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gemstones-shadows.jpg

Are These Two Shows in a Queer Coupling Race?!

By Chris Revelle | TV | July 27, 2023 |

By Chris Revelle | TV | July 27, 2023 |


gemstones-shadows.jpg

If it’s not evident from the last time I wrote about the delightful vampire sitcom What We Do in the Shadows, I’m generally looking out for what I colloquially refer to as Gay Stuff aka queer content. What can I say? When you’ve been given cis-het media as the default, it really builds an appetite for something new. That’s not to say hetero romance is bad or anything; it’s fine! It’s just that you can throw a stone and hit 500 shows and movies about that. Gay Stuff is rarer but getting less rare these days, which is a wonderful thing. In fact, I’m wondering if we’re in a particularly big moment for Gay Stuff: two great and beloved shows might just be building to a queer coupling at the same time!

As I mentioned in the Shadows piece linked above, it looks, to my eyes, like long-suffering familiar Guillermo is being paired with his vampire master Nandor. Are my eyes wishful and eager for this? Sure, but I feel the evidence is compelling between the season’s central conflict being arranged around their relationship and how very not-a-big-deal queerness is on that show. Gizmo is officially out of the closet as of last season and Nandor experienced jealousy when Gizmo was dating Freddy. That Nandor’s jealousy mutated into an apparent attraction and fondness for Freddy feels like icing on the cake. Say what you will about their viability as a couple, I’m betting it’s going to happen, and I welcome the development.

The rival of Shadows in slow-burn queer coupling is, of course, The Righteous Gemstones. Kelvin and Keefe have had evident sexual and romantic tension from the very first episode, and throughout the show’s run, I’d settled into the assumption that we’d leave their apparent love-that-dare-not-speak-its-name in the subtext as a joke. It may speak to some restraint on the part of the writers that they let this build up for so long, allowing this budding queer love to be suggested by long hugs, held gazes, and erotic fire-dancing. The third season has been prodding their relationship much harder in general with so, so many shots of them surrounded by dildos, the very charged conversation about bringing sausage dip to a “cousins night,” and the break-up tone that accompanied Keefe’s exit from the Gemstone compound.

After I wrote that Shadows could beat Gemstones to the punch on getting their gays together, it felt as if the Danny McBride-led comedy heard me when I watched the episode “For Out of the Heart Comes Evil Thoughts.” In it, we see Keefe and Kelvin grapple with their separation. Kelvin shows up at the carpentry place where Keefe works and mocks Keefe’s new line of work because he wants to reconnect but doesn’t know how. You can see Kelvin’s regret and confusion in the moment; he seems unsure of what he wanted from the exchange, just that he wanted to re-engage. Kelvin covers this with the usual Gemstone bluster, but you can feel him reaching for Keefe. Seeming to feel the same way, Keefe appears at Kelvin’s youth ministry to gift his former domestic partner a beautifully carved rocking chair bearing Kelvin’s name. Alas, he sees the new youth pastor Taryn (whose “Worm Hugs” sweater and LulaRoe style leggings are a vibe and a half), palling around with Kelvin as they clean up the gym. Keefe feels replaced in Kelvin’s life, and the two men have it out. They don’t resolve things, not until they kiss really. Taryn may be taking Keefe’s place as youth pastor, but Kelvin doesn’t have the vocabulary to express that she’ll never replace Keefe in his heart (yet!).

If this escalation weren’t enough, there’s a strong thematic resonance to their coupling this season. Gemstones’ primary conflict this season revolves around the wounds we inflict on the ones we love, especially family, but the individual character conflicts are slightly different. Judy and BJ are on the rocks due to Judy’s “no-sex affair” with her guitarist. Jesse plainly told Amber that her marriage counseling system is dumb and her “thing” doesn’t matter, his does. Since we see the Gemstone fail-children each in conflict with their significant other, it feels like this confirms a similar relationship between Kelvin and Keefe and portends a romantic resolution. Obviously, Gemstones is a very different show from Shadows, with a different set of rules in its reality. Vampires are effortlessly queer, but megachurch evangelists cannot say the same. There’s a different kind of barrier at play in Kelvin and Keefe’s relationship that brings a different tension. All that being true, it looks like Gemstones is closer than ever to putting Kelvin and Keefe together. Especially in light of the most recent episode in which Keefe joins fellow spouses BJ and Amber to save the Gemstone kids from the Montgomerys.

I, for one, welcome this apparent queer coupling race between Gizmo/Nandor and Kelvin/Keefe. I’ve loved both shows for a long while now and for that time, they kept these couplings on a subtextual level, especially Gemstones. Setting aside my ardent cries of “LET THEM DO GAY STUFF,” the prospect that two well-regarded shows might be taking queer relationships out of the subtext and into the show’s text is exciting! As far as queers in public have come (and as the efforts to drive us back out have intensified), queer representation in media has a ways to go before it’s as normalized as it should be. It won’t set the world on fire, but What We Do in the Shadows and The Righteous Gemstones featuring queer couples is excellent nonetheless. It still feels special when just one piece of popular media features queer love, and it’s doubly so with two! Granted, I could be wrong or see things through wishful eyes, but until we know for sure, I’m here for this queer coupling race on TV. Whoever wins, we win too!

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn’t exist.