Toronto
3 min

I’ll take love over breeches

ER's lesbian didn't convert overnight

Now that February sweeps are over (and the risk of ratings disaster diminished), the networks are getting a little frisky, dragging out their untried wonders, and the critics are wondering, “Oh Will And Grace, what hath thou wrought?”



It’s not enough that we should have one sitcom about a gay man and a straight roommate. No, we must have dozens. First there was Normal, Ohio about a gay guy (John Goodman) isolated in straightsville (mercifully kaput within weeks of its premiere).



Now we have Some Of My Best Friends, which is basically Will And Grace with less hair.



Based on the 1997 movie, Kiss Me, Guido, it’s about a gay writer named Warren (Jason Bateman) who shares an apartment with a straight guy from the Bronx named Frankie (Danny Nucci). Warren’s divorced sister Meryl (Jessica Lundy) tries to bring them closer together but – I’m guessing here – his flamboyant friend Vern (Alec Mapa) pulls them farther apart.



The show wasn’t available for review but should it survive its initial six-episode run (an unlikely prospect given that midseason replacements almost never last), the reason, as on Will And Grace, may well be the sidekicks. Mapa, who played Toronto last spring, is openly gay and very funny. He claims to have spent time as the “B-list concubine” of an unnamed action star, he has two one-man shows to his credit, and he’s very aware of what he’s getting himself into.



As he told the National Post last spring, “It’s a sitcom rule that if you have one gay guy who can pass as a straight guy he has to have a funny, flamboyant best friend.”



But will that be enough to save Some Of My Best Friends? Stay tuned.



Meanwhile, the CBC has finally disinterred The Broad Side. Created by Jane Ford (Material World) and written by Ford and Diane Flacks (Sibs, Behind The Scenes), the six-part comedy has been gathering dust for more than two years. The delay says something about either the budgetary constraints at the Mother Corp or the series’ merits – or maybe just the difficulty of placing a feminist sketch comedy with political pretensions and playground scripts.



Canada’s answer to the British historical spoof, Blackadder, The Broad Side visits women at various stages of history – 19th century England, the Klondike, the Renaissance, medieval England. In each episode the characters struggle against traditional female roles, then give into them with a knowing wink. In the opener, “Chopin’s Sister,” a 19th century woman flirts with her best friend, a butch in men’s breeches, but then goes on to get married.



The all-female cast – Flacks, Susan Coyne, Kathryn Greenwood and Erin McMurtry – work wonders with the rinky-dink material, but you have to wonder about the point. The theme song says “his-story is not the same as hers,” but this creaky comedy reminded me of nothing so much as those old Wayne And Shuster specials where the old duffers donned pageboy wigs and spoofed Shakespeare. It was old then, it’s ancient now.



Me, I’d rather watch the emerging lesbian love story on ER. Dr Kerry Weaver, the caffeinated med drama’s resident curmudgeon, has been coming out for months now and on Feb 8 she finally spent the night with her girlfriend.



I generally dislike straight characters who suddenly go gay: usually it has less to do with character than ratings or writerly desperation. But Kerry’s coming out looks more like a major character development.



In its six years on the air, ER has introduced several gay characters and has always treated them with warmth and humanity, sans a lot of political grandstanding. But this is the first time the series has allowed one of its leads to go the gay way, and the producers seem to have prepared the path with unusual tact and care.



Kerry (Laura Innes) and psychiatrist Dr Kim Legaspi (Elizabeth Mitchell) have been circling around each other for several months, with Kerry initially claiming she was straight and interested in nothing more than friendship.



But even before she evinced direct interest, it was clear she was at least open to the idea of a gay relationship. In an episode from last October, Kerry dealt sympathetically with an elderly lesbian whose partner of 27 years had just had a stroke. The woman did not want her partner resuscitated, but of course had no standing in law. The story was affecting in itself, but even more so for Kerry’s reaction.



Torn between her professionalism and her feelings, Kerry fought for the women and clearly saw her own future in the strength of their long-term love.



SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS.
8pm. Wed, Feb 28.
CBS & Global.
THE BROAD SIDE.
9pm. Mon, Mar 5.
CBC.
ER.
10pm. Thursdays.
CTV & NBC.