The history of gay characters on television has been a long series of two steps forward, one step back, and that’s why, even in the 21st century, we look back at all the “Gay Firsts”: first gay supporting roles, first gay leading roles, first scene of gay men in bed together, first same-sex kiss, first gay characters that weren’t sissies or tragic.
On the 184th episode of the landmark series Roseanne (1988-1997), a small step forward was made in Television History. The episode was titled December Bride and I believe it was the first same-sex wedding on television. A month later, an episode of Friends (1994-2004), The One With The Lesbian Wedding, would feature the wedding of Susan and Carol, two recurring characters whose importance dwindled away by the end of the 2000 season. But, Rosanne got there first!
December Bride revolved around the wedding of longtime recurring character Leon, Roseanne’s boss (and later co-worker), perfectly played by Martin Mull, and his boyfriend Scott, played by the great Fred Willard. Roseanne served as their wedding planner. She, of course, went over-the-top and hilarity ensued. Roseanne’s open-mindedness about gay people was exposed as self-serving during the episode, but the whole thing ends up being rather sweet without being sticky. Plus, Leon and Scott stuck around and became a real part of Roseanne’s Conner family until the series ended.
At the end of the episode, the camera brusquely moves away from Mull and Willard’s kiss, another reminder that America wasn’t ready to see two gay men kissing. That wouldn’t happen on a network television show until Will locked-lips with Jack on Will & Grace in 2000. And then, it was for a shock joke.
Both Friends and Roseanne episodes were celebrated for their boldness at the time. But, John Goodman’s Dan Conner stands in for the viewing public, as he is shown to be squeamish by the two men’s kiss. Yet, the revolutionary moment in the episode is at the very end, as Roseanne lectures Dan: “It just happens to be two people of the same sex kissing, and there’s nothing wrong with that“, while Mariel Hemingway sneaks into a seat behind Roseanne and coos “Hi!” It is a funny and telling moment because in a 1994 episode, Hemingway’s character kissed Roseanne full-on, causing quite the controversy in the media, and because the real Roseanne didn’t know the know the kiss was coming. The look on her face was priceless. Hemingway’s return was a reminder that ABC had allowed a woman-on-woman kiss a year earlier, but they still couldn’t show two men kissing after exchanging their wedding vows. Two steps forward and one step back.
Roseanne and Friends are streaming on Netflix. The two series remain smart and funny, and seemingly, very tame.
My friend, The Wow Report writer Trey Speegle, spilled the beans in a post today about a straight-to-series reboot of Roseanne featuring the original cast! Let’s hope Leon and Scott will join them!