For someone glancing at Netflix’s homepage, it would seem that the streaming service supplies a wide array of queer content; however, the cancellation of their recent shows has drastically changed this landscape. It seems that just as a queer relationship starts to unfold, the show will somehow be canceled before its prime, even if it’s outrageously popular with viewers. While concessions have to be made during a pandemic, the question remains: Netflix, why are queer shows the first on the chopping block?
Arguably the most impactful of these cancellations has been that of “I Am Not Okay With This,” a coming-of-age sci-fi show cancelled in August. Even though the show rose to number one on Netflix’s charts the week it was released, it was one of the first to go when it came time for the network to save money; apparently, someone had decided that even if the show was successful, one season was enough. On the same day, “The Society,” another teen drama beloved for its deaf and gay character — which had just set the stage for a same-sex relationship in its promised second season — was also canceled. At the time, the cancellation of both of these shows sparked noticeable outrage on Twitter.
Even more recent premiers, such as “Teenage Bounty Hunters,” aren’t immune to this phenomenon; its renewal was not even entertained more than a month after the show’s premiere in August. Likewise, shows with supporting queer storylines don’t appear to be safe, as the Emmy-winning female-driven dramedy “GLOW” was canceled Oct. 5 even after it was promised a fourth season, ending the show on a massive cliffhanger.
All of these shows have one common denominator: They displayed a queer storyline that was just starting to blossom, and then, despite their popularity, they were axed.
While this recent decline in queer content could be chalked up to the current circumstances of producing media in a pandemic, this pattern doesn’t seem to be new for Netflix. In March 2019, the critically-acclaimed comedy “One Day at a Time,” praised for both its lesbian and nonbinary representation, was canceled by the platform in its fourth season — only to be picked up by Pop TV the next year because of the show’s widespread popularity. Similarly, the show “Everything Sucks!” was praised for its young female queer representation, but canceled after only one season, sparking massive fan outrage.
For fans of these shows and queer people alike, this can feel nothing less than frustrating. Considering its widespread popularity, Netflix could be the first exposure to queer media for many people, especially the teens to whom many of these shows are aimed. Seeing queer stories as the focus of a popular show and not just on the periphery is monumental, yet the absence of queer stories can take away that experience. For a network that once seemed so inclusive, touting long runs of inclusive shows such as “Orange Is the New Black,” there seems to be little queer-centered original content left after these cancellations.
Regardless of the reasoning behind it, all of these cancellations send one definitive message to viewers — Netflix is okay with queer representation, as long as it doesn’t take away from standard heterosexual content. Cringeworthy romantic comedies, devoid of substance, are allowed multiple iterations, yet queer stories are somehow struck down as soon as they begin to bloom.
For a company that seems to be looking to replicate the success of more creative shows such as “Stranger Things,” canceling queer-centered content intended for a similar audience only does the platform a disservice in the long run as many of its most popular shows come to a close. While the streaming giant was once praised for its variety of niche content, it becomes easy to see how its tendency to put queer stories on the back burner might even be its downfall, especially if fans begin to look elsewhere for unique and inclusive content.
If the pandemic has given us an accurate look at Netflix’s priorities, then it seems the company only values queerness when it is looking to experiment. For Netflix, queer-centered content serves as a means of casting its net, trying to capture as wide of a range of audiences as they can. It’s just a shame that out of all their audiences, Netflix seems to value queer people and their stories the least, ending queer stories first when times are tough.