3 min

Boy-boy action, but no heat

Gay is all but from fall TV lineup

I overheard a teen-age girl on the subway say that there was a gay character on the new TV season’s one sure-fire hit, Ugly Betty (8pm, Thu, CityTV) — something about the heroine’s 12-year-old metrosexual brother — but I forgot to tape the show so the character remains a mystery, a cipher lost in the ether.

That pretty much sums up the state of broadcast gaydom this year. There, but not there.

The new fall TV season is upon us and as far as I can see we’re back to the age of creeping incrementalism, nudging the boundaries here and there but never crossing the border. Five months after Will And Grace ended, we’ve got increased acceptance and the same old near-invisibility. The one new gay character I’ve noticed so far in my admittedly hit-and-miss survey of the new TV season is on the Calista Flockhart vehicle, Brothers And Sisters (10pm, Sun, Global), and he’s just one of several anodyne brothers, all so uniformly good-looking they’re hard to tell apart. Plus the show is so blandly maudlin that I’m tipping it for an early demise. Even with gay playwright Jon Robin Baitz at the helm, it’s got all the flash and zip of a heavily sedated hamster.

Homos are not so much out of favour, as off-trend. This year if Hollywood wants to give screen time to any “minority,” it’s the opposition party. Stung by accusations of excessive liberalism, Hollywood is giving face time to the reactionaries. Cue the cute Christian on Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip and the rightwing talk show host (Flockhart) on Brothers And Sisters.

Actually it’s not homos who are out of favour so much as sex in general. Sex is out, fear is in. You’d have to go back to the 1940s and film noir to see this much fear and loathing in the sexual arena. It’s not just the femmes who are fatale this year; it’s every significant other. People are deeply suspicious of their partners and usually with reason.

On the truly hokey Six Degrees (9pm, Wed, Global), a fresh-faced young public attorney falls for an enigmatic blonde who turns out to be on the lam from who knows what scary crime, while a stunning ad exec suspects (rightly, as it turns out) that her rock-jawed fiancé is leading a creepy second life on the Internet. That, in case you’re counting, is not one but two very paranoid love stories on one show.

Desperate Housewives set the trend in motion last year with all those tales of Bree and her psychotic pharmacist lover but other shows are jumping on the bandwagon fast. The best new show of the season is the crime drama Smith (9pm, Mon, CTV) and it centres on a husband (Ray Liotta) with cold eyes and a highly duplicitous life. A mild-mannered paper-cup salesman by day, he doubles as the mastermind behind a series of elaborate, military-grade thefts. His wife suspects the worst but says nothing and the show positively seethes with suspicion and paranoia.

You can blame some of this paranoia on contemporary politics, that sense there’s a terrorist lurking behind every polite suburban facade, but it also says something, I suspect, about the prevailing war between the sexes. Whatever the case, the sexes certainly seem to have retrenched. There’s no more of “boys are just the same as girls but with different parts.” Now, it’s boys are boys and girls are girls and they travel in separate, self-contained packs.

On Smith, the groovy gang of thieves is all-male and lovin’ it — stealing cars, bumping off macho rivals — except for one glam blonde (a showgirl, no less) who’s only there to provide trouble. The guys are tightly knit; it’s the wives and girlfriends who are outside the loop. It’s fun watching two of the guys compete for the same girl. Their jealousy generates a certain sexual frisson. But mostly you get the feeling that TV is firmly against excessive fraternization. Like in that truly weird “wolfboys” commercial for Suzuki where the two best buds drive off into the woods and one of them is captured (eaten?) by a pack of wolfboys. It plays like a parody of the Tennessee Williams play where the gay hero is ripped apart by a pack of young boys.

If you want romance you’re going to have to go back in time, back to ’82 and Anthony Andrews and Jeremy Irons frolicking on the green, green lawns of England. The 25th anniversary DVD of that great gay classic, Brideshead Revisited, is due out this month and not a moment too soon because back in Hollywood, the best you’re going to do is a little buddy-buddy action.

Over at Aaron Sorkin’s excellent new Studio 60 (10pm, Sun, CTV), a drama set in the magical world of television, head writer Matthew Perry is ostensibly in love with his Christian exgirlfriend but actually spends more quality time with his best friend and the show’s director (Bradley Whitford). They share secrets, change careers to meet each other’s changing needs, know each other’s thoughts before they’re hatched and just generally act like an old married couple.

They’re also eminently watchable, a couple of TV’s most bankable stars at their best. But none of their interchange is remotely erotic. Whether styled for men or women, Sorkin’s inimitable dialogue is not so much arch as amiable.