When something's off key you know it in your gut. You try and play along but something's not right.
No, I'm not describing a queer person's experience of the world before they come out, I'm talking about the representation of same sex relationships in recent Netflix DNA-drama The One, which I recently hauled myself through against my better judgement and which left me feeling kind of empty yet angry (just what I'm looking for in television) about the way it repped gay people.
The show charts the rise of MatchDNA, a company offering DNA testing to find 'the one' spearheaded by monotone psychopath Rebecca Webb. Along the way Webb becomes a kind of ruthless corporate anti-heroine without any of the heroism as her unethical early decisions lead to a trail of destruction which threaten the company's global success.
My way into watching this show was misunderstanding the trailer and thinking that Rebecca Webb and the sweet-natured DI Kate Saunders following her had a thing (hot) but no, that was a mistake. There is no lesbian storyline between these two, they just happen to accidentally have on-screen chemistry because they hate each other; all the actual LGBTQ+ storylines are shoe-horned in and not only woefully awkward and disingenuous but actively degrading.
Let us begin with DI Saunders, who seems vaguely exasperated to have matched with Spanish beauty Sophia and a bit bored every time she has to speak to her on a video call before she arrives in London to begin what's supposed to be their whirlwind romance. Honestly, this kind of thing makes me hurl myself under a duvet in the same way watching two straight women do porn makes me yell for someone to put them out of their misery. Eventually, Kate meets Sophia's brother and sparks fly - as The Daily Express has it, this development of man and woman being attracted to each-other is like some incredible plot twist that warranted an entire article: 'Kate could not deny there was some kind of spark between herself and Sebastian, and she was left questioning her relationship.' Kate and Sebastian share a forbidden kiss before she goes back to her stilted union with Sophia, where they smile politely at each-other and kiss as if they're in an Lindt advert. Feeling good about yourself yet?
Then there's the debacle between Mark, Hannah and Megan, in which Mark and Hannah are married but Hannah is obsessed with knowing who Mark's real match is, so steals his hair and does a match without his knowledge, finding Megan and incomprehensibly bringing her into their lives so that he can, you guessed it, end up meeting her and fall into fearsome lust with her. And so when it's all going wrong for Hannah and she needs to get Megan out of their lives, she uses that good old secondary school ruse that 'Megan's gay' and made a pass at her so they can't see her anymore, laying the groundwork for another embarrassing scene involving queerness where Megan, frankly offended, screws her face up and insists she's not gay to Mark. Phew!
And then there's the final instance of doing if for the community in the year of our Lord 2021: Rebecca's fake relationship with Ethan, the gay man posing as her match because his partner is dead and he had nothing better to do than conceal his sexuality in order to make a lot of money passionately kissing her at TED talks. Mercifully, poor Ethan eventually meets someone, leaving monomaniac Rebecca a bit sulky, but we never see how that plays out, obviously, bye Ethan.
So for a show that intended (and I support the intention) to include non-heterosexual relationships in its futuristic landscape of love, are we really pushing the envelope if they can be considered a mistake (Kate's really got the hots for Sophia's brother - the DNA match must include siblings, doh!), a lie (I'll get her out of my life by pretending she's a lesbian) and perhaps the biggest face-palm of all, a secret? Could one gay character not be given a storyline that didn't either deny or conceal their sexuality? Is this 1972?
This future isn't bright, it's more old-fashioned than the present, with zero glimmer of genuine queerness or gender non-conformity and a relentless regurgitation of the same tired perspectives on heterosexual unions the queer community have spent our entire lives sitting through, untouched by. The prospect of an ultimate match, blind to the hegemony of the past was perfect ground to elevate stories beyond the binary, and while you can tell they knew this and tried, the result is poorly considered and alienating. I'm definitely not saying all queer characters should be shown in a favourable light; I love a gay villain (I Care a Lot did this magnificently with the Marla (Rosamund Pike)/Fran (Eiza González) love story which we used as source material for the WRITE THAT SCRIPT course). Gay folks don't have to be nice or good (spoiler, we're not), but we certainly shouldn't be like the thing you forgot to buy in the supermarket that you need to rush back for and deal with at the check-out in a bad mood. I'd rather be left on the shelf, waiting for someone who wants me.