Fox is making television homophobic again.
In a red wedding of its comedy lineup, the network axed the critically beloved Brooklyn Nine-Nine, along with The Mick and Last Man on Earth. Brooklyn Nine-Nine has been lauded as one of TV’s most radically queer-positive shows, winning this year’s GLAAD award for Best Comedy. Andre Braugher was nominated for an Emmy for his portrayal of Captain Raymond Holt, a gay police officer in a same-sex marriage.
Meanwhile, Rosa (Stephanie Beatriz) comes out in a 2017 episode. Gina Rodriguez of Jane the Virgin has reportedly been cast as a love interest for the no-nonsense detective, which would be a all-too-rare portrayal of a same-sex romance between two people of color on TV.
Rodriguez is poised make her debut in “Jake and Amy,” this season’s final episode. With this week’s announcement, that will now serve as the series finale.
If the hobbling of queer POC love weren’t enough insult to injury, Fox announced it would be replacing its most inclusive show one of TV’s least progressive comedies in recent years: Last Man Standing, starring conservative comedian Tim Allen.
In a transparent ploy to pull in Red State viewers, the network announced on Friday it would be reviving the multi-camera sitcom, which aired on ABC for six years to solid if not spectacular ratings. Allen plays a sporting goods store executive in a household with four women, his wife and three daughters (hence the title).
What separates Last Man from Allen’s earlier sitcom, the syndication staple Home Improvement, is the show served as a sounding board for its star’s right-wing politics. His stand-in, “Mike Baxter,” notably compared Hillary Clinton to Satan.
In another episode, Allen’s character takes a potshot at “political correctness” while giving a speech at his daughter’s graduationa frequent gripe on the show. “Some whiny babies might not think so, but in America, if you work hard, anyone can be successful,” he gripes.
But what’s likely to be more alarming for LGBTQ viewers are the swipes Last Man Standing takes at queer and trans peopleparticularly the latter.
Let’s take a single scene from the graduation episode, which is fittingly titled “Precious Snowflakes.” Mike is rehearsing the speech with his middle daughter, Mandy (Molly Ephraim), to ensure its content won’t run afoul of the liberal, PC-friendly administration at her high school. When he addresses the crowd as “ladies and gentlemen,” she stops himstating that many trans individuals live outside the binary.
“It excludes those who don’t identify as either,” Mandy claims.
Her father grunts, confused by the assertion. “But those are the only two choices,” Mike tells her, to mixed chuckles from the audience.
“No, not anymore,” his daughter claims.
Mandy presents her father with a list of “microaggressions” prohibited by the school’s administrators and tells him to implement the feedback so she doesn’t get in trouble. When she tells him “thanks, Dad,” he interrupts, saying: “No, no, can’t call me ‘Dad.’ What if I identify as ‘Mom?’”
Another episode takes aim at the transgender bathroom debate following the passage of North Carolina’s House Bill 2, an anti-trans law forcing trans people to use restrooms that do not correspond to their gender identity. During a poker game, Mike’s liberal-straw-man friend Chuck (Jonathan Adams) tells the other players at a poker game they can use any bathroom they like.
“This is not North Carolina,” Chuck says. “Anything to add, Baxter?”
Allen’s character responds by arguing that allowing trans people to use the bathroom which corresponds with their gender identity leads to sexual assault. “This is coming from experience,” Mike quips. “Don’t cough.”
That linea reference to prison rape jokes about “dropping the soap”plays on the harmful myth that trans people are dangerous bathroom predators. That trope, while pervasive, has been widely debunked. In the more than 200 municipalities which have passed inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances allowing equal access in all accommodations, none have experienced an uptick in assaults as a result.
In addition, nearly leading every women’s rights and sexual assault organization has denounced the bathroom predator myth.
The fact that viewers may themselves be transgender (and these jokes are an attack on their right to exist) isn’t news to Allen. When the pilot for Last Man Standing debuted, critics challenged him on the shows’ homophobic jokes. He didn’t care.
Last Man Standing’s very first episode includes a jab at LGBTQ youth. When Mike oldest daughter (Alexandra Krosney) wants to send her son to a day care which “teaches sensitivity and tolerance,” he opposes the selection as too “hippie-hippie rainbow.” Mike informs her that sending her child to an affirming care center only ends in one thing: with him “dancing on a float.”
“I think it was a funny joke,” he told journalists at the Television Critics Association press tour in 2011. “And I don’t think the intent wasn’t to offend anybody. So I think the network will probably leave it in there.”
While television has come a long way in terms of LGBTQ representation in the past seven years, the industry has a lot of work to doespecially when it comes to the depiction of trans people. A 2016 report from GLAAD found that there were just three regular transgender characters in all of broadcast TV. Cable fared marginally better, with six trans series regulars.
Bringing back a show which sends the message that trans people are rapists and that parents shouldn’t approve of their children if they happen to be LGBTQ certainly isn’t helping. And it’s even more galling that one of TV’s most groundbreaking comedies was pushed out of the way to make room for it.
After Roseanne debuted to record numbers despite its Trump-supporting star’s transphobic views, networks are trying to figure out any possible way they can cash in on Republican dollars. The revival has already been picked up for a second season.
But as LGBTQ youth across the country take own their lives because their religion, their political representatives, and the shows their parents watch on TV reinforce the idea they are unworthy of being loved, network execs should ask themselves some hard questions about what they’re selling. Is the money really worth the cost?
Photo via Rick Diamond / Getty Images