The Unicorn Scale: The Bisexual

By Jennie Roberson

January 01, 2019

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Well hey there, readers! Yes, I know that is far more casual than the way Jane Eyre would write to her readership, but that’s not my style. I’m no Bronte. I’m a California girl who has to remind herself not to wear flip-flops to meetings. That level of laid-back bleeds into everything, including my writing style. But it seems to serve me well enough. So. Hey there!

Today we are focusing on the new Hulu series The Bisexual (2018), a drama originally broadcast on Britain’s Channel 4 to great acclaim. This drama focuses on the life of Leila (Desiree Akhavian, who also created the series), a Middle Eastern woman living in modern London and reeling from a breakup. When her girlfriend Sadie (Maxine Peake) proposes to her and Leila proposes a break instead, each character goes on a surprising journey. For another great bi story by Desiree Akhavian check out her movie Appropriate Behavior.

As with pretty much all of my reviews, there will be SPOILERS, so please heed that very clear heads up. Oh, and if this is your first time around these parts and you have no idea what I mean by the scale metric, please feel free to give the original article a perusal here.

WHAT I LIKED:

First and foremost, while Leila may be confused about her burgeoning sexuality, she’s still not afraid to use the word. And neither is the series, since it’s literally the title. So that is nicely ticked off the list right from the jump.

Really, though, there was so much to love and identify with through the season with Leila. She has awkward sex. She has to work through a lot of internalized biphobia, which comes out both in hiding her own desires and explaining why her lesbian identity is hard to let go of since she fought so hard for it. And she makes believable mistakes in her foray into bisexuality. She is totally a messy bi, and that doesn’t mean she isn’t smart or capable. She is just figuring things out when she never really had a model for seeing what bisexuality looks like. I truly felt for Leila while she explained why she always thought of the bisexual orientation as a pejorative and invalid one, because that was so much of my experience growing up and going through my 20s. Especially since the cadre of lesbians she runs with are very biphobic, and her straight acquaintances/love interests don’t always understand, and now think she is just straight. And while being queer is initially a conflict for Leila, she works through a lot of that and works on untangling her internal demons around the idea of queerness. And that is something I rarely see on TV, if ever. And definitely not as the crux of a story.

I also love how The Bisexual likes to turn our expectations on their heads. After her breakup, Leila moves in with a straight flatmate, Gabe (Brendon Gleeson). Romantic conventions would lead us to think that he will be Leila’s new male paramour, but that idea is quickly nipped in the bud. And I love that, both as a literate audience member and a writer, because the narrative kept surprising me. That doesn’t happen often.

Gabe and Leila

Also, there are people of color all over this story, including lead Akhavan; it is nice to see a London that actually reflects some of its actual demographics and isn’t a Richard Curtis movie (much as I love his stuff).

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE

This is not a perfect show by any stretch. It takes a few episodes for the show to find both its pacing and tone, which can be tricky for some viewers since it straddles the genres of drama and comedy, which makes it a bit awkward to enjoy at first blush. And not all of the characters are likeable – Gabe is sleeping with one of his students, that same student also blows hot and cold, and other characters make hurtful moves and use overly harsh words. But they also felt very realistic, like I could run into any of them at a store or bar in London. So the verisimilitude of the characters softens their edges a bit. It doesn’t make them palatable all the time, but really, who is, at the end of the day?

THE RATING

While The Bisexual wobbles from time to time, it brings bi+ representation to the screen in a mostly realistic way – especially since not everyone realizes they are queer while they are in high school. There were moments my heart seized with recognition as Leila explored and talked about her sexuality, and that is enough for me to recommend it to anyone who is struggling – or anyone who remembers what that experience was like.

four unicorns

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