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Fair For Its Day / Live-Action TV

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  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: The Original Series was progressive for its day, but is still obviously a creation of the 60s.
      • The only black cast member, Lt. Uhura, is a communications officer. Her job was very similar to that of a phone operator, which is a stereotypically female occupation. Nichelle Nichols was going to leave the show at the end of the first season, but Martin Luther King convinced her into staying, because seeing a black woman on television in any role but that of a maid was groundbreaking for its day. She also protagonized the first interracial kiss on television, between Kirk and Uhura, in the episode "Plato's Stepchildren". Whoopi Goldberg credits seeing Nichols on this show as a major inspiration to her as a child, and the reason she lobbied hard to appear on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
      • Other examples include Sulu and Chekov: Sulu as a competent professional, not a cringing yellow stereotype, and Chekov as a non-evil Russian on television during the Cold War. Modern audiences may not realize just how profoundly impossible it was to depict Americans working with Russians, In Space or not. Many minor characters also break the white-male mold; given the military setting, this is remarkable for the day. (Depending on which branch of the military we're talking about; the Air Force at that time was extremely multiracial.)
      • Those miniskirts that are greeted with rolled eyes nowadays were considered a mark of female liberation at the time, as women who wore them were exerting their right to dress sexy instead of like timid housefraus; it was a movement similar to today's "Not Asking For It". Sure, it was fanservice too, but not just that. Also, the miniskirts weren't mandatory: some of the female background crew are shown wearing pants. The skirt uniform was an option, a distinction which can be lost on modern audiences.
      • In "Court Martial" Kirk reports to his superior officer, who turns out to be a black mannote . Cdre. Stone, a former Starship Captain, is the highest-ranking black officer in the original series. In "The Ultimate Computer", Dr. Richard Daystrom, the creator of the M-5 computer and one of the Federation's greatest geniuses, is also black, and eventually revealed to have created the computers used on the Enterprise. In addition, Dr. McCoy's medical staff includes the eminently qualified Dr. M'Benga, who is African himself (and the staff expert on Vulcan physiology). With them, their race is a total non-issue, as you would expect with an interstellar and multi-species federation.
      • Originally, Gene Roddenberry wanted to take it a bit farther and had cast Majel Barrett as the first officer in the original version of the pilot. He even subverted the common portrayal of women as being prone to hysterics by portraying her as the cold logical type (a trait that would later be transplanted to Spock, who was originally supposed to be emotional and can be seen acting emotionally in the original pilot). Capt. Pike even called her Number One. Executive Meddling canned it, either because of negative test audience reaction (from women!) or because Barrett was Roddenberry's mistress. Or both.
      • Roddenberry actually went a bit further than most people knew when it came to having a female in the chain-of-command. When canned the idea of Majel Barrett as the second-in-command, Rodenberry then tried to slip it in the back door by having Uhura be the ship's second officer after Spock instead of Montgomery Scott, reasoning that a bridge officer would make more sense for such a task. The network didn't catch on to this trick until shooting had already started on the episode "What Are Little Girls Made Of," at which point they once again tanked the idea of a female commander for the Enterprise.
      • Uhura did take the helm in a couple of early episodes. However when a similar scene was zilched in a third season episode, Nichelle Nichols found Roddenberry was responsible. He was not only going through a spectacularly messy divorce but had also begun to develop drug problems and his misogynistic traits were fermenting. He told her "You can't have females running a man's ship."
      • And then there's Khan. The official reason for the 2013 movie casting the white Benedict Cumberbatch to play him instead of an Indian actor was that the producers would have felt uncomfortable having a man of color as a villain, particularly since that version played Khan up as a terrorist. As others have pointed out, however, they actually didn't get it right in the original series either, as the Indian Sikh Khan was played by the Mexican-born Ricardo Montalbán. But in 1967, casting a dark-skinned actor as a dark-skinned character was pretty progressive (remember, this was the same era that gave us Alec Guinness and Anthony Quinn as Arabs and John Wayne as Genghis Khan). And Khan wasn't just a villain, mind you: he was an incredibly brilliant, charismatic world leader who was genetically bred to be superior to other humans in every conceivable way—all of which was unthinkable for a character of color at the time. The Sikh community loved the character for those aspects, and were upset when the film producers threw away the chance for a Sikh actor to play him.
