Faking It: the Good, the Bad, and the Biphobic
Review: 1x01 - 1x04
When I first heard the premise of MTV’s newest series, Faking It—two girls pretend to be lesbians in order to gain popularity at their pro-gay high school—I was livid. How dare a show portray queerness as something that makes you fun and cool, let alone mock the coming out process by having two teenagers lie about their identities? I was so offended by the general concept that I downright refused to watch it; I’d already been scarred by Glee’s contrived, overwrought attempts to be progressive, and seen more than enough bisexual erasure on my television screen (lookin’ at you, Orphan Black), and I just didn’t need anything else to be angry at. But as each episode aired, I saw more and more positive commentary (and gifs of main character Amy Raudenfeld’s face doing the thing) and my resolve crumbled little by little until I finally sat down and watched the four available episodes.
Turns out, this show is everything.
While the setup of it taking place in an ultra-liberal Texas high school that lauds queers rather than bullying them initially seemed like a whole bunch of offensive, unrealistic bullshit, it’s actually a brilliant and unique narrative move that allows the writing to focus on the small-but-important moments that tend to get overlooked in favor of extremes. We’re nearly finished with season one and nobody’s been yelled at or handed a Bible or kicked out of their house; instead, there’s a handful of beautifully subtle scenes that bruise your heart rather than your skin. In one, Amy squirms at the breakfast table while her stepdad declares “We should never have put that man in the White House,” and her mom replies “[Same-sex] marriage is one thing, but homecoming? When does it stop?”
In another—perhaps the most impressive, and certainly my favorite so far—Karma, Amy’s best friend and fake girlfriend, tells Mrs. Raudenfeld that she’s a lesbian, and this gem of a sidebar happens:
Farrah: “You knew about this?”
Amy: “Mom, I wanted to tell you, but I was afraid you wouldn’t approve.”
Farrah: “Oh, that’s ridiculous.”
Farrah: “Her parents are so permissive, it’s no big surprise. But I’m fine with it. She’s not my daughter. But I do think you should dial back the sleepovers.”
In a culture where most parents of fictional LGBTQ+ characters are either raging homophobes or flawless Burt Hummel-types, it’s incredibly important, and refreshing, to see someone exploring the middle ground. Sure, Amy’s mom doesn’t disown her or call up the local priest, but she does name her step-daughter her maid of honor instead of her actual daughter, and she does keep silent about her feelings regarding Amy’s sexuality; and those microaggressions, though they might only feel like tiny pinpricks, can be just as harmful as a full-fledged axe wound.
Another pleasantly surprising angle that’s been given the spotlight is how straight allies can be sort of terrible, even with the best of intentions. One episode has a sequence of scenes where Liam (Hottest Guy in School, and Karma’s crush) tells multiple girls that he doesn’t see gay or straight, he just sees people, and even though his conversation partners eat it up, you can practically hear the implied eye-roll. There’s also a particularly heartbreaking exchange where Karma shares a confession with him—“I’m worried [my parents] think my sexual orientation is the most interesting thing about me”—and the moment is an unexpected and very honest nod to anyone who’s treated like they are their sexuality, as if it’s the only thing that matters.
One of the most telling aspects of the show, however, is how much of the drama stems purely from inner struggles. We’ve watched kids fight for their right to exist and stand up to bullies, but this time it’s different. It’s about how in even the most accepting environment, you can still feel uncomfortable or unsafe in your own skin. It’s about discovering yourself and coming to terms with who you are, with or without the pressures of society (or your peers) pushing you this way and that. It’s about a girl who kisses her best friend in front of the entire school but so far has only had the guts to tell two people she’s genuinely queer, because the switch from only saying you’re something to actually being something is one of the scariest experiences a human being can face. And, given the fact that there’s been very little discussion of labels beyond the first few episodes, it’s about how same-sex attraction doesn’t make you an Other.
Even with its slightly campy edge, Faking It brings teenager-dom back down to earth with honest voices, beautifully executed character arcs, and a fearless deconstruction of how utterly unimportant sexual orientation should be.
Review: Season 1 Finale
I’ve already shared some of my thoughts about Faking It, MTV’s latest venture about a girl who accidentally discovers that she’s in love with her female best friend, and for most of the season, the production received generally positive feedback. The LGBTQ+ community was thrilled with the refreshingly original angle on representation—after all, the show revolves around a queer girl’s canon feelings for her BFF—but the finale has received far more mixed reactions. Some fans loved the final thirty seconds, while others were so angry they declared they wouldn’t return for season two, and still more fell somewhere in the middle. But whatever your opinion, it’s important to dissect the complexities of what happened—maybe not so much for the sake of the characters, but for the sake of the real-world identities they represent.
First of all, let’s acknowledge what actually happened in the episode. Amy, who’s been hiding her true feelings from Karma, finally confessed everything to her only to find out that Karma slept with Liam; meanwhile, Liam found out that Karma has been lying to Amy about her relationship with him and to him about her “relationship” with Amy. Amy and Liam both drowned themselves in champagne, then made Dramatic Eye Contact; the next thing we knew they were hooking up in Amy’s room, and then bam, the screen went black and the season was over.
