Simon guessing -- and at times fantasizing -- about who his electronic soulmate might be.

The story's lightness is, in a sense, the source of its charm. Simon knows his progressive family won't shun him, but he's still reluctant to deal with something that, he fears, will fundamentally change the way he's perceived. "Part of me just wants to hang on to who I've been just a little longer," he confesses.

Granted, this hardly feels edgy given what comes from the indie film world, including the Oscar-nominated love story "Call Me By Your Name." But what makes "Simon" significant is precisely because it's a major studio release broadly based on a young-adult title, adding a wrinkle to a genre that isn't particularly far removed from Disney Channel fare.

As for "Instinct," it's merely the latest variation on a formula exemplified by shows like ABC's "Castle" or CBS' "Elementary," pairing a Sherlock Holmes type with a female partner (here, Bojana Novakovic). Only here, there's none of that "Moonlighting"-like sexual tension in their snappy banter, even if Cumming's character -- a former CIA operative turned university professor, versed in psychopathic behavior -- spends a lot more time pacing around chalk outlines than he does with his partner.

The issues that gay youths face are, in many respects, more interesting, and the breakthroughs on that front continue apace. NBC's "Champions," a sitcom which premiered to weak ratings last week, features a gay 15-year-old boy moving in with his long-lost dad, while the aforementioned Disney Channel recently introduced its first gay coming-out arc, albeit in a supporting role, on the dramedy "Andi Mack."

Cumming is quite familiar to CBS viewers from his time on "The Good Wife," and that star quality will be put to the test in carrying a show that's fairly mundane -- where who the character is, and lives with, ranks a distant second to what he does.

Even so, the matter-of-fact nature of the character -- on a network associated with an older, stodgier audience -- might move the ball forward by inches, but shouldn't be dismissed. Yes, "Instinct" resembles any number of other crime shows on a network known for them. But the fact that the show basically blends into the network's lineup is, albeit in a small way, another sign of progress.

"Love, Simon" premieres in the U.S. on March 16. It's rated PG-13. "Instinct" premieres March 18 at 8 p.m. on CBS.

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