Remembering the Best Lesbian TV of Yesteryear

It’s the holidays, which means some free time to catch up on TV watching. For readers who want to watch some quality lesbian programming but don’t know what to watch, we’d like to make the following suggestions of characters and pairings from shows that are no longer on air but can be accessed online with a little bit of poking around:

Teenage Couple: Naomi and Emily of seasons 3 and 4 of “Skins” (2009-2010)

Before there was “Faking it,” there was a long string of shows on TV in the U.S. and U.K. with adolescent lesbians, starting in approximately the early 2000s. Many of these shows were very, very well done, with engaging and realistic plotlines that explored teenagers’ experience with coming out and their first relationship.

AfterEllen has always been a huge fan of the British show “Skins” because of how well written its lesbian storyline was in seasons three and four, and as a bonus all 18 of the Naomily episodes are currently on the US version of Netflix. Just don’t watch “Skins Fire.” “Skins” isn’t your cup of tea? Try: Sophie Webster and Sian Powers on “Coronation Street” or Kim and Saint on “Sugar Rush” for UK shows, or Ashley Davies and Spencer Carlin on “South of Nowhere” for the U.S.

Trailblazing Lesbian Story Arc You Might Have Missed: “ER” (1996-2003)

Is there a rule that every medical show on TV has to have a lesbian or bi female character? From “Grey’s Anatomy” and “House” in the U.S. to Canada’s “Saving Hope” to Spain’s “Hospital Central” to Australia’s “All Saints,” it seems like medical dramas and soap operas are enamored by the idea of gay female doctors. The US medical drama “ER” had two: Maggie Doyle and Dr. Kerry Weaver. At the time, these roles were groundbreaking for lesbian visibility on primetime US TV.

Dole’s storyline revolved around sexual harassment and homophobia in the workplace, while Weaver’s storylines focused on coming to terms with her sexuality, workplace discrimination (again), and child custody battles following the death of a partner. Coming at a time when there were all but no other lesbians on US TV, these storylines exposed the public to the discrimination lesbians often were facing in real life.


In the mood for something a bit spicier…and so long you couldn’t possibly binge watch it in a weekend? Try following Dr. Macarena “Maca” Wilson Fernández starting in season eight of “Hospital Central” and going through season 19. “Hospital Central” was kind of like Spain’s answer to “ER,” and Maca and Esther’s relationship was one of the first—if not the first—lesbian couples on primetime Spanish TV.

Prison Show You Probably Never Heard of: “Capadocia” (2008-2012)

“Capadocia” was a Mexican HBO Latin America television series that an AfterEllen reviewer once described as “like a gritty Bad Girls, without the sense of humor.” The show, which, as one would expect from the “women in prison” genre, depicted lots of same-sex interactions with various baggage and power implications, will appeal to viewers looking for a gritty, dark format. Note, however, that there don’t appear to be versions with subtitling in any language, so if you don’t understand spoken Spanish, it will be a lot of watching body language without understanding the words. If you prefer lighter fare, the first seven seasons of the UK’s “Bad Girls” offer a fun mix of drama and camp, and a handful of legitimate lesbian romances.


“All the Characters are Lesbians” Show: “Lip Service” (2010-2012)

If you missed the U.K.’s “Lip Service,” which used to be on Netflix but is no longer, go watch it right now. To compare it to “The L Word” would do it a disservice, but it wouldn’t be entirely wrong to say “Lip Service” was the U.K.’s answer to “The L Word.” While the storylines were not all uniformly popular, overall the series—which went only two seasons—had good acting, relatable characters, and um, sex. It’s a pity that “lesbian dramedy” never really caught on as a genre, because “Lip Service” showed the potential in it.


Period Lesbian Couple: Cristina and Isabel in “Tierra de Lobos” (2011-2013)

Lesbian couples don’t appear much in period pieces on TV, which is a pity because movies like “Tipping the Velvet” or “The World Unseen” demonstrate sexuality is an interesting lens through which to view history. Spain’s “Tierra de Lobos” was a Western, and so naturally Isabel was the daughter of the wealthy landowner and Cristina was the local town prostitute. The show had excellent production quality and adorable chemistry between “Crisabel.”


So what have we missed, readers? What would you recommend from years past?