The Dark Ages
Television As A Tool
The New Guard
We’re not even two months into 2020 and already we’ve had a whole host of excellent documentary series on the small screen. Between Netflix and Amazon Prime’s excellent efforts, Apple TV+ crashes out the gates this weekend with a profound five-part documentary series, one that both celebrates the rise of LGBTQ coverage on TV and looks back and condemns the obstacles and issues this community faced, and continues to face, in the wake of cultural change.
Each of the five episodes tackle a different topic surround this theme, beginning with the late 50’s as political movements condemned homosexuality, before skipping forward to sitcom All In The Family, which effectively opened doors for a whole brand new wave of of cultural representation on TV. Tackling bigger social and political movements, including the Stonewall Riots and HIV, Visible: Out On Television ultimately takes on a multifaceted perspective, on the one hand showing how TV has grown and evolved over time to become the dominant force it is now, and how the stifled, stuffy ideas of the past have grown to become much more archaic and ancient in the face of inclusiveness and diversity seen in recent years.
The first couple of episodes tackle how difficult it was to get proper cultural representation on the small screen, including words like “fag” and “gay” being banned and words like “fairy” used instead. This leads into tackling the HIV epidemic in the third episode, and turning a corner in the fourth with the infamous Ellen situation when she first came out. The fifth and final episode really feels like a light at the end of the tunnel, paving way for a brand new wave of stars to use Ellen’s example to speak out and be themselves. There’s still an underlying sense of push-back of course, typified by the final scenes of the awful Orlando shooting in Pulse, but the final montage at the end of the last episode does a great job rounding everything out and showing the turbulent journey over time.
With plenty of archival shots from shows through the years, Visible: Out On Television litters the series with a whole smattering of top stars, many of which part of the LGBTQ community. These stars are open, talk honestly about their experiences coming out or dealing with their feelings, and look in admiration at their co-stars. It’s a really honest and admirable way to depict this cultural wave, that continues to pick up steam and doesn’t look like slowing down any time soon.
The first episode clocks in at around 50 minutes or so, and then each of the four that follow are much longer; some clocking in at around 70 minutes or so during the later episodes. Each of the episodes take on the same sort of perspective, with a different lead narrator for the but predominantly lending the voice to the stars who talk about a different part of this LGBTQ movement.
With a distinctly American slant, inevitably there’s a lot more emphasis on the United States and how they’ve tackled this movement although personally I would have preferred an extra episode to look at how this has grown across the world. Queer As Folk aired in the UK during the 80’s and Channel 4 really leaned into this movement by airing that show, 37 Honey Street featured an on-screen kiss on TV in South Africa back in 1998 and Eastenders (a British soap) even had a prominent character contract HIV. As an evolution over time, Visible: Out On Television does feel like it’s missing a trick by not showing a glimpse at the rest of the world.
Overall though, Visible: Out On Television is an insightful, educational and celebratory look at the LGBTQ community and something that shows how far the movement has come since the late 50’s. Seeing the way political and social movements tie into the small screen ideas, along with big moments involving Ellen coming out, really helps elevate this documentary series, making it one of the best shows on Apple TV+ and well worth a watch.