Fair warning: what follows is kind of rambling and may not make a whole hell of a lot of sense. I am not, nor do I claim to be, any sort of expert on LGBT issues or relationships, being about as heterosexual as one can possibly be. That being said, the stuff I talk about below really struck me as socially important, so I thought I’d share.
This week, I’ve been watching Mission Hill: the Complete Series on DVD. In a lot of ways, it’s an unremarkable cartoon from the late ’90s/early ’00s. Most of the characters are pretty standard fare: Andy French, ostensibly our protagonist, is a 20something slacker who would do great things if only he didn’t spend all his time drinking heavily and being more than a bit of a jerk; Andy’s high school brother, Kevin, who comes to live with Andy through a trite, unlikely scenario, and is your stereotypical “nerd” character (seems slightly Asbergers to me, but I might just see that because of my job); and their roommates, Jim and Posey, who are the stoner and the hippie chick, respectively (though Jim is shown to have slightly more layers to him than that; he ends up being an IT/computer specialist for a big ad company and eventually helps Andy get a job in their art and design department). Honestly, none of these characters or character types are all that original, even if they are usually pretty well-done in the show.
No, where the show really shines is in the portrayal of one of the only two monogamous, committed relationships in the entire series: Wally and Gus (the other, between Carlos and Natalie, is notable for being a healthy, interracial marriage where race never even really seems like an issue between the two). Wally and Gus, two older, gay men, have the healthiest, most realistic relationship in the entire series, and possibly the most realistic portrayal of a gay relationship on all of television.
Wally and Gus are presented as well-rounded, human characters. Yes, they are gay, but that is merely a facet of their personalities as opposed to the defining characteristic that guides every action they take. They are clearly in a loving, long-term relationship, one where there are occasionally arguments (what long-term relationship doesn’t have those?) and disagreements, but there’s a commitment and a warmth to their interactions that’s beautiful to watch. It’s not exploitative, it’s not played for laughs (except insomuch as any relationship is treated as a source of amusement and entertainment in a comedy show), and it doesn’t go for the cheap shots or stereotypes.
What’s more, the characters around them treat the couple as perfectly normal. Now, it saddens me in this day and age that I’d even have to point that out, or that it might be uncommon or strange, but that’s the sad reality we live in: it may be the 21st century, but most folks are still more than a little uptight about LGBT relationships. But Andy, Kevin, Jim, Posey, and the rest all treat Wally and Gus as just two other people who live in the building; no more, no less.
That’s what’s so enormously progressive about this particular show, and why I think I appreciate it despite its blatant mediocrity in pretty much every other aspect of its existence: the writers made these two characters feel natural and real.
Their best episode is the series finale, a touching ode not only to the bad cinema of Ed Wood but to the power and draw of True Love. In the episode, Wally is an up-and-coming film director working with some of the biggest stars of the screen, directing a big-budget sci-fi epic that everyone is certain will be a blockbuster success. But then he meets Gus, and everything about the film falls apart: Wally puts Gus in the lead role even though Gus can’t act his way out of a wet paper bag, the rest of the cast quit, and the studio kills the project. Wally takes his film to a small-time studio, reworks the entire script to fit his new leading man (and less-than-stellar supporting cast), and does a no-budget Ed Wood-style b-film that is so bad, he hid it from the world for 50 years. When Kevin discovers the movie and hypes it up with the neighborhood, Wally’s sense of self-worth is devastated, but it’s nothing compared to how horrible he feels for putting Gus in a position of ridicule. The thing is, Gus doesn’t really give a damn what people think of him, as long as Wally’s happy. And ultimately, Wally figures that out, deciding that a movie that brings people joy (it’s a hilariously bad film) can’t be that bad, and he can live with his shame at having produced a real stinker if he’s got Gus. Which he definitely has. The final shot of the episode (and of the series, as it turns out) is of Wally and Gus in bed, content with each other. It’s a heartwarming, emotionally-charged moment for a show that usually did jokes about alcohol and hookers, and it hits all the right notes. Honestly, if you watched no other episode of the series than this one, you’d think it was a pretty damn good show. I think if they’d been able to produce more stuff like this one 22-minute piece, the show wouldn’t have been canceled.