      • The famous interracial kiss is often criticized for its Unfortunate Implications, because they were Kissing Under the Influence thanks to aliens. Due to the racism of the time, the showrunners and actors had to fight very, very hard to get even that to happen — the executives ordered them to shoot alternate takes without the kiss (which William Shatner deliberately messed up every time by pulling faces), they wanted Spock to kiss Uhura instead (because he was an alien, and played by a perceptibly Eurasian actor, so it didn't count), and they outright would not budge on allowing it to be consensual. Even so, stations in the Deep South refused to air the episode at all, resulting in it being the lowest rated episode of the entire original series.
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    • Star Trek: The Next Generation
      • The episode "The Outcast" really shows its age, but as a Gay Aesop episode airing in 1992, it could have been a lot worse.
      • The episode uses gender identity as a science fiction stand-in to address homosexuality, failing to anticipate that gender identity would itself become a part of the greater LGBT movement. It simply wasn't on most people's radars in 1992.
      • The show never even acknowledges homosexuality in the 24th century. This was most likely due to content restrictions on prime-time broadcast television shows in 1992, several years before Ellen Degeneres coming out on her show was considered revolutionary. It's limited to expressing support for gay rights through metaphor, though it's not exactly subtle.
      • The episode is frequently criticized for not having Riker's lover be played by a male actor to make the gay aesop more explicit. While this would obviously have been difficult to pull off due to the social mores of its broadcast date, it also would have muddled the Persecution Flip metaphor. The episode's tactic was to gain the sympathy of a 1990s audience by presenting the argument for gay rights through the defense of an explicitly heterosexual relationship.
      • When asked about gender roles, Riker and Crusher largely describe them along traditional lines, though they're clearly just acting as an Audience Surrogate for people in the 1990s to think about gender from an outsider's perspective.
      • By today's standards, Whoopi Goldberg's character Guinan can come off as a Magical Negro: a wise, worldly black woman with a humble service job who rarely gets her own stories but spends most of her time dispensing friendly advice to the (mostly white) main characters. By the standards of her day, though, Guinan was actually quite well developed, has her own personality and backstory with a Mysterious Past, and she frequently hints at a previous affair with Captain Picard—a rare example of an interracial relationship that wasn't Played for Drama. There are also few opportunities for an interesting recurring role on a starship for an actress of Goldberg's stature. If she's an officer, then why isn't she around all the time? And if she's not an officer, what's she doing on the ship? It's also worth noting that Goldberg was quite enthusiastic about her participation in the show.
  • Ultraman was very similar to Star Trek in that it had a woman (Fuji) as an integral part of the Science Patrol team. By odd coincidence, Fuji occupied the same post-communications officer as Uhura, and the two shows premiered within weeks of each other! Considering that Japan's attitude toward gender roles was even more retrograde than the U.S.'s at the time, Fuji's prominent role in the team (she frequently deployed with her squad mates and fought alongside them in many of their battles, much more so in fact than Uhura did) was positively revolutionary (to be sure, Fuji sometimes served tea to the rest of the crew in classic Office Lady fashion). Ultraman even went TOS one better in that at least one episode centered around Lt. Fuji, whereas poor Uhura never got the chance to really be at the center of an episode.
    • We can also say similar things about many other female characters in the early Ultra Series, notably Anne Yuri from Ultraseven and Yuko Minami from Ultraman Ace. Both got to participate on the field even more than Fuji did, with the latter being Ultraman Ace's co-host, making their characters very progressive by the standards of late 60s-early 70s Japanese society. Unfortunately in the case of Yuko, the character was Put on the Bus because young viewers didn't respond well to the idea of an Ultra having a woman as a host.
  • The M*A*S*H episode "George", in which the eponymous character is a gay soldier. By today's standards, it's a fairly weak handling of the topic; George's sexuality is entirely an Informed Attribute, and the story ultimately has very little to do with sexuality, using George as a plot device to create conflict between Frank and the others and not giving him any real agency in a story that's supposedly about him. (In fact, George's final scene in the episode is when he tells Hawkeye he's gay; everything from that point on, including the entire conflict of the episode, is other people talking about him.) At the time, however, the episode was monumental just for portraying a gay man in a positive light and rejecting the idea that his sexuality made him inherently unfit to serve.
  • On The Man from U.N.C.L.E., (which started running several years before Star Trek), Illya Kuryakin (as portrayed by David McCallum) was one of the first positive portrayals of a Russian. — more precisely, Soviet — character on Cold War-era American TV. This was all the more revolutionary because Illya was portrayed as being not just a patriotic Russian citizen, but a serving officer in the Soviet Navy (he's shown in uniform in one episode).
