This year was undoubtedly a packed year for scripted LGBT content. From Netflix to ABC, queer stories permeated every corner of TV. Of course, there were the usually great shows – Orange Is the New Black, How to Get Away With Murder – but this year also delivered even better, unexpected performances.
Here are some of our favorites (in no particular order):
Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
When you’re stealing scenes from Jane Krakowski, you know you’re doing something right. And that’s what Tituss Burgess did as Titus, an unsatisfied, struggling Broadway actor offering his gay, black expertise to his newfound friend and roommate, Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper). Besides, everything is better with Peeno Noir.
Jamie Clayton and Miguel Ángel Silvestre, Sense8
Surprisingly, the best thing about The Wachowskis’ big budget, high concept Netflix series, was a pair of performances from Jamie Clayton and Miguel Ángel Silvestre. A story about interlocking characters and narratives, Clayton and Silvestre shared two of Sense8’s most talked about scenes. The first being a polysexual orgy that was as tantalizing as it was groundbreaking for mixing together gender and sexualities into one orgasmic moment. The other—the show’s most powerful scene—featured Silvestre and Clayton’s characters sharing their coming out stories in the middle of the Anahuacalli Museum in Mexico City, with the latter detailing childhood abuse for being transgender. “That locker room might have made my father the man that he is,” Jamie says, “but it also made me the woman that I am.”
Carrie-Anne Moss, Marvel’s Jessica Jones
In a world full of superheroes, the most interesting character was a power-hungry, lawyer who was cheating on her wife with her blouse-busting secretary. Carrie-Anne Moss played the part to chewy perfection, giving fans so much-needed indifference to all of the Avengers universe mythology that sometimes teetered on exhausting.
Jonathan Groff, Frankie J. Alvarez, Murray Bartlett, Russell Tovey, Raul Castillo, and Lauren Weedman, Looking
Those who griped about the first season of HBO’s Looking were silenced by an excellent second season that saw the lives of three gay guys living in San Francisco become even more complicated and funnier than before. The entire cast — including Raúl Castillo and Russell Tovey, who were bumped on to series regulars — delivered, but if there was one standout, it was Lauren Weedman. The actress ripped through her scenes with a mix of wit and empathy and balanced out all of the neurotic and out-of-control behaviors of the show’s three main characters.
Alexandra Billings, Trace Lysette, and Hari Nef, Transparent
The Amazon series has quickly made itself the place to be for award-winning guest roles, with Anjelica Huston, Bradley Whitford, and Cherry Jones all getting recognized in addition to the show’s main cast, Jeffrey Tambor, Judith Light, and Gaby Hoffmann. But it would be a shame to overlook the contributions from Alexandra Billings and Trace Lysette, who serve as Maura’s multigenerational transgender posse (and educators), delivering some of the show’s funniest moments shared around a kitchen table. And then there’s this season’s breakout star, Hari Nef, who gives a life to the decadence of 1930s Berlin.
Queen Latifah, Bessie
While the film about American blues singer Bessie Smith was flawed, director Dee Rees made an earnest attempt to bring the singer’s life to the screen that was made all the better by Queen Latifah’s performance. The actress seemed to layer ambiguity on top of sexuality and race in a way that channeled her own life in the glass closet. It’s the most out we’ve seen the performer and the probably the most we’ll get from Latifah.
Billy Eichner, Difficult People
Billy Eichner is a difficult person. We’ve seen it on Billy on the Street and his guest starring role on Parks and Recreation, but it’s on the Hulu series that he channels it to comedic perfection. As an aspiring comedian and closeted romantic, Eichner adds some nuance and even more wit to his notoriously reference-filled snappy persona.
Jussie Smollett, Empire
Jussie Smollett is easily the breakout star of Lee Daniels’ surprise TV hit of the year. It’s hard to believe that the show’s first two seasons landed in the same year, giving Smollett plenty of time to add plenty of personality (and sex appeal) to the role of Jamal, a budding gay singer and record mogul. But what the show did best was to help "normalize" gay romantic relationships.