The Last of Us isn't exactly known for being a LOL-fest, but even by its standards Episode 3 (HBO/Sky/NowTV) is a hell of a watch: over a single episode it delivers a gorgeous, glorious and gut-wrenching story about love in the bleakest of times, and one of the best portrayals of LGBT+ people I've seen on TV in ages. I can't say any more without spoilers but trust me, it's worth a watch and you'll definitely cry.
It's LGBT+ History Month this month, and that means it's a great time to stream some of the best shows on TV featuring LGBT+ characters. Some of them are life-affirming; others, desperately sad. Some will make you rightly furious, and others will make you want to punch the air. Not all of them are focused exclusively on LGBT+ people or themes, but they all have great LGBT+ characters. Here are some of my favourites. It's not an exclusive list – there are far too many great shows to cover them all here, and that's before I get on to rental and buy-to-own series – but no matter what you want to watch I think you'll find something to love here.
Based on the hugely popular and genuinely lovely web comic, Heartstopper is a wonderful coming of age story featuring two teen boys trying to make sense of everything. As USA Today put it, “it’s a simple story that feels vital in today’s climate… Heartstopper is one of the best teen series Netflix has ever offered.” Pretty much everyone agrees: Heartstopper currently has a 100% critic and 96% audience rating on IMDb.
It's a Sin (All4)
It's A Sin is heartbreaking, life-affirming, desperately sad and very funny, sometimes all at once. Russell T Davies' drama follows a group of friends through ten years of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the UK, and its vivid recreation of the attitudes of the time is more horrific than any film you'll find on Shudder. It's must-see TV.
For All Mankind (Apple TV+)
Apple's space exploration epic is a must-watch for all kinds of reasons – the writing, the effects, the fights on the moon – but it also features a powerful storyline reflecting the real-life experiences of LGBT+ people in the Lavender Scare of the mid-20th century, a moral panic that saw people pushed out of their jobs because of who they loved. It's one of many story strands that intertwine in this superb series, and while it gets a bit daft sometimes the queer relationships are superbly written and beautifully acted.
Gentleman Jack (BBC iPlayer)
Suranne Jones is magnificent in this historical drama about Anne Lister, a landowner and industrialist whose diaries documented a lifetime of lesbian loves. It's one of the best period dramas in recent memory, and Jones' Lister is never anything less than magnetic – in lesser hands you could imagine the whole thing teetering over the edge and falling into sheer ridiculousness, but Jones is too good to let that happen. She's a joy to watch.
Our Flag Means Death (BBC iPlayer)
Our Flag Means Death answers the crucial question: What if What We Do In The Shadows, but with pirates? And it's a very funny answer indeed, with Taika Waititi having a ball as Blackbeard and some of the best LGBT+ representation in modern comedy. We've got multiple queer relationships, a non-binary character and a central will-they-won't-they romance that's handled beautifully.
Queer As Folk (All 4 / Netflix)
Rated by The Guardian as one of the best TV dramas of all time, Queer As Folk followed the lives of three gay men in and around Manchester's Canal Street. It was extremely controversial at the time, with anti-LGBT+ people rolling out the usual complaints but also members of the LGBT+ community criticising it for not addressing the AIDS epidemic – something creator Russell T Davies remembered and would address years later in It's A Sin. Viewed with today's eyes it all feels rather safe, but that's because the world is very different now: as Den of Geek points out, Queer As Folk came out only shortly after Elton John did.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Disney+)
For LGBT+ people of a certain age, this was THE show: a million people crushed on Willow (Allyson Hannigan), welled up when she came out and felt all kinds of funny when Vampire Willow turned up encased in very tight leather. Buffy was never as lightweight as some critics sneered: the "Family" episode in season 5 was clearly about conversion therapy, a real-world horror more terrible than any undead creature.
A League of Their Own (Prime Video)
This Amazon series takes everything good about the iconic film and makes it even better by focusing on the women baseball players the film didn't feature: the Black women who were barred from playing and the queer players who had to keep their real lives secret. Writing in the Guardian, Lucy Knight called it "euphorically, unapologetically gay" and noted that it was that rare thing, a show featuring lots of LGBT+ characters that wasn't marketed just to LGBT+ people. The show, Knight concluded, was "both very, very gay – and very, very good."
Dragula is deeply silly, which is why it's so great. In its search to find "the world's next drag supermonster" it's a much more edgy and alternative take on the Drag Race format, with competitors hoping to outdo each other in challenges featuring costume creation, special effects makeup, acting and live performance. It draws heavily from horror tropes, which is why Shudder is the perfect home for its over-the-top outrageousness.
Modern Family (Disney+)
If you haven't watched this well-loved series, you should. And if you have, you should watch it again. This is American sitcom writing and acting at its very best, and in Cam and Mitchell it has one of the great TV couples, gay or otherwise. Cam and Mitchell were there from the very first episode in 2009, and their marriage plans helped show huge audiences that gay people were just as excited, happy, nervous and occasionally crazy about getting married as anybody else – something that really mattered given the often vicious "debate" around marriage equality in the early 2010s. Cam and Mitch have been credited with helping influence the national conversation, a conversation that led to equal marriage becoming law in 2015.
This stunning series tells the story of New York's ball culture and the LGBT+ community in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and made a star of Michaela Jaye (MJ) Rodriguez. It's a glorious thing, but don't let the gorgeous visuals fool you: there's substance here to match the stunning style. It's inspired by the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning, and focuses on the underground ballroom scene of the era – contrasting it with the rise of Donald Trump and and the horrors of the AIDS crisis. It's really rather extraordinary.
The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson (Netflix)
Marsha P Johnson was a fascinating person and one of the iconic figures in the LGBT+ rights movement. This documentary investigates her death in 1992, a death that many people believe wasn't the suicide it purported to be, and features great footage of Johnson in her prime alongside fellow activist Silvia Rivera. It's not always an easy watch, however: the LGBT+ people of her day experienced horrific police brutality and the film suggests that for many people in the community, things haven't improved very much.
Visible: Out on Television (Apple TV+)
This excellent documentary explores the history of the LGBT+ rights movement through the eyes of US TV, and that means it features a more diverse group of people and a lot more time spent with Ellen Degeneres than you might get if the focus were just on the UK. With a line-up that includes Janet Mock, Margaret Cho, Wilson Cruz, Lena Waithe and Anderson Cooper it's a star-studded affair, and while it's perhaps a little too self-congratulatory in parts – it was filmed before the US Republicans' war on trans and other LGBT+ people really kicked into high gear – it's a compelling mix of news footage and new interviews.
The Haunting of Bly Manor (Netflix)
This is the sequel to the equally great The Haunting of Hill House, and while like its predecessor it delivers lots of tension, did-you-see-that? moments and jump scares it also adds a love story. There's a really lovely relationship at the heart of it between au pair Dani (a luminous Victoria Pedretti) and groundskeeper Jamie (the enormously likeable Amelia Eve) and the ending will have you weeping happy tears.