By Rohin Guha
It’s been a tough year for gay icons across the television universe. “Ugly Betty” sloppily washed its hands clean of the most prominent transgender diva to traipse through primetime in TV history – after spending two years painstakingly crafting Alexis Meade into one of the freshest bursts of creativity to resonate through television. They similarly said sayonara to kitschy comedienne Ashley Jensen.
More traumatizing was the pink-slipping that went on at Seattle Grace. We also bid adieu to the smart-mouthed lesbian medic played by Jessica Blank on “Grey’s Anatomy,” who was unceremoniously shoehorned out of the serial.
But the hardest blow – no matter how long overdue – was our eternal estrangement from the regal cast of “The L Word,” which closed up after six years of uneven melodrama, taking along with it a previously-anticipated Leisha Hailey-fronted spin-off of the soap. I’m still mourning that loss as Leisha-less TV may not even be worth watching. But good news! With summer comes a new season of series. And while they’re deplorably thin on LGBT-friendly queens (across the Big 4’s summer platter, there’s only one major out character of note), they’re not entirely bereft of such instant icons.
Jennifer Jason Leigh, “Weeds”
Mary-Louise Parker and Elizabeth Perkins have had four solid years to develop their deliciously dysfunctional matriarchs on the dopey dramedy, offering contrasting spins on the same diva motif. And proving that it’s ahead of the curve, “Weeds” also brings back the snarky Allie Grant as Isabelle Hodes (daughter of Perkin’s Celia Hodes). However, in the show’s fifth outing, the breakout diva looks poised to be Leigh. Leigh has been cast as Nancy Botwin’s (Parker) sister in a recurring role. In 2007, The Advocate minted Leigh’s status as not only a buddy gay icon, largely in part to her work on “Dolores Claiborne,” but also an unlikely Sapphic sensation. If only because of her chilling obsessive-compulsive tendencies as Hedy in the 1992 thriller “Single White Female.”
When to watch: 10 p.m. Mondays, Showtime
Dr. Chloe Artis, “Mental”
Marisa Ramirez, fresh off “General Hospital,” will probably do little to fill the vacuum left by the departure of mogulistas of “The L Word.” More problematic: Artis, although nobly an out lesbian on the show, only remains so as a foil to the straight character. What this means: Expect her to field lots of hilariously borderline-misogynistic barbs and not encounter a future as the next Bette Porter. Can you smell “Grey’s Anatomy”-style heteroflexibility a mile away? I can. It smells stale.
When to watch: 9 p.m. Tuesdays, Fox
Jackie Peyton, “Nurse Jackie”
Edie Falco’s never had much of a gay following, although her turns on television have been nothing short of LGBT-inspired. From her turn as one of the “flipping dykes” on “Will & Grace” to the sharp, steadfast Carmela Soprano, Falco’s lack of a gay following has remained something of a curiosity. Quite possibly, that looks to be upset with her turn as the brazen, troubled, titular character of the new Showtime series. Think of Falco’s Jackie as a stark cross between Dr. House and Abby Lockhart of “ER”: no-nonsense polished off with emotional complication and a substance abuse problem – the mark of the prototypical diva. Think of Nurse Jackie simply as an older Judy Garland. Bedecked in scrubs.
When to watch: 10:30 p.m. Mondays, Showtime