The O.C.’s Alex Boosts Bisexual Visibility on TV

Oliva Wilde is AlexAlex kisses her co-worker

Much has been made of the news that teen drama queen Marissa (Mischa Barton) on FOX’s popular series The O.C. will get involved with another girl, Alex (Olivia Wilde) over the coming months, but perhaps even more significant is the fact that Alex is one of the few decent bisexual characters on network TV in recent history.

Alex, a 16-year-old high school drop-out who lives on her own and works as a bartender at the local hangout The Bait Shop, became the object of Seth’s (Adam Brody) affection early on in the second season of The O.C.

A blond with a streak of purple in her hair and tattoos on her arms, Alex looks the part of a bad girl more than she really is — when Seth’s father Sandy (Peter Gallagher) pays her a visit behind Seth’s back to ask her to get Seth back on track, for example, she is initially wary but later tells Seth he doesn’t know how lucky he is to have a father who cares so much (her own parents kicked her out of the house for unspecified reasons).

Although there have been hints of Alex’s bisexuality before — she kissed her female co-worker in the December 21st episode “The Sno C” to prove to Seth that a kiss doesn’t necessarily mean anything — the subject of her attraction to girls as well as boys is front and center in this week’s episode, “The Ex-Factor,” when Alex’s ex-girlfriend shows up wanting to re-kindle their romance.

In the previews for the episode, Alex mentions to Seth that her un-gender-specific “ex” is in town, adding “we never really broke up,” and Seth prepares for a showdown. “If I’m going to lose her,” he tells Ryan, “I deserve to see the guy I’m going to lose her to.” But when he asks Ryan to check out the ex-boyfriend, Ryan comes back with the surprising news that “it’s a she, not a he.”

A handful of shows on cable and premium television channels have featured realistic and three-dimensional bisexual characters — like Alice (Leisha Hailey) on Showtime’s The L Word, Colleen (Natalie Distler) on FX’s Rescue Me, and Maggie (Mary McCormack) on HBO’s K Street — but bisexual characters on network television are about as rare as a rainy day in Orange County.

The first explicitly bisexual character on network TV was L.A. Law‘s CJ Lamb (Amanda Donohoe) in 1991, followed by Roseanne‘s Nancy (Sandra Bernhard) in 1992.

It wasn’t until 2000 that we saw another bisexual woman on network TV — Sophie (Brittany Daniels) on the Fox sitcom That 80s Show — but her bisexuality was mostly used as a running gag, and the series didn’t last long.