You know how the old saying goes: ‘You wait ages for a great LGBTQ+ TV show and then a s**tload come along at once’.
Heartstopper was released to a hugely positive reception back in April – making the Netflix Top 10 in 54 countries, earning an immaculate 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and making instant teen sensations out of its lead cast (one of whom has already been cast in Doctor Who).
Just weeks later, the very different but extremely buzzy and expensive-looking bi drama, Conversations with Friends arrived; and in the next few weeks alone we have supernatural teen drama, First Kill, the rebooted Queer as Folk and the final run of Love, Victor all on the horizon.
That’s not even mentioning the absolute riot that is the new Fire Island movie on Disney+, which comes complete with Margaret Cho (!), a re-enactment of Marisa Tomei’s iconic Oscar-winning performance in My Cousin Vinny (!!) and MUNA covering a Britney classic (!!!!!).
Gosh, isn’t it nice to have plenty of mainstream, explicitly queer-led stuff to pick from?
But there’s another little gay treat that deserves all the hype, acclaim and fanfare in the world, and don’t you dare let it get lost in the melee: it’s Channel 4’s new six-parter, Big Boys.
Created, written and narrated by comedian Jack Rooke, it’s the semi-autobiographical story of a university fresher in the early-2010s (played by Derry Girls’ Dylan Llewellyn) moving out, coming of age and dealing with a close family bereavement. He also, notably, has a fish named after his favourite journalist – Alison Hammond.
Getting to grips with his sexuality is a key part of his story, from questioning whether he’s letting his late dad down to receiving helpful guidance on the benefits of a butt plug. But what really makes the show sing and truly unmissable telly is its central friendship; the one between Jack and his new straight housemate Danny (Jon Pointing).
It’s quietly revolutionary: despite initially seeming like your typical womanising, lager-guzzling, ‘oosh-oosh-oosh’-ing lad’s lad, Danny has precisely zero problem with Jack’s orientation and is soon his No1 cheerleader – gamely supporting him through his gay awakening, escorting him to one of his first hook-ups, and learning all the words of the LGBTQIA acronym before even he does.
Lots has been said over the years about the age-old ‘gay best friend’ trope; and when that trope has been subverted (by a gay male lead having a straight best friend), the best friend is often a straight cis female. Here, though, we have the much lesser-seen ‘straight male best friend’ – and not since Maxxie and Anwar on Skins do I remember being so invested in such a partnership outside of the soaps.
From the casual use of the phrase ‘sloppy bottom’ to the magnificently niche pop culture references, it’s full of queer excellence
And Danny is far from a two-dimensional stereotype – in fact, by the end of the series, he’s brought just as much heart and inner turmoil to proceedings as Jack. Rooke writes him perfectly, and without giving anything away, Pointing’s performance actually had me in full-blown tears on more than one occasion.
The supporting cast is just as fab: Camille Coduri plays mum Peggy beautifully, Harriet Webb as cousin Shannon delivers the best Harvester order ever seen on television, Katy Wix is just the right amount of cringe as student union officer Jules, and Izuka Hoyle makes Corinne the kind of perceptive pal every struggling young person needs. Shout-out also to anyone who was ecstatic to see Hollyoaks super-villain-for-the-ages Rhiannon ‘Summer Ranger’ Clements popping up as Mad Debs.
Still, though, it’s a gay-led show, and make no mistake: Big Boys is gay as hell.
From the casual use of the phrase ‘sloppy bottom’ to the magnificently niche pop culture references (Konnie Huq’s stint on The Xtra Factor here, the drama of Paul Cattermole’s S Club 7 exit there), it’s full of queer excellence – Jack may need pal Yemi (a brilliant OIisa Odele) to go over some of the basics, but beyond that, nothing is over-explained or feels watered down for a mainstream audience. You don’t remember Gamu? Tough!
It feels weird to compare Big Boys to the likes of, say, Heartstopper, because apart from ‘being queer’ and ‘being great’, they are very different shows – aimed at different age groups, operating with different tones, made to different briefs (though both contain excellent soundtracks, and both – thanks to Coduri and Olivia Colman – have A+ coming-out scenes).
But Heartstopper’s success proved the sky’s the limit for the popularity of LGBTQ+ projects, and so I sincerely urge – nay demand – anyone who has yet to investigate Big Boys to go and give it a spin on All4.
It’s quietly revolutionary in its portrayal of gay/straight friendship, it’s as funny as it is emotional, and watching it will give you the opportunity to say ‘ah yes, I remember one of his earliest shows’ in a few decades’ time when Rooke is picking up his Lifetime Achievement gong at the BAFTAs.
Plus, more than anything, it features a scene involving a Grindr hook-up and an urn full of ashes that really has to be seen to be believed.