    • In one second-season episode, "The Indian Affairs Affair", Native Americans in Oklahoma were portrayed in what would be considered a somewhat cringeworthy manner today, but it was quite clear from the context that they were the good guys (and THRUSH was portrayed in this episode as dressing up like stereotypical "black-hat" cowboy villains and treating the Native Americans in a contemptuous manner), and the Native Americans lent crucial help to Napoleon and Illya at the episode's climax in foiling the THRUSH plot.
    • Although the first female Section II agent (that is, active combatant) was infantilizingly referred to as "The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.", she was also a whip-smart and highly capable operative. The other Sections were consistently depicted as coed affairs, with women serving not just as secretariesnote  but as codebreakers, translators, medical staff, computer programmersnote , and scientists.
  • Certain episodes of Bonanza were Fair for their Day. Although it was, at heart, a cowboys-and-Indians type show, the Native Americans occasionally had hints of character depth and humanity. Little Joe used to defend an Indian boy in schoolyard fights... but then kills him when his "savage nature" shows. The Cartwrights lose track of their young cousin and panic because there are "savages" around... but then a friendly Indian brings her home safely. A neighbor is against Indian removal because he is afraid his friends will starve on a reservation, so Ben intercedes... to make sure the new reservation has fertile land. It all seems hokey and racist today, but some of these aired when American Indians had only recently been granted civil rights. Another episode portrayed Romani people sympathetically, and accurately showed an elder woman (played by Celia Lovsky) as in charge of the group.
  • The Jack Benny Program is sometimes criticized for the character of Rochester, a butler who is routinely mistreated by Benny's fictional version of himself. In early episodes, Rochester is little more than a black stereotype, with lots of gags made about craps and razor blades. However, Benny became increasingly uncomfortable with racial humor and began scaling it back. After learning about the extent of the Holocaust, he demanded that all racial humor be eliminated from the show. Rochester remained poorly treated, but this is because Benny's character is an egomaniacal jerk. Rochester is also a Servile Snarker who often gets the better of his employer. Many later episodes also show that Rochester and Benny's character are actually best friends.
  • Amos And Andy was immensely popular in its day, but is today viewed with a degree of embarrassment due to its unvarnished indulgences in Minstrel Show tropes and blackface live performances. However, it was also one of the first shows to portray black people as successful businessmen. Various characters were shown as lawyers, doctors, shop owners, and the main characters run a cab company. In earlier radio days, Amos & Andy was a 15 minute daily serial program, and great attention was paid to characterization. Audiences were called upon to sympathize with the black characters' goals and feelings. The show included a significant portion of straight drama dealing with their lives, and even dabbled with social commentary during a sequence where Amos is abused by police.
  • One episode of Get Smart featured Max pretending to be a Native American to foil a plot by a Native American splinter group to destroy the US. More than a bit cringeworthy by today's standards, but the episode's climax has Max admitting that they may be justified in their grievances and he has no good reason why the splinter group should expect better treatment from the US in the future, considering all they've been through so far. Oh, and the Native Americans' master plan? Firing a giant arrow at the White House.
  • Bewitched is often attacked as a reactionary fantasy, in large part for Darrin's chauvinism and Samantha's tolerance of it. However, most of the early black-and-white episodes begin with Darrin clinging to the slightly exaggerated chauvinism of a typical television husband only to realize his mistake and apologize to Samantha by the end of the episode. Darrin's chauvinism was necessary so that he — and the men in the audience — could learn that episode's lesson against male vanity, male consumerism, and male bravado. Unfortunately, that aspect of the character was Flanderized as the series moved into color.
  • The classroom film short "The Home Economics Story" (you're probably familiar with it through Mystery Science Theater 3000) leaves itself open to mockery for its depiction of "women's work" in the 1950s. Still, it does encourage girls to go to college and get jobs (albeit to study Home Economics and become Nurses/Cooks/Teachers), and it argues that an education is important even if you are planning on being a stay-at-home wife (which at least implies that a girl might be allowed to try being something else). note 
  • The original Battlestar Galactica had, in its second episode, a case where almost all the male pilots were incapacitated by a disease. In desperation they create a squadron of all female pilots, gleaned from shuttle pilots, who turn out to be just as competent as the men at fighting the Cylons. This was 20 years before the US Military allowed women fighter pilots.
