“Shameless” has lesbians, they’re just a little under the radar

Missy Doty has a recurring role on the new Showtime series Shameless as Jess, the bartender at the Alibi, a local dive in a rundown Chicago neighborhood. Although she’s only had a few lines in the first three episodes, she’s already made an impact with one-offs like “I broke my collar bone falling down those station steps, after my very first taste of another woman’s tongue.”

Jess the lesbian bartender is just one part of the very-gay friendly show. One of the Shameless’ major characters, Ian, is a gay teenager involved with his married boss, and soon we will meet the estranged mother of the show’s central family, The Gallaghers. The mother is estranged because she took off with another woman.

Creator John Wells, who also created the original UK series in which the US version is based, says we will meet Mrs. Gallagher and her new female partner later this season. He told me at TCA how he loves to put gay and lesbian characters in his show, and why he thinks they works so well when you don’t force characters to make speeches about their sexuality early on.

”I did it as mischief. My family are terrible fascists,” Wells said. “My family are intolerant of any diversity, sexuality race, stuff like that, so I would deliberately write it to get their backs up.” Much of Shameless is based on Wells’ family life, so this makes sense.

”Actually, if you write it well enough, they don’t complain,” he continued. “If you slide it under — that’s how you have to do those things. Not with a sledgehammer. And if you engineer it emotionally, well enough, somehow it all feels right. Those characters fit together. That’s the way I start characters: Make them insuperable pair. Make them look like they belong together from birth. That’s the way to tell that kind of drama. When some people are a bit too architectured politically and introducing stories like that, then you come in for a pasting, don’t do it like that. Slide it under the radar and then, by then, audiences are trusting of the characters and the statue of the characters so when something happens like that, it would ordinarily be shocking to them, but it just goes past them.”

While we will have to wait a bit for the late-in-life lesbian mother to make her appearance, Jess will on this week’s episode, as you can see in this preview. It also, coincidentally, features a bar patron promising some girl-on-girl action to the the male bartender, Kev.

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