Queer Representation on TV: Michael Grassi

Photo courtesy of Michael Grassi
Photo courtesy of Michael Grassi

By: Bridget Liszewski and Megan Haas

When it comes to queer representation on television there will always be a special place for the supernatural series Lost Girl, which ended earlier this year after five seasons. The show centered around Bo (Anna Silk), a succubus, but also had something rarely seen on television — a bisexual lead character. Throughout the course of the series Bo spent time in relationships with both men and women, but ultimately ended up getting a happy ending with Lauren (Zoie Palmer). Bo and Lauren’s romance felt especially unique given that happy endings have been hard to come by as of late for a lot of queer characters, especially queer females.

Television writer Michael Grassi was the showrunner for Lost Girl’s fifth and final season, and he recently joined our Queer Representation on TV series. After spending time writing on Degrassi, he then joined Lost Girl and spent time writing this year on Supergirl’s first season. He now has joined the staff at the CW’s upcoming series Riverdale. Grassi spoke to us about Lost Girl’s sex positive message, the factors that went into the decision behind giving Bo and Lauren a happy ending and how he got emotional writing their final scene.

 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

The TV Junkies: Lost Girl always made it clear that Bo was bisexual. To your knowledge was there a lot of excitement about the LGBT representation on the show in the beginning?

Michael Grassi: Absolutely. Michelle Lovretta, the creator, accomplished something incredible when she introduced Bo–a protagonist we hadn’t really seen on television before. Bo was bisexual, yes, but what stood out to me is that there was no labeling or “coming out” or angst about it. Bo had casual sex and loving relationships with both men and women, both humans and Fae. To me, that kind of fluidity was really refreshing and even today feels ahead of its time. Sexuality and LGBT characters were never an “issue” on Lost Girl. They were celebrated. The series existed in this safe space where characters were allowed to enjoy sex, and their stories were told through a lens void of shame and judgment. Michelle built something really unique and progressive, and I think audiences really responded to that.

TTVJ: Obviously given that she was a succubus, Bo was a very sexual creature. How did you avoid the trope of femme lesbians/femme queer women always being portrayed as very salacious or sexual beings and walk the line so that she was also taken very seriously as a character?

MG: There was a line to walk, yes. The priority was always to make Bo a compelling, complex character. She was tough, vulnerable, fiercely loyal, funny and yes – sexy. But the sex on Lost Girl never felt salacious to us because it was empowering – it was something Bo enjoyed, and because of her supernatural nature, she needed it to survive. The fact that sex made Bo, a succubus, more powerful is just one example of how sex positive this show was. We avoided tropes by putting Bo and her wants front and center. If she wanted to have sex, she owned that, and that was a really empowering trait to watch on screen.

Showcase
Showcase

TTVJ: With Lost Girl being a genre show, did that allow you more freedom with the LGBT stories and characters?

MG: That’s a good question. Before Lost Girl, I was a writer/producer on Degrassi where we had many LGBT characters that led countless stories, including a female to male transgender student, Adam Torres. When we introduced LGBT characters, they became part of the school’s fabric. They had friends, crushes, families, issues (LGBT and non-LGBT related) – Degrassi was an even playing ground for all characters, LGBT and not. Most importantly, we got to tell young audiences that they are not alone. There was a real freedom here to explore sexuality in a grounded way.

Going from Degrassi to Lost Girl was interesting. At Lost Girl, sexual orientation wasn’t an “issue” anymore – the characters could be gay, bi, fluid – and didn’t need to have an earnest conversation about it or label it. I think the fact that the show was genre helped the audience accept this progressive world. And in Lost Girl, you also have Bo’s Fae identity, which stands in as a metaphor for her sexuality. For years, she was on the run, hiding from her true nature. Once she met people like her, or who accept her, she was no longer alone and able to live the life she chooses. In many ways, this is a very Degrassi story. But it’s told in this rich mythology.

TTVJ: Did you guys have any understanding or expectations regarding Bo and Lauren’s relationship when you introduced it or any idea that it’d be so widely embraced?

MG: I wasn’t working at Lost Girl when Michelle introduced the Lauren/Bo storyline. But I remember watching and being a HUGE fan. Not only did the story feel fresh and exciting, but Bo and Lauren’s chemistry was unprecedented. I thought it was especially unique because when the series began, Dyson felt like a real contender for Bo’s love. Then, Lauren came along and opened up this whole other side of Bo that I wasn’t anticipating. Not only was Bo exploring the fact that she wasn’t human, she was always embracing her love and attraction for women. As a viewer, I was hooked. So when Emily Andras [Lost Girl’s showrunner in Seasons 3 and 4] brought me on board, I was thrilled to help write one of the most epic love stories I had seen on television in a long time.

Showcase
Showcase

TTVJ: What was the discussion like when it came for you guys to choose who Bo would end up with on Lost Girl? What factored into the decision to have her end up with Lauren?

MG: In our early brainstorms in that final season, we took a big step back and examined what stories we wanted to tell for Bo — including who she would end up with. To us, Bo and Lauren choosing one another was the only option that felt right. When Bo was first discovering her powers, she killed her boyfriend, Kyle. At that point, Bo never imagined she’d be with a human again. But Lauren changed that for her. Lauren was unafraid of Bo’s power (aka sexuality) and restored Bo’s faith in herself and her ability to love.

The fact that an LGBT couple was front and center was so special to us, but it wasn’t the only reason they ended up together. Their chemistry on screen was unlike anything we had seen before. And despite all the obstacles, we felt in our guts – in Bo’s gut – that they were endgame. We didn’t go as far as marriage, but when writing the last scene between them, I remember typing Bo’s line: “I do.” This was right around the time when many of my LGBT friends were starting to get married. It was an emotional moment for me. I remember thinking to myself: “What if I had seen something like this growing up?” It’s a moment that came from character, but also passed on a powerful message to our fans.

TTVJ: What are the major obstacles and hurdles we still need to overcome regarding LGBTQ representation on television?

MG: We need more!! The more LGBTQ characters we have on screen, the more diversity we can represent within our community. I think it’s time for more LGBTQ leads. That being said, sidekicks are okay, too! We need our LGBTQ characters to be heroes, villains, love interests, best friends. To avoid tropes, the focus needs to be on creating compelling LGBTQ characters. Some of these characters could live on and have happy endings, and others could not. And I believe that’s okay. I know we still have a long way to go, but I think we’re on the right path. Did I just Kanye rant? I’m sorry.

 

Thoughts or comments? Share them below! Read more from our Queer Representation on TV series here.