    • There was also the fact that the series had two black men as major characters in the series: Lt. Boomer, The Smart Guy of Blue Squadron and Colonel Tigh, the Number Two of unquestioned authority on the Galactica, answerable only to Commander Adama. It was an accident, Terry Clark was slated to be Boomer until he was injured rollerskating and offered the chance to play Tigh instead of an expected white actor, but that happenstance gave the series one thing over Star Wars, which was criticized for Monochrome Casting.
  • Carrusel may not have had any of the girls be into science, sports, or any other traditional male pursuits. But most of the girls still had career goals—and their teachers and parents encouraged the girls to pursue them. Which can be deemed enlightened, considering this was made in Mexico in 1989-1990, a very macho society with employment opportunities for women much more restricted than those of women in the USA/UK.
  • Mind Your Language is widely criticized today for its use of ethnic stereotypes, but at the time (late 1970s) it was looked upon positively for giving main roles to non-white actors who would otherwise have found it very hard to gain representation on TV.
  • Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers (and the Power Rangers franchise as a whole) is often mocked for its Five-Token Band and for having a black Black Ranger and an Asian Yellow Ranger, not to mention that the Pink Ranger is a girl. The truth of the matter was that the race/color combination was an accident, only realized halfway through the first season, and was even corrected with various cast changes. note  But regardless, the portrayal of those characters was unexpectedly nuanced and universally positive: Zack the Black Ranger had his own stories, rather than just being the Token Black Friend to Jason, and Trini the Yellow Ranger was intelligent enough to understand Billy but social enough to avoid falling under Asian and Nerdy. Walter Jones (Zack) commented that if anything, it just drew more attention to the fact that the show had a multi-racial cast.
  • The Outer Limits (1963) was generally quite progressive in regards to race, with several episodes featuring dignified non-white characters. "Nightmare" in particular was an anti-racist episode. (They did have one Yellow Peril episode, "The Hundred Days of the Dragon," but this was arguably more of a Cold War story dealing with Communist China, being inspired by The Manchurian Candidate.) Unfortunately, while the show was admirably racially sensitive, by modern standards it could get pretty sexist. Most of the female characters scream a lot.
  • The Goodies:
    • The Goodies did an episode about South Africa which mocks and ridicules Apartheid. Try watching it on Youtube without wincing.
    • One episode even spoofed the popularity of The Black and White Minstrel Show (a Long Runner "light entertainment" show featuring musical numbers performed in Black Face — at that time there had been a recent attempt to Retool it by doing a series of it without the blackface, but the ratings tanked, causing it to be changed back) by combining it with a Whole Plot Reference to Roots. While most of the stereotypical jokes are aimed at Scotland and the story satirizes the concept of using something like blackface as a ratings grab, its assertion that everything's better with blackface doesn't come off as entirely ironic.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The 1960s era, owing to having a female producer, Verity Lambert, had much better written and more dynamic female characters than most other science fiction at the time - there are two equally prominent female characters who have lives outside of the male characters, Barbara in particular being very strong. (Compare with Star Trek: The Original Series, with only two recurring female crewmembers who rarely interact.) Some stories even played with 60s conceptions of gender, such as "The Aztecs" where Barbara is mistaken for the reincarnation of a male priest, causing her to point out that not all cultures consider gender to be that different, and a discussion between Susan and Barbara about whether Ian should think himself to be be looking after them. In "The Dalek Invasion of Earth", Susan also snarks at a member of La Résistance who assumes that because she's a woman that she can cook, even though we later find out that she can when she prepares and cooks a wild rabbit for a Resistance member later. Future societies are depicted in which men and women are completely equal. Even the Doctor's patronising and patriarchal attitude towards his teenage granddaughter Susan was dismantled in "The Sensorites", when he seems to realise that the reason he and Susan never argued is because he's been keeping her dependent on him. Barbara even has a no-strings-attached offscreen relationship with a handsome young Human Alien man, which is not milked for romance and for which she is never shamed. However, there's still plenty of random sexism that would never be acceptable today - such as in "The Daleks" the way the Thals, presented as unambiguously heroic, openly mock their women - sexist Out Of Character Moments when writers with a shakier grasp of gender relations try and write the female TARDIS crew-members, and how Susan is Put on a Bus by having her get married (when she's supposed to be 16). There is also a lot of pointless female screaming, and it's not always remotely appropriate for the situation - due to being a Bottle Episode, most of the implication that there is something amiss in "The Edge of Destruction" is transmitted through having Susan and Barbara shriek all the time for no visible reason. And once Verity Lambert ends her involvement with the series, portrayal of women quickly gets worse — marrying off of female TARDIS crewmembers and getting Stuffed into the Fridge begins to happen (Vicki, Katarina and Sara), and Parent Service and Damsel in Distress characters start appearing (Polly and Victoria).
