Hulu's The Bisexual Creates Believable Queer Narratives
A dreamy, dramatic take on 30-something sexuality and self-discovery
By Ray Emerson,
1:15PM, Mon. Nov. 5, 2018
Queers. Sometimes we just want a light-hearted comedy that lets us laugh rather than cry about our miscommunication issues, and that’s exactly what we get with Hulu’s latest series The Bisexual, premiering in its entirety on Friday, November 16.
Created by, directed by, and starring Desiree Akhavan – director and co-writer of The Miseducation of Cameron Post – the series follows Akhavan’s Leila as her professional and romantic relationship with the more mature Sadie (Maxine Peake) falls apart. Under the tutelage of her new flatmate Gabe (Brian Gleeson), Leila begins to explore her bisexuality, while fearing judgment from her lesbian friends.
The Bisexual marks its target audience early: queer women-types in their 30s. Too young to have witnessed the zenith of the AIDS crisis firsthand, but older than the generation that discovered gender theory online. Younger viewers might question the believability of the bisexuality taboo amongst hip thirtysomething Londoners, but Akhavan’s writing, which pulls from her life experience as an openly bi woman, rings true, creating believable queer narratives.
Much ink has been spilled over screenwriters’ reluctance to use the B-word. Even shows with queer characters have been notoriously shy about it and instead seem to prefer innuendo like “swings both ways.” Akhavan, clearly accustomed to this trend, addresses the lack of representation head on through Leila when she says: “There’s nobody. There’s no precedence. When I hear ‘bisexual’ I think ‘lame slut.’” Honestly, even for The Bisexual to be named as such is a ground-breaking attempt to legitimize the word in a less derogatory context.
Beyond that, The Bisexual sets a precedent for writing queer characters without resorting to tokenizing stereotypes. Melodrama and flamboyance take a backseat in favor of a more organic tone. Tragic backstories are mentioned in passing, but not milked for their dramatic potential. Much of that can be attributed to Akhavan’s character development and the show’s strong cast (featuring actors from a number of countries and ethnic backgrounds). Refreshingly, the show’s characters are compellingly flawed, heightening its realism. There are no villains, just internalized prejudice, casual ignorance, and a couple of alcohol-fueled decisions. The lack of moral absolutism is refreshing. Newcomer Saskia Chana is delightfully sardonic in her role as Deniz, a butch lesbian convenience store clerk and Leila’s best friend. Gleeson plays the culturally inept cishet white guy without being boring or alienating the viewer – a real feat, given his character’s bad case of foot-in-mouth disease. Leila’s metrosexual male love interest (John Dagleish), too, is charming without being saccharine, harsh without veering into the realm of cruelty.
Too often do comedy-drama series create conflict based only on miscommunication between characters, but Leila’s problems stem from not knowing herself. Framing the self as a major source of conflict is a wise and relevant decision from this millennial director. Yet The Bisexual’s strongest suit is – hands down – its snappy dialogue, prompting comparisons to shows like Broad City even if, sometimes, Leila can be a little too clever with her biting commentary.
At the end of the first six episodes, we were sold. For a dreamy, dramatic take on thirtysomething sexuality and self-discovery, it doesn’t get much better than The Bisexual, premiering on Hulu, Friday, Nov. 16.