Ever since Ellen DeGeneres’s TV alter ego came out in 1997 producers of the American sitcom have tried to include major gay characters within their roofless, three-location worlds.
The winner so far has been Will & Grace, which has won four Emmys, and is now in its sixth season. The big losers lasted only one season each: Normal, Ohio, which starred behemoth John Goodman as an average gay Joe, and It’s All Relative, now screening on Network 10.
It’s All Relative features two gay dads whose adult daughter Liz (Maggie Lawson) has hitched up with a well-meaning straight dude who has conservative Irish Catholic parents. The young couple want their in-laws to get along, with homophobia thrown into the traditional mix of class and cultural differences.
It’s the homophobia that’s the problem with the premise, and may have something to do with the show’s eventual euthanasia. In next week’s episode, for instance, the gay dads score tickets to a baseball game and are obliged to invite straight dad Mace (Lenny Clarke) along. A battle of cultures ensues, as Mace defends his beloved game from the Cher-loving onslaught of the pink parents.
At this point I remembered which program It’s All Relative most reminded me of, something which bugged me since the pilot.
It’s All Relative is Love Thy Neighbour, but with poofs. Love Thy Neighbour was a vile UK sitcom from 1972 about a racist white man living next door to a racist black man, who fought constantly despite the pleas of their mostly tolerant wives. Hardly an episode would pass without the terms sambo and snowflake being spat across the airwaves.
Love Thy Neighbour is unwatchable today because its central premise is racism. It’s All Relative provokes a similar nausea, with occasionally saccharine glimpses of tolerance by both teams pushing vertigo.
The best sitcoms outgrow their premise, although it took Happy Days a couple of seasons to ease off on the 1950s references, and at least three seasons for everyone to forget Family Ties was supposed to be about hippie parents versus conservative children.
With only one season on air, it seems unlikely It’s All Relative will mature enough for the characters to stop squabbling and get on with their lives, 17 and a half minutes at a time.
It’s All Relative screens on Tuesday nights at 8pm on Network 10.