In amongst the heavily promoted scripted drama on Apple TV+ like The Morning Show and Defending Jacob, there are some wonderful documentaries on Apple TV+. Amongst them is Visible – Out on Television.
‘Visible’ – Exploring Representation on the Most Powerful of Mediums
Visible tells the story of LGBTQ representation across that most powerful of mediums – TV. It features a coterie of stars, from Wanda Sykes to Neil Patrick Harris, from Billy Porter to Ellen DeGeneres. Other big names like Laverne Cox, Rachel Maddow, Caitlyn Jenner, and Sean Hayes also feature, as do some high-profile activists who tell their stories.
The series starts with ‘The Dark Ages’ – unpacking a time in which LGBTQ people barely appeared on television. If they did, they were mostly depicted as deviants and homicidal maniacs. Television did though become a major tool for activists wishing to raise issues faced by the community. Few of these were more profound than the AIDS epidemic, the details of which are outlined in episode three. It is a powerful, painful, and important watch.
Slowly but surely we move forward and get to… The Puppy Episode. That was the codename given to the episode of Ellen in which the sitcom’s eponymous star would come out in character – Ms. DeGeneres had done so publicly prior to the episode’s airing. As she looks back at that time, the sense of relief is still visible. as is the sense of hurt that everything was then taken away from her. Episode four also highlights other huge breakthrough moments including Queer as Folk, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Noah’s Ark, Will and Grace, and The L Word. It ends on a high, with Ms. DeGeneres on top of the world as the host of a hugely popular daily talk show.
The series finale looks at how current creators built on all this progress, and what more is left to be done and how better to reflect people of color, trans people, and others often ignored on television.
Some Missing Elements
Much of Visible – Out on Television is informative and moving. Other parts of it are very funny. All of it is immaculately produced. However, that doesn’t mean there are no missing elements. With the exception of Transparent (Amazon Prime Video), and a few brief nods to Orange is the New Black (Netflix), Apple seems reticent to acknowledge shows broadcast on rival streaming services.
There are other obvious omissions too. For instance, when the depiction of bisexual characters is being analyzed, Brooklyn 99’s Detective Rosa Diaz isn’t mentioned at all. (She’s only seen for one fleeting moment right at the end of series.) Likewise, when discussing coverage of the Pulse nightclub shooting, Anderson Cooper outlines how he delivered his powerful reporting. However, Rachel Maddow’s equally profound coverage is reduced to a small clip from the show, with no reflections from the prime time host, despite the fact she had been interviewed for the series.
Visible – Out on Television shows the full power of Apple starting to produce content. They brought in every huge star to dive deep into a subject that most other content producers would not put resources into. It is the type of TV only Apple could make.