2023 & we: The Lavender Tube's year in review

  • by Victoria A. Brownworth
  • Tuesday December 26, 2023
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The late Andre Braugher in 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' (photo: NBC)
The late Andre Braugher in 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' (photo: NBC)

In so many ways 2023 was an abjectly terrible year for Americans in general and LGBTQ people in specific. Not gonna lie, as the kids say, we are glad to see the final days of 2023 dwindling down. For us personally, it was one of the worst years of our life, spent in deep mourning for the love of our life, Madelaine Gold, our wife of 23 years, who died suddenly after a too-short, but oh-so-valiant battle with cancer.

The late Madelaine Gold with Victoria A. Brownworth (courtesy Victoria A. Brownworth)  

We start with her because she so often found TV shows or items for us to report on and called herself "cub reporter." She was in fact a design professor and award-winning painter and sculptor and you can read about her at mcilvainefuneralhomes.com us at www.queerforty.com. She helped direct this column in many ways for 23 of the years we've been writing it.

In memoriam
We note several key passings in this column in 2023, among them Norman Lear, Paul Reubens and Matthew Perry .

And last week the great Andre Braugher died. His death at only 61 after a brief battle with lung cancer shocked us.

Braugher was always on our screen over the years we wrote this column. From his iconic portrayal of Detective Frank Pembleton in the NBC police drama series "Homicide: Life on the Street" (1993—1999) to his longest-running role as Captain Raymond Holt in the Fox/NBC police comedy series "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" (2013—2021), Braugher re-imagined Black men on TV.

He won two Primetime Emmy Awards and was nominated for two Golden Globe Awards. He'd played a chief of medicine ("Gideon's Crossing"), a Navy captain ("Last Resort"), a judge ("The Jury"), a doctor again ("House"), another ship captain ("Poseidon"), the secretary of defense ("Salt"), a defense attorney ("Law & Order: SVU") and even the governor of California ("BoJack Horseman").

We never stopped being stunned at how perfectly Braugher, a very straight man IRL—inhabited Ray Holt, one of the few Black queer men on TV on "Brooklyn Nine-Nine." The Juilliard-trained actor, who regularly performed on stage as well as screen and won an Obie Award for performing Shakespeare in the Park, said in 2020 to Variety of his portrayal of Ray, "Everything's new. I'd never done it before. Am I any good?" Braugher recalls asking himself. "I remember turning to my wife [actress Ami Brabson] and asking her, 'Is this funny?' And she said, 'Yes, of course, you're not being deceived.' But I kept looking at it, saying to myself, is this good? I couldn't really judge. (www.variety.com)

Humble, in addition to being great.

"Holt is a really, really wonderful character, but I think in anybody else's hands, it might have been something foolish, something silly," said Braugher. And he was right.

RIP Andre Braugher. Your second act as a comic actor was as brilliant as all your dramatic roles. You will be missed. As we wrote on Twitter/X when the news came of his passing, "So saddened by the too-soon death of the great Andre Braugher. What a tremendous and nuanced actor and a genuinely lovely man. He was always riveting in every role and brought humor and heart to the screen. May he rest in peace and may his memory be a blessing to his wife Ami and all who loved him." Amen.

Bursts of light
Amidst the many dark sadnesses of this year there were bursts of light. It was a pretty good year for queer TV and there were shows that absolutely stand as among the best representations of our lives to hit the small screen.

As the year wound down, "General Hospital," which is listed in Guinness World Records as the longest-running American soap opera in production, and the second in American history after "Guiding Light," won a total of seven Emmys, including six during the televised ceremony, taking home the award for best daytime drama series.

"General Hospital" also debuted not one, but two queer story lines. Latinx singer Allison Rogers Ramirez, who's known as Blaze (Jacqueline Grace Lopez) and Kristina Corinthos-Davis (Emmy-winner Kate Mansi) kissed last week, after flirting with each other for some time. Kristina told Blaze about her past with a couple abusive male partners and then a predatory older woman professor. Blaze revealed she'd been afraid coming out as a lesbian would destroy her singing career.

The duo has major chemistry, but while Kristina has been out to her family since 2016 when she had the affair with Parker (Ashley Jones) and is building an LGBTQ community center with her family's money, Blaze is still totally closeted. So conflict is on the horizon.

The second gay reveal was 14-year-old Aiden Spencer (Enzo De Angelis) telling his mom Elizabeth Webber (Rebecca Herbst) about his crush on Tobias while they are baking Christmas cookies and she asks him if there's a girl. Elizabeth, being The Best Mom Ever, tells him that's wonderful and he immediately hugs her. Bravo to "General Hospital" for modeling how to love your queer kids unconditionally.

We've been writing about the slow queering and transing of the soaps here for more than 30 years, so it warms our heart that it's continuing apace and new ideas are being addressed on these staples of daytime TV.