    • 1960s Doctor Who also possessed relatively complex and interesting non-white cultures in some historicals, whose problems were not dealt with in a patronising way. Of course, they were all played by white people in makeup.
      • Mention has to go to "The Crusade", which tries to give a fair portrayal of the Saracens. The main villain may be a Saracen but it is made clear the others don't like him. Also the English are not portrayed as completely pure, Richard I is portrayed as quite childish and foolish at times. And the Saracen villain is finally killed by a Saracen Haroun, who apart from the TARDIS crew is probably the most heroic character in the serial.
    • The Second Doctor and Jamie Ship Tease like nobody's business, because the actors wanted to see if they could get away with it. (This was at a time when homosexuality was not yet legal, though few actors cared.) This may have contributed to the show's legendarily large LGBT Fanbase, but nowadays But Not Too Gay flirting with no emotional payoff is considered Queerbaiting and is thoroughly discredited as homophobic by fandom.
    • Similar to Star Trek "The Tenth Planet" (which aired just a month after the first episode of Star Trek) and "The Moonbase" show a future with less national distinctions. The first example even shows a black man flying a spaceship. This can make "The Tomb of the Cybermen" feel a bit awkward due to its portrayal of a black man who barely speaks and is the servant of the villains, with his main feature being his strength. However he ends up sacrificing himself to stop the Cybermen escaping. And originally he was supposed to be deaf but this didn't come across (though was retained in the novelization).
    • "The Enemy of the World" features a strong, sympathetic, vulnerable and relatively three-dimensional black female character (played by an actually black woman rather than by a white woman in makeup) who gets to be tragic and kicks ass, but also includes the Doctor putting on brown face paint to pass as a Mexican (and Patrick Troughton, a white man, playing said Mexican in brownface in a dual role).
    • There's a few stinkers, but the portrayal of female companions in the 60s and 70s is generally better than in other SFF of the era, if only because the restrictions of being a children's show with a relatively sexless and nonviolent hero prevented the show from the worst excesses of sexual exploitation (and meant the Doctor was as likely as his female companions to get captured). The producers and writers were concerned about portrayal of women and tried to correct the worst problems that emerged - such as by pairing the Doctor up with a woman who was smarter than him (Zoe, Romana), or an Action Girl (Leela). Elements of gender fluidity were even touched upon, with "The Hand of Fear" (1976) treating a gender-swapping alien seriously, and implying that the ability to regenerate across gender was a trait both s/he and the Doctor shared. However, there's definitely elements to these characters that are regressive by modern standards, in particular the near-total lack of any female guest stars. And when Tom Baker made a point of mentioning that he wished his replacement "whoever he or she might be, a success", it was never a serious proposal and had only ever been intended as Flame Bait to get a media reaction, much to the disgust of departing script editor Christopher H. Bidmead, who had genuinely wanted to cast a woman.
    • "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" was somewhat progressive by the standards of Two-Fisted Tales Yellow Peril pastiche, portraying its campy Chinese supervillain Chang as a highly intelligent Noble Demon whose reasons for resenting white Victorian society are shown to be justified; he also possesses a genuinely funny, Deadpan Snarker sense of humour, and is generally portrayed as the Doctor's Worthy Opponent. Even his opium use is shown in a context that makes it somewhat sympathetic. His boss Magnus Greel is a white man who could be read as a villainous cultural appropriator, a bellowing, misogynistic idiot who collects tacky Oriental junk out of his own pursuit of vanity. In the 70s, when mainstream comedy shows used music hall orientalist stereotypes to mock the Chinese, even this was unusual, as the campy ironic tone would have been enough to indicate it was a Genre Throwback to Fu Manchu stories. This said, Chang is played by a white man in Yellow Face; he and his Chinese cronies are all hopelessly duped by Greel's God Guise even though Greel is portrayed as an idiot; Racial Face Blindness is a plot point; and every character, including the Doctor, makes constant racist remarks which are supposed to be funny ("[he's in trouble] right up to his epicanthic eyebrows"). It has been observed that "Talons" follows Strictly Formula Doctor Who tropes, only instead of using Always Chaotic Evil alien races as the monster, it uses a real-world race. It aired in the UK, but in Canada, anti-defamation groups prevented its airing, and few today would find it an unfair decision. Producer Philip Hinchcliffe acknowledged the story's dated depiction of the Chinese in an interview on the 2020 Season 14 Blu-ray box set, stating that while he remains proud of the serial overall, the depictions are "persona non grata" now and American fans are always ready to give him heat over it at Fan Convention appearances to this day.
