Mainstream queer television has certainly come a long way in the past several decades. Before revolutionary shows like “The L Word” or “Orange Is the New Black,” the most the LGBTQ+ community could expect of representation was an offhand reference to a minor queer character (whose existence often served as a punchline) or the implicit representation provided by queerbaiting, wherein media implies non-heterosexual relationships or attraction to engage an LGBTQ+ audience. Slowly but surely, popular television has grown more inclusive in terms of its queer representation, which has led to the creation of shows like Netflix’s “Q-Force,” one of the loudest forms of queer media television has produced to date.
“Q-Force” centers around Steve Maryweather (Sean Hayes, “Will & Grace”), a gay secret agent who graduates at the top of his class from the American Intelligence Agency but is denied cases, promotions and his deserved title of valedictorian because of his LGBTQ+ identity. “Q-Force” is loud and explicit about representing queer culture, unlike the implicit nature of queer representation in the past. However, its representation is still limited to mainstream perceptions of queerness.
Undoubtedly an ode to popular LGBTQ+ culture, the show features many often-publicized aspects of the LGBTQ+ community, ranging from drag shows to “iconic” and “slay queen” diction to lesbians loving Subarus. One of the agents’ names is literally “Twink.”
When does a love letter become a mockery? It’s tough to draw the line between riffing on inside jokes from within the community and making the community into a punchline through exhausted stereotypes. As nearly every joke in the series centers around queer stereotypes, it begins to feel difficult to appreciate the humor rather than cringe away from it.
A commonly understood theme of comedy is the notion of punching up versus punching down. The comedian ought to aim upward at the most powerful instead of downward at those without a voice. The question arises whether “Q-Force” punches up or down, as well as whether all representation is good representation. What exactly qualifies as progressive representation?
On one hand, Gabe Liedman (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), the creator of “Q-Force,” is a gay man himself; thus, the content of the show seems more authentic than it would have had it been created from a heterosexual perspective. Also, the show’s central plot is centered around combating the power hierarchy of a system that discriminates against members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Despite its reliance on queer stereotypes, “Q-Force” is a show unlikely to have been created a decade ago and would have been unthinkable in the decades before that. The fact that a show like “Q-Force” is even possible is a testament to the progress made by the LGBTQ+ community.
The next question we have to answer: Given the community’s growing influence on popular culture, will the perception of the queer community be pigeonholed — becoming essentially a brand — or will queer representation develop into a more nuanced and human definition?
Ultimately, asking an animated comedy show to tackle the entirety of these questions is a lot, but it’s interesting to see where “Q-Force” fits within queer history. The series is unapologetic and provides an opportunity to celebrate and gain insight into a rich and historic culture. You just have to remember this form of representation can be one-dimensional, and queerness isn’t limited to the series’ depiction.
Regardless, it’s always nice to see LGBTQ+ culture and relationships on screen, and “Q-Force” is an excellent reminder of how far LGBTQ+ representation has come.
Daily Arts Writer Sarah Rahman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.