There were many series that should be on any best of lists for 2023, but queer-themed series routinely get forgotten as straight critics compile their lists.

Hawk & Skippy and more
Top on ours for 2023 is the luminous "Fellow Travelers" which has riveted us with its compelling storyline and extraordinary performances by Matt Bomer as Hawkins "Hawk" Fuller and Jonathan Bailey as Tim "Skippy" Laughlin, two gay men who meet and fall deeply, irrevocably in love at the height of the Lavender Scare in McCarthy-era 1950s America. (www.ebar.com)

"Fellow Travelers" is unquestionably the best LGBTQ series of the year and one that will stay with you for a long time for the aching verisimilitude and steamy sex that it brings to the screen. It's an amazing series you must see. One of the most profound elements of "Fellow Travelers" is how when it tells us "love is dangerous," we are living it in real time and know how our very lives remain on the line just for who we are, and as Tim says, who we love.

One of the most provocative series of 2023 was "The 1619 Project." The Hulu series is an on-screen adaptation and expansion of Nikole Hannah-Jones's 2019 Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times series, which has since also included her best-selling book, a podcast and controversial school curriculum which has been targeted by the right for its Critical Race Theory as making white people uncomfortable about slavery.

Oh well. Imagine how Black people felt actually being slaves. It's a fantastic series and a teaching tool for all of us, because Black history is American history, but it's a history we have not been taught—and certainly not by Black scholars and historians.

We're still thinking about the dystopian thriller, "The Last of Us." We pretty much hate dystopian dramas and fantasy series with dystopian themes, but we know other people (inexplicably) enjoy them, so we review them here.

As a consequence, no one was more surprised than we were that "The Last of Us" is one of our fave shows of the year. It has breadth, depth and keenly nuanced performances by the extraordinary cast that includes non-binary actor Bella Ramsey as the 14-year-old Ellie, Pedro Pascal as Joel, a smuggler tasked with escorting Ellie out of a quarantine zone and across a post-apocalyptic United States and two bearded 50somethings, Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett), a pair of survivalists living in an isolated town who are beautifully, provocatively in love.

In an early scene Ellie and Joel have this exchange: Ellie says, "If you don't think there's hope for the world, why bother going on?"
Joel replies, "You keep going for family."
Ellie looks at him and says, "I'm not family?" to which Joel replies, "No. You're cargo."

It's a shattering scene and it perfectly encapsulates why we all hope we will never be in a dystopian world, but evokes just how lonely being a survivor can be, so yes, it's a metaphor for how we live now, as well.

Killing it
"A Murder at the End of the World" took us by surprise as one of our best of the year picks. But again, a riveting script, astonishingly nuanced performances included lead and non-binary actor Emma Corrin, who's also on our list for this season of "The Crown," in which they play every gay person's fave, Princess Diana, absolutely flawlessly.

In "A Murder at the End of the World," Corrin plays Darby Hart, an amateur detective, and they are absolutely stunning. The series opens with Darby saying, "I sometimes wonder, would it have been better not to go? I think about it like a coin toss, when your life can go one way or another. When you're trapped at the end of the world, there's no going back."

A queer-laced psychological thriller set in the icy whiteness of Iceland and Utah, this is a series that is all about how we see ourselves in the world. It's brilliant.

Other series that make our best of 2023 list are, "Interview with the Vampire," not the least of which for its wildly overt sexuality, hyper erotic sex scenes and gorgeous fin de siecle sets. The fantastic dramedy "Our Flag Means Death." The British young adult series "Heartstopper" that jettisoned us back to school, where we first met our wife-to-be.

The acid-wit mystery series "Only Murders in the Building" which is so good, and which showcases Selena Gomez as a lesbian sleuth, and Steve Martin as her unlikely foil, makes us forget how much we can't stand Martin Short, who is gratingly good as the third member of this detecting trio.

"Grantchester" reminded us of how PBS/BBC does the best period pieces and that gay people like Leonard and Daniel didn't just arrive on scene in our current post-Stonewall world.

"Ted Lasso" told us repeatedly that the world wasn't as bad as we'd been told. "White Lotus" made us laugh and want Jennifer Coolidge in everything.

"The Other Black Girl" and "Kindred" make our list for how Black women — especially Black queer women — get gaslighted in this society and how finally we are getting to see those stories, which have been hidden from history for, well, ever, on TV.

There were other series we loved. Reality shows like "The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning," the documentary series "Extraordinary Birder With Christian Cooper" and "We Live Here," which focuses on LGBTQ families in the Midwest.

So that's our baker's dozen best of list for 2023. Wishing you all a happy and healthy new year. We recommend watching the queer New Year's Eve duo of Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen on CNN. See you in 2024, and remember, you really must stay tuned.

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