Nico Lang notes the cancellation of Sean Saves the World, the NBC sitcom starring Sean Hayes, the actor who played swishy, Cher-worshipping Jack on Will and Grace. Hayes played a slightly toned-down version of Jack on his show. Lang mourns the loss of TV's effeminate gay men:
But in [Sean Saves the World] getting (rightly) cancelled by NBC, audiences weren't just leaving '90s sitcoms behind. They were leaving behind the Jack McFarlands, a relic of the Queer as Folk era of gay TV, when a show like Queer as Folk (for all its whitewashed issues) could give us three effeminate gays in its lead cast: Emmett, Ted and Justin. The recent television movement has been a push toward post-gay representation, creating male characters who just so happen to be gay. On the critically lauded Brooklyn Nine-Nine, that's the entire point of Andre Braugher's Captain Holt. His sexuality is as inscrutable as the rest of his persona, a hard-ass who has learned to blend in to survive in a homophobic workforce. The recent new HBO addition Looking was celebrated for the same thing. Although many critics chided it for being dull (which it is), defenders of the show found it liberating that gay characters got to be boring on television just like everyone else.
However, there's a certain type of character that gets the privilege to be post-gay, guys whose sexuality doesn't stand out in the same way that Jack's did. In order to get on television today, gay characters are butching it up, becoming like Captain Holt to prove they can hang with the boys, camouflaged with masculinity. Looking's characters are all fit hipster bros who call each other "dude" a lot. On the recently departed Happy Endings, the schlubby, hairy Max acted as a deconstruction of gay stereotypes. It was a running joke that Max was "less gay" than the show's straight dudes, much like gay characters on Nashville and GCB. This might be what it takes to fit in, but it looks awfully heteronormative.
But effeminate gay men haven't disappeared from television. They've migrated over to Logo and Lifetime. You'll find them on reality television shows—on RuPaul's Drag Race and Project Runway and Under the Gunn. And you know what?
Television's new effeminate gay men are a huge improvement over television's old effeminate gay men.
The gay men competing on Drag Race and Project Runway are effeminate and swishy and hilarious—but they are also ambitious and competitive and talented. Will and Grace's Jack was a swishy loser who, unlike the more masculine (and less funny) Will, couldn't hold down a job and was clearly deluded about his own talents. Jack needed his straight friends and his straight-acting gay friend to rescue him or to protect him from reality—the reality being that Jack was talentless. Funny, yes, and fun. But those were Jack's only gifts, his only redeeming qualities, the only reason to keep him around.
The swishy gay men on Under the Gunn or Drag Race aren't sitting around waiting to be rescued. And reality TV's swishy gay men have one other thing over swishy gay men on sitcoms: they're real. They're three-dimensional, living, breathing human beings. They can be funny, yes; humor is a weapon that effeminate gay men have long used to deflect and defeat the hostility they encounter. But the swishy gay men on Logo and Lifetime aren't just funny. They're fucking talented. And they have real lives and real goals and the ability to realize them. Another difference: effeminacy on sitcoms isn't just code for unemployable loserdom, it's code for unfuckable eunuch. Project Runway and Under the Gunn, in contrast, have given us a string of effeminate gay sex symbols, from Daniel Vosovic to Jack Mackenroth to Sam "Sassy Sam" Donovan.
Personally I would much rather spend a half an hour in the workroom watching Under the Gunn's Sassy Sam construct a jacket—or in the Interior Illusions Lounge knocking back drinks with the cast of Drag Race—than a half an hour watching Jack try and fail to get his one-man show off the ground on Will and Grace again.