  • The title character in Roseanne was regularly nasty to her boss, openly gay character Leon, using remarks that bordered on (or sometimes just plain were) homophobic. Her plans for his wedding to his partner Scott employed almost every gay stereotype in the book. At the same time, that episode depicted a gay wedding almost twenty years before same-sex marriage became legal in Illinois. In addition, the homophobia that is directed towards Leon is more situational in that she just despises him as a person, not because he's gay. Roseanne's lesbian/bisexual friend Nancy often fared little better. However, her coming out story was treated with seriousness and delicacy. The infamous Sweeps Week Lesbian Kiss between Roseanne and Nancy's then-girlfriend was even used as an opportunity for Roseanne to confront some internalized homophobia - this in an episode that aired three years before Ellen DeGeneres' coming out story all but destroyed her career.
  • The gay storyline involving Todd on Coronation Street. Yes, it involved a previously established straight character seemingly changing his sexuality and carrying on an affair behind his girlfriend's back. However it still portrayed Todd sympathetically, any hostility towards him was about the fact that it was an affair (rather than it being with another man) and it eventually resulted in the entire pub standing up for Todd against Les Battersby's homophobia. This was in 2003 and was one of the first times a gay storyline had ever been done in British soaps. There was a mountain of controversy over having gay characters at all. Todd remained a series regular for at least a year, during which another gay character was introduced (and they weren't paired together). Todd was most definitely a trail blazer for the very popular Sophie and Sian pairing that followed.
  • Willow and Tara's relationship early on Buffy the Vampire Slayer reeks of Hide Your Lesbians. The network was incredibly strict on what the couple were allowed to be shown doing, the writers having to use magic as a metaphor for lovemaking. The two didn't even get to kiss on screen until they had been together for over a year. And that's not to mention the Unfortunate Implications of Willow's No Bisexuals approach. However it was a groundbreaking success for lesbians on television. The two weren't given a Gay Aesop or Positive Discrimination; they were treated as simply another couple on the show. Likewise after the show moved to a different network, they were allowed to be shown kissing and sharing a bed a lot more. This again was shocking, as lesbian couples on TV had been primarily known as affectionate rather than sexual. Just compare the evolution of Tara's popularity. When Willow chose her over Oz, fans exploded and wrote such nasty things about Amber Benson that she nearly quit the show. Two years later when Tara was killed off, Joss Whedon received death threats for letting her go.
  • In 1961 Rod Serling wrote The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "The Big Tall Wish" and cast black actors in all the major roles, which was completely unheard of at the time. Several future episodes followed suit and cast black actors in what would nowadays be considered "token black" roles, but back then, seeing black people on TV was so rare that even token inclusion was considered revolutionary.
    • In the fifth season, the episode "The Encounter" portrays a psychologically escalating confrontation between a Japanese-American man and a white veteran of the Pacific theater. The episode definitely contains some racially problematic elements (and was kept of out syndication for decades as a result), it's also an impressively open and nuanced portrayal of the reality and impacts of racism in America, to an extent that's quite impressive for 1964.
  • Home Improvement is, in many ways, a standard sitcom about a family where the dimwitted husband constantly has to apologize to his Closer to Earth wife about whatever screw-up he's done. But on a closer inspection, Tim is a loving husband and father and his conflicts with Jill are more about genuine miscommunication between genders than being irresponsible or selfish (most of his DIY disasters come from trying to make Jill's life easier). The show received loads of fan letters praising the show for how well it represented marital arguments, and on multiple occasions Jill realizes that the way she treats Tim sometimes facilitates his behavior or she makes her own mistake and has to apologize to him.
  • Ally McBeal aired an episode in 1997 featuring a transgender character named Stephanie. She is well-developed and largely sympathetic, Ally gets her pronouns right for most of the episode even when talking to other people about her, and she is distinguished from a Drag Queen or cross-dresser and actually identified as suffering gender dysphoria, marking one of the first times that term was used on primetime television. Unfortunately, for all the episode got right, it checked quite a few boxes for negative trans representation: The treatment recommended by a doctor for her gender dysphoria is to embrace her birth sex and live as a man (which, for the record, was a largely discredited stance even at the time), she's played by a cis male actor, her character is a sex worker, and ends up murdered by the end of the episode because of her gender identity, which are two of the most unfortunate (and unfortunately true-to-life) tropes regarding trans characters.
