Filling the void: what to watch when Torchwood isn’t on!?

Let’s face it, folks, there’s not much in the way of bisexuality on television these days.  A few queer-themed shows, such as The L Word, once had a bisexual presence, though most don’t include us at all, and a few mainstream, predominantly heterosexual programmes occasionally have gay and lesbian characters, but rarely bisexual ones.  We were thrilled when we first saw Torchwood, were we not?  The blatant lack of sexual boundaries, not just by Jack but by pretty much everyone on the show, was refreshing to us as a community unused to seeing anything even remotely resembling ourselves represented on television, much less on a show where virtually every single character had at least some bisexual tendencies.  An omnisexual action hero was fantastic.  But Torchwood is on hiatus and apart from watching the DVD boxed set over and over again, as thrilling as that is, we’ve little else to take its place.  So how do we fill the void in absence of our beloved sci-fi show?

Well, there is something else out there to fill the gaps between seasons of Torchwood.  That is, if you aren’t bothered by the fact that it’s a soap opera aimed primarily at teenagers.  Yep, I’m talking about Channel Four’s Hollyoaks.  In 2007, the love story between gay teenager John Paul McQueen and his bi-curious straight best friend Craig Dean made Hollyoaks a favorite among teenage girls and gay boys alike, and many adults as well, and internationally popular via such media as YouTube.  Those two guys are gone, and so are two more gay male characters who were John Paul’s other love interests on the show during his stint in Hollyoaks village, but even before John Paul graced the screen on Hollyoaks, there was another character – outspoken, brazen, cross-dressing, very openly bisexual character, Kris Fisher.  Kris has had the odd girlfriend or boyfriend here or there, but what impresses me more about the storyline of Kris, apart from his openness about his bisexuality, is that the storyline on Hollyoaks gets to be much richer and more in-depth than the very nice but also very brief things we get out of Torchwood.  Now, it is not my intention here to compare Hollyoaks to Torchwood, but I do want to point out that, with Hollyoaks, a soap opera that runs five days a week, there is much more opportunity to explore more facets of any given character’s story, and to have much more complex stories for their characters.  With Kris, in the two years I’ve been watching the show, he’s had girlfriends, he’s had a boyfriend, he’s dealt with coming out to his family and friends from his hometown (which he came to Hollyoaks to escape), and he’s dealt with his brother’s homophobia.  He’s had entire story lines that had absolutely nothing to do with his sexuality whatsoever, and he’s had ones where it’s an incidental part of the story.  And he’s got a storyline brewing now with what could, depending on the perspective from which you approach it, be either a love triangle or a potential threesome with two of the other characters on the show.

Which brings me to my next point – Kris isn’t the only bisexual in the village.  There’s also the buff but not-very-brainy Ravi Roy, who first made his bisexuality known a few months ago.  Ravi has been in an on-again/off-again relationship with the very outspoken, intelligent, and non-conformist Nancy Hayton, though he’s not told her he’s bisexual despite the fact that she’s probably the most open-minded woman in the entire cast of characters.  Ravi’s not out as bisexual to most of the village, though there are one or two on the show who know.  His parents and siblings are also characters on the show, and so they add another complicated dimension to his storyline.

As you might expect, the story lines of these two bisexual characters has begun to intersect as Kris has slept first with Nancy during one of her off-again moments with Ravi, and then with Ravi after a disappointment by Nancy.  With Kris also playing the role of confidante and matchmaker helping Nancy and Ravi to mend their relationship when it’s clear they both have stronger feelings for each other than they do for Kris, the fact that he still has feelings for both of them will create more complications, to say the very least.  Whether it’s going to end up being a love triangle or a threesome, I’m not sure, and of course, if they don’t handle it well, it could paint bisexuals in a rather negative light, but for now I’m just happy to see bisexuality represented at all.

Mind you, even without the John Paul and Craig storyline on the show, the Kris-Ravi-Nancy triangle isn’t the only bit of bi on Hollyoaks at the moment.  During the recent Hollyoaks Later (what they do when they want to show things too juicy for pre-watershed hours), which aired the last week of November 2008, two of the heterosexual female characters, Zoë Carpenter and her best friend, Sarah Barnes, had a drunken night and slept with one another.  To complicate matters, at the time, Zoë was in a relationship with Sarah’s father, Mike.  The next morning, Sarah was reeling with shame, Zoë with guilt, and both of them resolved not to speak of it.  It did significant damage to their friendship, and after it was revealed to Mike what had happened, split up Zoë and Mike, as well as prompting Mike to stop speaking to Sarah altogether.  The entire village now knows what happened, and so the repercussions for Sarah and Zoë are just starting to be felt.  It will be interesting to see whether the same-sex feelings they explored during their drunken night will translate into more same-sex dabbling for one or both of them.

I know it’s just a teenage soap opera, but it can do what Torchwood can’t – it can explore the stories of the characters at a much more in-depth level than a 13-week show like Torchwood can, and at the very least, it makes for a bit of juicy entertainment in between seasons of Torchwood.  Hollyoaks has its bi-curious girls, two bisexual men in a bit of a triangle with a girl they both dig, and the families and other friends of the characters there to add a dimension of complexity as well.  On the other hand, on Torchwood, no one on the show ever has to say the word bisexual because sexual fluidity is just taken as a given, existing outside of the boundaries of heteronormative reality.  Both are things rarely seen on other television programmes elsewhere, regardless of whether those programmes are queer or heterosexually oriented, and it’s so refreshing to find them on television programmes that are both mainstream and popular.  And Hollyoaks, at the very least, provides a bit of interim bi television viewing until we get Torchwood back again, and complex, if typically soap-opera, story lines to go with it.  I’ll certainly be watching it if, for nothing else, to make sure that they’re treating bisexuality appropriately and not feeding into negative stereotypes about us through their treatment of the current story lines.  I hope not to be disappointed.

Brandi Skipalis