REVIEW: “Visible: Out on Television” (Documentary Series)

Late last year, I purchased a new Apple device, and with it received a free, one year membership of Apple’s then brand new streaming service, AppleTV+. I briefly explored the platform’s wares at the time, but didn’t really find anything of interest.

Until recently, I had all but forgotten about AppleTV+, but this weekend I found myself keen to snuggle down in bed and do some binge watching. After going through my usual streaming apps, I found myself exploring the AppleTV+ platform.

That’s when I found Visible: Out on Television. A five part documentary series produced by Wanda Sykes and Wilson Cruz. It explores the history of LGBTQ representation on American television, from its earliest days of live-to-air broadcasting of shows and events, all the way through to the present day. Given the heavy nature of the content, and clocking in at a total runtime of over 5 hours over 5 episodes, this is not a series to sit and binge in one session. I found myself watching the whole thing over the course of a weekend.

Featuring a combination of archival footage and new interviews with LGBTQ actors, presenters, writers, producers and allies including Ellen DeGeneres, Wanda Sykes, Oprah Winfrey, Neil Patrick Harris, Margaret Cho (just to name a few) the series covers everything from the early days of television; how early activists used TV to get their message across; how TV dealt with the AIDS epidemic; the emergence of genuine LGBTQ representation and the state of representation today.

Similar in concept to the early 1990’s documentary film The Celluloid Closet, which dealt with the history of LGBTQ representation in cinema, Visible: Out on Television is both a history lesson and a hopeful view of the future. But where The Celluloid Closet focused on how and why LGBTQ characters were almost always depicted as figures of fun, villains or objects of pity, Visible: Out on Television seems to take a more generalised view of representation.

I was surprised that, given it’s hefty runtime, the series only covered American TV, and ignored LGBTQ representation on television in other countries. I think a broader approach would have been of benefit, as it would likely have shown just how conservative American television executives were in the past.

Other than that, the series is a fascinating, if slightly long-winded history of LGBTQ representation and recommended viewing to anyone wanting to see the progression of public acceptance of homosexuality and how the media helps to shape both our culture and our identity.

Visible: Out on Television is available exclusively on the AppleTV+ streaming platform.

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