  • Shaka Zulu is a South African TV miniseries that aired in 1986, during the later years of apartheid. Despite that fact and the show's 19th century historical setting, it features a predominantly Black cast, depicts European colonialism in a not-so-flattering manner; and the titular protagonist is a fully fleshed-out and (semi-)sympathetic character, even despite his moral ambiguity and more horrifying traits.
  • Friends is starting to attract this label. When viewed through the lens of the late New Tens, the show's treatment of LGBT people (transgender especially), its rigidly-defined 'acceptable' masculinity and its lack of ethnic diversity is starting to draw criticism. However, considering its beginnings in the early 1990's, the complete lack of malicious homophobia from either the characters or the show itself is remarkable, with Ross's ex-wife Carol and her wife Susan always portrayed in a positive light. Considering that in the USA, same-sex marriage was not legalised nationwide until over a decade after the show ended, the fact that an episode with a Carol and Susan's lesbian wedding aired in the second season with not a single character note  objecting handily demonstrates the show's progressive-for-the-time credentials.
    • The criticism of the shows handling of 'traditional masculinity' is definitely earned, in episodes such as "The One With Joey's Bag", where Joey is mocked throughout the episode for wearing a 'man's bag', which the others all call a woman's purse. However in some episodes where, for example, Ross is uncomfortable with his son playing with a Barbie or Rachel hiring a male nanny to care for Emma, the show makes it clear that Ross is the one with the problem and that his issues are down to his own insecurities, such as when he used to get mocked for dressing like a girl as a child or his father mocking him for not playing sports 'like a real boy'.
    • This article by The Mary Sue describes other progressive moments in the series.
  • Much like Friends, The Golden Girls has some elements that don't age terribly well. For example, the heavily stereotyped and often unrealistic portrayal of Dorothy and Sophia's Italian heritage and Rose's Scandinavian roots, the uncomfortably frequent tone-deafness on race and Phil note  being treated almost entirely as a running joke for his cross-dressing right up until the episode dealing with Dorothy's efforts to reconcile Sophia with his widow after his death can all be uncomfortable in hindsight. Nonetheless, the series consistently championed inclusive values and was often noticeably ahead of its time. Not surprisingly, Golden Girls ages very well on gender and seniors' issues, but the series also features generally sympathetic portrayals of, among others, a main character's lesbian friend, another main character's gay brother, homeless people, an interracial marriage with a twenty-year age difference, a main character facing an AIDS test, an undocumented immigrant and a transgender man. Particularly noteworthy is that despite debuting almost a full decade earlier and having a significantly older cast, the series isn't all that far behind Friends in its treatment of LGBT people: they don't appear as often and there are a couple Camp Gay stereotypes played for laughs, but the gay and lesbian characters who do get major plotlines in their episodes are portrayed very sympathetically, often to deliver an Aesop against homophobia, and the one transgender character is portrayed quite matter of factly. The Golden Girls even had an episode revolving around a same-sex wedding five years before the abovementioned Friends example, although in this case the wedding itself is unseen and Blanche is initially uncomfortable with her brother marrying another man despite having mostly come to terms with his orientation in a previous episode, but the other main characters are accepting of the idea from the get-go (taken together, "Sister of the Bride" and "The One With the Lesbian Wedding" make an interesting case study in how rapidly attitudes towards LGBT people were changing in The '90s).
  • Whose Line Is It Anyway? is a bit of a Downplayed example, at least for the U.S version. The ability for the actors to improve as quickly and hilariously as they did made the show appealing for years after it ended, but many of the jokes simply do not fly well by modern standards. Various jokes like being gay treated as quirky/funny, transgender being used for comedy, or elements like Colin outright groping his fellow comedians for a joke simply do not fly by today's standards. The Downplayed element of it however was that because the show was improv comedy between friends, viewers understood that there was not any ill intent, and the fact the show started in the 1990's meant there was not as much acceptance as there was today for certain subjects the show used for comedy. The result is that the show's older seasons are still seen as hilarious and funny despite the out of date views, with the revival making an effort to avert this issue by being more open and sensible about the subject matter.
