Cancelled Queer TV Shows: Let’s Talk About it

Nothing is more heartbreaking than your favourite show getting axed (Yes, it hurts more than a breakup. Just me?). It’s even more heartbreaking when it’s a safe space. The theatre kid in us cried and sobbed when Paramount Plus sadly not only cancelled but removed Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies from the platform, a Grease prequel series created by Annabel Oakes and adored by many. The show was a hotspot for LGBTQIA+ representation. We had LGBTQIA+ actors and characters (that’s “thespians”, for those familiar with the show, we know you know what we mean). We also had a heck of a lot more ethnic diversity than that in the original film. Everyone deserves to see themselves represented at Rydell, right!!? We even had freaking Jackie Hoffman. Yes, Jackie Hoffman. So of course, the axing caused great outcry amongst the community of musical theatre lovers, LGBTQIA+ folks, allies and fans across the globe.

It is with great sadness that many of us mourned the cancellation and removal of such a magnificent show with such a spectacular soundtrack (Merely Players, we don’t know what’s in you, but we can’t get enough). However, poor Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies was only one of several cancelled by Paramount at the time, alongside “Star Trek: Prodigy, The Game and Queen of the Universe” (Source: The Wrap), all cancelled due to financial reasons. “Queen of the Universe was an unscripted drag singing competition series”, says the Hollywood Reporter. Another loss for the LGBTQIA+ community.

Something very interesting, however, is that the prequel-to-Grease show actually received 2 Emmy nominations for ‘Outstanding Choreography For Scripted Programming’. We’re not joking, you couldn’t even watch it when these came out. It was NOWHERE. Not even available for digital purchase yet (it is now though!). Still, seems pretty strange, right? 

The Hollywood Reporter tells us shows were axed “in exchange for financial considerations” as “underperforming titles”. However, a quick glance through the many many (many) support pages for the show tells us it was performing as a source of love and safety for many during its short-lived time on the platform. 

One of the show’s actors, Ari Notartomaso, plays Cynthia – a rebellious Pink Lady with [SPOILER ALERT] a girl crush (cue Harry Styles) on Lydia, portrayed by Niamh Wilson. The characters’ relationship has generated edits, memes and a ship name (obviously) used across many platforms by many fans. Where would we be without a ship name? Tragedy, that’s where. Speaking of tragedy, the two characters are flung together in an attempt at punishing Cynthia through drama. Yes! She is forced to hang out with theatre kids. Awful, I know…Turns out, one of them is definitely gay. It’s a beautiful story. [END OF SPOILER ALERT]

Other characters include Olivia – witty, brave and cynical, played by Cheyenne Isabel Wells; Nancy – a bold, unapologetic fashionista, played by Tricia Fukuhara; Jane – a clever, determined heartbreaker, played by Marisa Davila and last, but not nearly least, Hazel – shy, smart and beginning to come out of her shell, played by Shanel Bailey. These characters are some of the most supportive, unapologetic and fearless characters on the show’s scene, making the show a particularly encouraging and happy place for many. Perhaps we will get to see more like this as television shows and cinema continue to be more inclusive and representative. 

Throwing it back to 2018, many may remember marketing for Heathers, a TV show based on the classic film from way(yyy)-back-when in the 80s. Let’s get a bit of background on Heathers the Musical, a show brought into existence by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, also based on the 80s film. One of the songs in the show is titled “My Dead Gay Son”. Now, without giving anything away, this scene of the musical is, in fact, gay. I recently saw the musical myself and can say that the applause after the song was… something else! You could definitely feel the love from the audience.

In 2017, reports said that the modern, TV adaptation of the film had moved from TV Land to the Paramount Network. The Verge tells us delays happened with the show due to “a wave of school shootings and terrible advance reviews [making] the show’s tongue-in-cheek look at high school violence seem like a public relations disaster” . The Verge also tells us that “Paramount attempted to sell off the series”. Some other stuff happened in between but, ultimately, it was heavily edited and is literally impossible to find and watch in the UK.

Based on the applause at the musical and a glance through social media at the vastness of the LGBTQIA+ G:ROTPL fanbase, it’s pretty safe to say that the LGBTQIA+ community is having a sad time with potentially relatable, heart-warming shows being cancelled. *sigh*…

Heathers did actually have LGBTQIA+ representation. The trailer mentions “genderqueer” character(s) and appears to have a more modern take on sexuality, alongside body positivity, than the original film. The show is impossible to watch in the UK right now and the question is raised of how the show would have progressed in terms of popularity. Maybe it could have been as safe a space as Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies has turned out to be. Then again, maybe it wouldn’t, seems like maybe we’ll never know.

The fact remains that inclusive shows keep getting cancelled. Not because they’re inclusive, but it’s still sad for those of us who watch. It does seem like a sad take for the musical theatre community too. For many of whom, shows they may have been interested in have been axed.

G:ROTPL is now available for digital purchase which is something, though this has not stopped the outcry on social media on the show’s cancellation. Shall it return? What for the fate of Heathers? Hopefully we begin to see more inclusivity in TV shows so this isn’t so much of a worry.

One show available for the High School musical demographic, currently available on Disney+ is High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. Yes, the title is long. However, it features Olivia Rodrigo’s wonderful voice and is very inclusive in terms of diversity and LGBTQIA+ characters.

Alice Osman’s creation, Heartstopper, is also currently available on Netflix, with similar themes though, be warned, it does touch on themes of mental health which some viewers may find triggering. All of these shows are set in either British secondary school/ sixth form or American high school but for those wanting a more mature character base, there is more out there! All hope is not lost, let’s hope we keep seeing more representation.

P.S. Looking for a film to watch with sapphic representation to bring in the new year? Check out our article here on Breanne Williamson’s new film: Aging Out

Love Team Nonchalant xx

Jo Carter
Jo Carter

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