10 TV Shows That Got Bisexuality Right — & 2 That Got It So Wrong

Isobel (Zoe Chao), protagonist of the show Strangers, is in a particularly unique bind. She’s just broken up with her long-term boyfriend, Jamie, because she cheated on him – with a woman. Now, to make the rent, Isobel’s subletting a room in her house, and letting in a whole new host of identity-illuminating hurdles.

Strangers is refreshing for the way it handles a character’s bisexual identity. It’s the antithesis to a common TV phenomenon, as Amy Zimmerman of The Daily Beast encapsulated so well. “Our mainstream media reinforces the notion that bisexuality is either a fun, voluntary act of experimentation or a mere myth through two tried and true tactics: misrepresenting and oversimplifying bisexual characters until they are either punchlines or wet dream fodder, or simply refusing to portray bisexual characters in the first place,” she wrote.

Strangers is part of the new guard of shows depicting bisexuality as a deliberate and legitimate lifestyle, and not a brief foray into self-discovery or something to be swept under the rug. These are the shows that did it right — and a couple that did it wrong.

From Mia Lidofsky & executive producers Beachside and Refinery29, Strangers takes on the tumultuous era of your 20s — to hilarious and sometimes sentimental results. Catch new episodes of Strangers every Monday on Facebook’s new platform, Watch.

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Alex (Olivia Wilde) and Marissa (Mischa Barton) on The O.C. (2003-2007)

During an "off again" patch in Marissa and Ryan's (Benjamin Mckenzie) on-again, off-again relationship, Marissa starts dating a bisexual woman named Alex, who has previously romanced their friend Seth (Adam Brody).

But then Alex and Marissa's relationship starts to crumble, and Alex is made out to be a psychotic, jealous girlfriend who's upset when Marissa runs back to Ryan.

Did The O.C. Get Bisexuality Right? No, it didn't. Showrunners wrapped up the Melissa/Alex storyline quickly and sloppily. Alex was nothing more than a prop for Marissa's self-discovery. Marissa tries bisexuality like a person tries caviar, before putting it back on the table and deciding it's not for her.
Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez) on Grey's Anatomy (2005-present)

Callie's often considered to be one of TV's best depictions of a bisexual individual. When the show introduced the character, Callie identified as straight. Then, she meets Dr. Erica Hahn, who makes her consider another, previously unlocked aspect to her sexuality. Callie's relationship with Erica isn't a brief detour into the land of self-discovery — rather, bisexuality becomes a fundamental part of who she is.

Did Grey's Anatomy Get Bisexuality Right? Yes.
Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgård) on True Blood (2008-2014)

Like most of his vampire brethren on True Blood, Eric Northman’s one sexy, and sexual, guy. Hell, he runs a club called Fangtasia. Eric’s bisexuality is revealed when he sets out to seduce — and then assassinate — fellow vampire Talbot Angelis (Theo Alexander). Eric admits that it’s been a long time since he’s done this.

“With a man?” Talbot asks.

Eric responds no — he hasn't had sex recently with a vampire. Men are a part of his repertoire.

Did True Blood Get Bisexuality Right? Sort of. The element of surprise still exists in the depiction of Eric and Talbot, as if we're supposed to be shocked by their pairing. Later on in the show, the relationship between Tara (Rutina Wesley) and Pam (Kristin Bauer Von Straten) is more fleshed out.
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Tara Thornton (Rutina Wesley) and Pam (Kristin Bauer Von Straten) on True Blood (2008-2014)

This brings us to Tara, another True Blood character whose bisexuality is more prominent. Though she has dated men, and had a lifelong crush on Jason Stackhouse (Eric Kwanten), she also starts a relationship with her vampire-maker, Pam (Kristin Bauer Von Straten).

Did True Blood Get Bisexuality Right? Yes — it was a more complete portrayal of a bisexual character compared to what's depicted with Eric Northman. To quote Pam, "Let bygones, be bygones; bi girls be bi girls."

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Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) on House of Cards (2013-present)

Frank Underwood was America's first bisexual president – not that the public's any the wiser. He and wife Claire enjoy a steamy threesome with ill-fated agent Meechum, while last season saw him giving his personal trainer a very personal White House tour. But for him, sex isn't about intimacy or love. "Everything is about sex. Except sex. Sex is about power," Frank observes.

Did House of Cards Get Bisexuality Right? Yes, the show lets Frank explore his sexuality fully. Still, showrunners are reluctant to "pin him down," or say he's bisexual, propagating some form of bi-erasure in the process. Then there's the problem with Frank's perfect alignment with what TVTropes calls the “Depraved Bisexual.” These characters are characterized by using sex as a “means of manipulation,” and tend to be untrustworthy and “lacking a sense of morality.” He partly goes through people, male or female, because he likes power.
Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) on Orange is the New Black (2013-present)

Piper Chapman has a secret in her past. It's not just that she used to date a drug trafficker – it's that the drug trafficker is a woman. But Piper doesn't identify as bisexual, despite her extensive relationship with Alex Vause (Laura Prepon). She calls herself a "former lesbian," and even Alex calls her "straight."

Piper's explanation: “I like hot girls. I like hot boys. I like hot people. What can I say? I’m shallow.”

Did OITNB Get Bisexuality Right? Orange is the New Black features characters all along the Kinsey scale, including Piper. As the show's proceeded, it's moved away from calling Piper a "former lesbian" — but strangely, has never used the word "bisexual" to describe characters. Some consider this an example of bi-erasure. Vocabulary aside, though, Piper is a nuanced portrayal of a character whose affections aren't limited to a single sex.

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Jaimi King on Bachelor in Paradise (2014-present)

Okay, okay — Bachelor in Paradise is a reality TV show. But we still cringed at the way Jaimi was treated by other contestants when it was her turn to give a date card to someone on the show. Jami, who has been open about dating men and women, was made out to be particularly "wild," a go-to trope for people who are sexually fluid.

"I can’t even really think which direction she might go,” Dominique, another contestant, speculated.

Did Bachelor in Paradise Get Bisexuality Right? No, because, as Refinery29's Sesali Bowen so aptly pointed out, the show made a "spectacle" of Jaimi's sexuality.
James Flint (Toby Stephens) on Black Sails (2014-2017)

It's revealed that the love of pirate captain James Flint's life was a man named Lord Thomas Hamilton (Rupert Penry-Jones), a relationship that's explored with as much nuance and depth as his relationships with women. James and Thomas' relationship also has significant repercussions on the entire narrative of Black Sails.

Did Black Sails Get Bisexuality Right? Yes. In GLAAD's article, "Male Bisexual Representation Is Slowly Changing For the Better on TV," author Raina Deerwater cites Captain Flint as one of the primary examples of this changing TV landscape. James' bisexuality actually has bearing on the narrative. Plus, James isn't the only bisexual character; four of the show's main characters are as well.
Darryl Whitefeather (Pete Gardner) on Crazy Ex Girlfriend (2015-present)

Thank the heavens for Crazy Ex Girlfriend, because we absolutely needed a musical number sung by a middle-aged man educating others on his newfound bisexuality. After getting a divorce from his wife, Darryl finds himself falling for one of the show’s other male characters. He decides to embrace this with a song called “Gettin’ Bi.”

“It’s something I’d like to demystify. It’s not a phase. I’m not confused. I don’t have the gotta choose blues," he sings, before launching into a saxophone solo.

Watch this song for an education, and play it for others whenever you’re tired of explaining yourself.

Did Crazy Ex Girlfriend Get Bisexuality Right? Yes, with bonus points for setting it to music.
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