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show: In the season 3 episode "My Brother's Keeper", Phyllis tries to fix her visiting brother up with Mary and then suspects him of being romantically interested in Rhoda. At the end of the episode, she learns that her brother is gay. She reacts to this by being relieved that him being gay means that he won't be in a relationship with Rhoda. However, it's likely the first TV episode in which a character is unambiguously happy to find out a relative is gay.
  • Galavant has a satirical In-Universe case. In the second season, Galavant and King Richard find that while Richard has been away from his home kingdom the people have reinvented it as a democracy. Of course, it's hardly what could be called a fair democracy, since tons of people get excluded from voting (including women, gays, the poor, lepers, people of color, redheads, suspected witches, and communists), but Galavant notes that it's still very progressive for the Middle Ages.
  • The original run of Will & Grace, which lasted between 1998-2006, is pretty tame compared to most post-2010 portrayals of LGBTQ+ characters on TV. Detractors can easily point to the fact that Grace's relationships are much more likely to take place on-screen than Will's, and that despite the premise of the show there were only four scenes featuring same-sex kisses in eight seasons (five if you count one between Grace, who was straight, and Karen). Add in casual transphobia Played for Laughs; the creators' refusal to accept bisexuality as a valid identity; and the fact that there were no openly LGBTQ+ actors in the main cast at the timenote  — and it's easy to overlook how progressive the show was for the late nineties. Having not just one but two gay male leads in a prime time network sitcom was completely groundbreaking in 1998, and that Will in particular was not particularly stereotypical made him pretty much unique among gay male characters on mainstream TV up to that point. Some fans have also praised the fact that Will and Jack's relationship remained (mostly) platonic throughout the show's run, demonstrating that two gay men could be good friends without sex being involved; though others counter that not developing on hints that they have feelings for each other allowed the show to maintain its But Not Too Gay presentation of same-sex romance.
    • The 2017-2020 revival of the show, which ran for three seasons, revels in its ability to address a lot of the things the creators either weren't allowed to do originally — such as have Jack kiss his boyfriend casually in the first episode, and continue to show gay couples being physically affectionate without it being a huge deal; and show how their own views have progressed over time — such as finally confirming Karen to be bisexual, as well as introducing a bisexual male character who isn't assumed to be "really either straight or gay" (which was the controversial premise of an episode early in the original run).
  • Torchwood: With representations of bi+ people and same-sex couples on TV more common than they were in 2006, it's easy to forget how groundbreaking it was at the time to have a sci-fi show aimed at general audiences with a Cast Full of Gay where Everyone Is Bi. More recent criticisms have focused on the fact that the show's Kill 'Em All attitude unfortunately inevitably lead to multiple cases of Bury Your Gays; that Gwen's bisexuality was only ever clarified by Word of God; that Owen was only ever shown with men in questionable and creepy situations; and that Tosh and Ianto are both shown to be wracked with guilt over their sole If It's You, It's OK same-sex love interests. Jack's portrayal has probably aged the best — his omnisexuality is portrayed quite fairly, with clear indications that he experiences consistent attraction to multiple genders; and after a few early accusations of him being But Not Too Bi, his main romantic relationship for most of the show's run ended up being with a man. However, at the time it was extremely rare for a show to have multiple LGBTQ+ characters and relationships without it being the focus of the story (i.e. not a soap opera or realistically portrayed drama); to be aimed at a general audience (i.e. not produced specifically with the LGBTQ+ community in mind as the primary consumers); to have LGBTQ+ characters in a piece of mainstream media written and portrayed by LGBTQ+ creators (Jack's actor John Barrowman and show-runner Russell T Davies are both openly gay); or to simply acknowledge that any sexual orientation other than straight or gay even exists.
  • 'Allo 'Allo! has Lt. Gruber, a Camp Gay stereotype who is the butt of many Queer People Are Funny jokes, where the mere fact that he has a crush on René is often treated as inherently funny simply due to the genders of those involved. The show's ending also has him marry Helga and have children with her, which can be seen as gay erasure. But back in The '80s when the show first started airing, simply having a character who is unambiguously attracted to another man, and who is portrayed sympathetically, was VERY progressive.
  • In the Saved by the Bell episode "Running Zack", his teacher blasts him for his class presentation about Native Americans that consisted of Screech stomping around and acting in an offensively stereotypical fashion. When Zack redoes the presentation after meeting with an actual Native American, this time he does it properly. . .decked out in Native American regalia. This would be considered incredibly offensive today—Zack's actor has personally apologized for it—but his teacher chewing him out for the first presentation and him sincerely taking it seriously the second time is still resonant.


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