The Marriage Equality Romantic Comedy You Should Be Watching


This summer's groundbreaking U.S. Supreme Court ruling about the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) may have led to the recognition of gay marriage at the federal level, but the alternate universe of Husbands got there first. Cocreated by Brad Bell and Jane Espenson, Husbands tells the story of two men who get drunk in Las Vegas and decide to give marriage a shot, even though they've just begun dating. At its heart, Husbands is a simple romantic comedy, but what makes it stand out as extraordinary is the fact that the two leads stood proudly in favor of marriage equality when they drunkenly said their "I dos."

Espenson, who has written for programs like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Once Upon a Time, and Bell, who not only cocreated and cowrote but also stars in Husbands, recently held a press conference to discuss the series, and gave insights into the message behind the show. Here's what we learned.

Photograph courtesy Matt Sayles.

One of the great things about Husbands is the show's accessibility — and not just because it's distributed on the internet (the first two seasons are available on YouTube, and the third season is headlining the CW's new web channel, CWSeed). The show has characters that everyone can relate to, because the things the characters go through in the show are the same things all couples, gay and straight, have to face: who will move in with whom, whether the couple's families get along, and how to balance the relationship with each person's career. That universality is intentional, according to Bell, who said, "I think that when there are two same-sex characters, you don't have to say, 'I understand the guy in this relationship,' or 'I understand the girl in this relationship,' and if you don't, then it's just not something you understand. It's just two universal figures. You can put yourself into either one's shoes." Espenson added, "One thing that I think we both do well is joke writing, and there's nothing that makes a character more identifiable than when they can laugh at themselves, be ridiculous, and still be the hero of the story."

The comedy of Husbands goes hand in hand with its message about marriage equality and gay rights. Mainstream studios aren't exactly clamoring for gay characters, and the ones Hollywood does feature are often either caricatures, like Jack on Will and Grace, or part of an ensemble, like Mitchell and Cameron on Modern Family. At the press conference, Espenson and Bell pointed out that few characters on television today are incidentally gay; the character's sexuality has to be the focus, or studios don't see the point. A professional baseball player like Husbands' Brady doesn't fit the network television mold, so Bell and Espenson took matters into their own hands. "Look at the numbers, you can see it [the bias] is still there. They way we deal with it is by making shows like Husbands. When the network doors weren't right ready to burst open, we were like, 'Let's do it outside those doors,'" said Espenson.

Husbands has found a great deal of success online. The videos have racked up hundreds of thousands of views, but the show's creators feel that the success of Husbands goes beyond mere numbers. "If it got a thousand hits or if it got a million hits, neither one of those would factor as, 'Okay, that was successful.' What is successful is the reaction that it gets and influence it has. ... It's sort of established a precedent in the industry that content centered around gay people doesn't necessarily scare people away," said Bell.

DOMA won't be brought up in Husbands, since a marriage equality amendment already exists in that universe, but that doesn't mean the show leaves politics out completely. Husbands' second season deals heavily with public opinion relating to the morals of gay marriage after Bell's character, Cheeks, tweets a photo of the two main characters kissing, and it immediately sparks press coverage and protests by conservative groups. Despite the inability to address the DOMA ruling directly, the show's creators are eager to touch on other aspects of the quest for equality in future episodes. According to Bell, "There's so many other things we can approach that have yet to happen, and conversations we can start having. We don't like to have conversations that are already happening. We like to have the ones that have yet to happen." Espenson added, "Instead of thinking about how all those changes affect the show, I like to think about how our show effected those changes. I like to think we helped push the conversation," Espenson added.

As Husbands continues, so too will that conversation.