Switching It Up With Sitcoms

With the topic of queer representation on TV fresh on my mind this week after just reading Denis M. Provencher’s “Sealed with a Kiss” chapter in The Sitcom Reader, news of a Canadian transgender sitcom called The Switch coming to the United States caught my attention.

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The popular thirty-minute comedy features mostly transgender characters played by transgender actors and will be available to Americans via VOD and digital platforms in August. Although I have not yet seen this sitcom, I already have some thoughts about it that I would like to share with you all.

First, I am a bit confused by the majority of the characters being transgender, as this seems to show a lack of diversity right off the bat. If the sitcom aims to break down conventional standards, shouldn’t it represent an integrated group of various individuals? I am not suggesting that it needs so few transgender characters as in Orange is the New Black, but providing a more diverse crowd would be more realistic, in my opinion. Showing a gang of only transgender people conveys that they only find friendship and support in each other rather than in other straight or queer individuals in the community.

Second, the sitcom is only coming to our country through digital streaming. This means that it will not be available to a huge population on cable television, probably because no mainstream network is prepared to show something like it. Digital streaming on the Internet serves as a space where avant-garde content can be shown without the need for traditional approval and censorship. As a millennial in 2017, I do believe that we live in a post-binary world, but I think that prime-time television will continue to be hesitant to show something like The Switch “so as not to offend the ‘viewing American majority’ or commercial television sponsors” (Provencher).

Finally, after watching the promotional video, it appears that most of the drama for the main character, Sü, has to do with her boyfriend or roommate. This makes me wonder if this sitcom will solely present heteronormative narratives like Will and Grace, instead of venturing into queer issues or tackling representation of transnormative narratives. I hope that the characters are not just reproduced as heteronormative figures, because this conveys that they must participate in heteronormative settings to find a sense of “normalcy” or “belonging”.

As Provencher says, “the production and reproduction of queer images is truly the only means by which to neutralize compulsory heterosexuality”, so sitcoms that represent the lives of transgender people and their lifestyles are needed today to breakdown conventional ideology. Best case scenario, The Switch will pave the way for the “next generation” of commercial television shows that Provencher calls for, ones that will attempt to “open new doors” by bravely attempting to represent non-hetero narratives in more “queerly visible ways”.

Regardless, the characters look quirky and fun, and I definitely want to watch these six episodes when they become available. Check out the article and promotional video here.

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9 Responses to Switching It Up With Sitcoms

  1. mediaphiles says:

    What an interesting step towards breaking down barriers of heteronormativity. I appreciate this step in the right direction. I feel like (like most other types of representations (black/homosexual/etc)) transgender characters first have to be presented in sitcoms in order for them to move to the next step of achieving authenticity. This sitcom will certainly serve as a stepping stone towards showing people of all orientations and genders on television, or streamed on the web. Jordan Stackhouse

  2. mediaphiles says:

    Thank you for bringing this show to our attention! I think your post was thoughtful and attentive to the positive effects this show could have. While there has been limited representation of transgender characters on television, there have been gradual steps towards broader representation on television in recent years. Sparse moments of positive transgender visibility on television exist today and I hope this show will be a solid addition! I am excited to hear that the cast is primarily comprised of transgender individuals, and while they will undergo much closer scrutiny, I hope this show maintains a focus on positive representation!

    – Meghan Barber

  3. mediaphiles says:

    I had no clue about this show, so I am glad you posted about it! I agree with your point about there needing to be a broader representation of sexuality and gender, not a focus on just transgender individuals. Perhaps the producers are trying to gain attention or make up for the lack of representation in the media, but I still think that diversity is key in every sitcom. Diversity allows viewers to respect the show because a large representation of groups speaks to fairness and even unity, as each member on the show would be equally valued. I especially liked how you addressed that this show may imply that gender non-binary individuals only find friendship with other members of this community. I think that this is realistic in the sense that these people want connections with those who truly understand them; however, I agree that it would be better to have the characters have a multiplicity of relationships. This not only would be more realistic, but it would also set an example of how we should be accepting and open to all– by demonstrating friendships between all identities, the show could teach us how easy it is to love those who are different than we are. I hope that it still does! Great post!

    Alex Buter

  4. mediaphiles says:

    This is a great post! I really enjoyed learning about this new sitcom centered around a transgender person. Like you mentioned, it reminded me of our recent chapter study. This is interesting though because Transparent is a show that centers around a 70 year old transgender person, and this is one of the first shows centered around a young transgender person. I am interested to see how it does and how it will be compared to Transparent in the near future. Good job!

    -Kat Huber

  5. mediaphiles says:

    The first part of your analysis makes me think of Master of None and how many of the show’s critics point to the fact that the show has an incredibly diverse group of core characters but fails to point out and recognize how the diversity of their friend group is irregular in the United States. Though I haven’t seen this show, I do hope that the show recognizes and makes it an emphasis to point out how uncommon a group of solely transgender friends is. I do agree with your point that a big cable network would likely not pick up this show, but it should be noted that international shows that are licensed in the US are almost exclusively on streaming platforms as cable networks in the US are focusing on original programming to build their brand in a cluttered media ecosystem instead of pay for licensed content. I do think that it is a good idea for this show to air on a streaming service in the US, as streaming subscribers skew younger than cable TV subscribers, and are likely to be more progressive.

    -Griff O’Brien

  6. mediaphiles says:

    I have not been introduced to this show before, but I really enjoyed your post about it! Your first concern I feel is the strongest point of your argument. Representing all the characters as transgender is extremely unrealistic. This immediately made me think of people who go to rehab and come back. Individuals do so well in rehab, no matter he circumstances, because they are often excluded from the real world in some setting unrealistic to what the real life is. That is why so many people relapse when they come back from rehab, because they can cope well with it in a utopia world, but don’t know how to live with it in the real world. If this show aimed to depict a representation of the real world, I agree with you that more diversity is necessary. Also, if the show will only be available online, it is arguably not force that will reach the larger public. Online shows are viewed only be people who take time to seek out the show online and go through the hassle of streaming it. Until a show like this reaches the wider audience by being broadcasted by the main network and cable channels, it will not be a fore affecting out population at large. I will have to go watch a trailer to form an opinion about the show myself. I appreciate your hesitation and analytical approach while viewing the show for the first time. Great points made in your post about whether this show is truly promoting a transgender life, with a lot of the drama and conflict coming from heteronormative narratives like we are used to. -Sam Ostmann

  7. marymdalton says:

    Have not heard of this series! The paragraphs in the middle get a little long. Break them up a bit. References to class work are not a good idea for a public blog — only readers from your class will get the references.

  8. mediaphiles says:

    I haven’t heard of the series, but it will be interesting to see how this plays out! Good job presenting its possible strengths and flaws!
    -Sam Bishop

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