The fan response was both instant and passionate, whether for better or worse, but it prompted showrunner Carter Covington to tweet “Much like us, our characters are flawed, confused + trying to find themselves. And despite what you think, things aren’t what they seem.” Buzzfeed also posted an interview with Covington after the finale aired, in which he gave this explanation for the finale’s conclusion:
“I think it’s important for everyone to stay calm and recognize that Amy was hurt (more hurt than she’s ever been), drunk, and angry. And she made a mistake, a mistake that will haunt her in the next season.
My intention was [not] and never will be for Amy and Liam to develop a romance. I think that that would undermine the journey Amy’s been on. But that being said, Amy has not self-identified as a lesbian.
People have put that on her. And I know that our lesbian fans really connect to and relate to her, and I’m so glad that they do, but they’re putting an ending on her journey that we haven’t finished yet.”
First of all, as far as I know, it’s not that fans are assuming Amy and Liam will ever be an official couple; it’s much more the fact that she slept with him at all, after we’ve sat through an entire season of his secret make-out sessions with Karma, and especially after Amy’s insistent speeches to Karma about how first times should be special and with someone who loves you. But what’s even more confusing is the day before the finale, Rita Volk (who plays Amy) had this to say to Entertainment Weekly about her character’s sexuality:
“I guess on other shows, girls thought that they were into girls and thought that they were lesbians and then they changed their minds and then decided that they wanted to be with boys. I don’t know about Karma’s path, but for Amy, she is a lesbian, and Carter and I talked about that. We don’t want it to be a tease, we don’t want people to feel like they can relate to this vulnerable process that she’s going through, and they can relate to this girl because she’s a lesbian and then have that taken away, like, ‘Oh, never mind, you know, I’m into guys now.’ It won’t be like that.”
This is where one of the trickier debates comes into play, because while Amy has only ever been labeled by other characters (as opposed to personally labeling herself), Volk and Covington have each offered slightly differing answers about Amy’s “official” identity. But how does an understanding between the actress and showrunner interact with what we’ve actually seen in canon? Fans interpreting her as gay (including myself) are being accused of bisexual/queer erasure—even fans who are bisexual themselves—but is the criticism still valid if that interpretation is correct?
Ambiguous sexual orientations aside, the justification most widely (if begrudgingly) embraced by the fandom is identical to Covington’s explanation: that Amy was angry and drunk and did the thing she knew would hurt Karma the most. Some fans also proposed a “why does Karma want him” theory, while others simply argued “some lesbians sleep with men; deal with it,” but even these more logical theories make me wince. I completely understand that sexuality is fluid, and that a person can sleep with whomever they choose regardless of how they identify. I completely understand that Real Life Lesbians can and do sleep with men, and that Amy has a history of lashing out (toilet-papering Cody Goldfine’s house in fifth grade; wrecking Lauren’s croquembouche), and that it might have been her way of trying to figure out why Karma wants Liam so much. But there’s a difference between An Individual doing something versus a team of writers choosing to have a Character do something, especially with an audience of impressionable and (various levels of) uneducated people watching and perhaps concluding that all lesbian-identifying people sleep with men. It’s harmful to the LGBTQ community to suggest that all women can/will/want to sleep with men—especially when the show’s example is a selfish, misogynistic straight guy like Liam who flat-out tells Karma he’s into lesbians, and who spent the entire season getting way more action than anyone else on the show.
(Some important statistics: we saw Amy and Karma kiss exactly four times, one of which was a dream sequence. We’ve seen Karma and Liam make out in every single goddamn episode.)
It’s like this: it’s not that what Amy did is totally unbelievable or outlandish. The problem is that this has been done before, so many times, and using such a stale trope feels like a huge letdown after the rest of the season’s emphasis on originality. Amy could’ve slept with Oliver (the adorable hipster puppy she kissed a few episodes ago), or Jasmine (the cute SYZZR date who told Amy to call her if things with Karma crashed and burned), or maybe even some random queer girl from the catering staff. Amy could’ve not slept with anyone, and instead just punched Liam in the face or spit some alcohol-fueled words his way; I personally would’ve much rather had a scene where she drunkenly yells at her mom for grounding her (and for the other microagressions we’ve witnessed), or where Lauren drags her back into the house and their already gorgeous friendship developments continue—quite literally anything besides her sleeping with Liam Booker, who’s now hooked up with both of the (ambiguously) queer female leads.
Faking It is supposed to be about a teenage girl in love with her best friend, and yet it gives the bulk of its screen time to its heterosexual couple (and straight cis white dude, by proxy), and capped a season of honest, fearless Kinsey Scale exploration with an excruciatingly heterosexual plot twist. Not that Amy hasn’t already done a little exploring, because she did kiss Oliver a few episodes back, but that was smack in the middle of her trying to figure things out, and she went back to focusing on Karma directly after. This was a cliffhanger, the last image we saw of season one, the moment they wanted us to think about for the rest of the year, the setup for the arc that season two will revolve around.
Sure, the series isn’t over yet, and there’s still plenty of time for them to cover much more ground in the queer experience. But that finale was still a conclusion, and one that arguably doesn’t seem to mesh with the story the rest of the season was telling, and though I acknowledge and understand the arguments on either side, I’m sticking with my right to be disappointed.