The B Word
“The Bisexual” on Hulu
Leila and her partner Sadie are the virtual poster children for modern lesbian couples. They’ve been together for a decade, they run a successful business, and they’re about to be the subjects of a fawning magazine article. But Sadie (Maxine Peake), the older and more grounded of the two, is looking for something more from her partner. She wants to get married and start a family. But it’s clear these two are on different wavelengths. “We talked about kids and family,” reminds Sadie. “We talked about it abstractly,” dismisses Leila. “We also talked about euthanasia.”
Turns out Leila (series writer, director and creator Desiree Akhavan) might be looking for something more as well. She might be attracted to men. This question of sexuality and identity is at the heart of Akhavan’s funny and cutting dramedy “The Bisexual,” which comes to Hulu by way of England’s Channel 4.
Thinking that a “break” in the relationship is in order, ex-pat New Yorker Leila moves out of Sadie’s upscale London apartment and into a flat with aging hipster Gabe (Brian Gleeson). Gabe published a successful novel 10 years ago but is now teaching college English classes and sleeping with the occasional student. Despite his unthinking sexist and racist attitudes, he becomes a valuable wingman for Leila as she tests out her new sexuality.
“The Bisexual” is hip, flippant and mocking in a way that can only be described, appropriately, as “millennial.” It’s the kind of show where a character is forced to drown out the sounds of her roommate’s sexual shenanigans with an “All Things Considered” podcast. But Akhavan (who wrote, directed and produced 2016’s gay conversion film The Miseducation of Cameron Post) is doing some subtle work here.
Leila doesn’t simply wake up one day and decide she’s attracted to men. This is clearly something that’s been percolating in her head for quite some time. But she’s reluctant to voice it. Partially because all of her traditional lesbian friends—the only supportive community she’s had since she came out to her conservative Iranian parents years ago—are dismissive of the very concept of bisexuality. It’s a betrayal of good, old-fashioned lesbian values. “Yeah,” says Leila, halfheartedly parroting her pals. “Bisexuality was just made up by ad executives to sell flavored vodka.”
Leila’s quest for sexual identity also serves as a metaphor for her stumbling attempts to come into herself as a human being. She’s no longer a twentysomething slacker. But she’s not quite an adult. “I have no fucking idea what I want!” she confesses at one point (in response to a discussion about underarm hair—but you get the point).
Akhavan’s style is a mix between the smartypants New York verbiage of Woody Allen and the sexual shenanigans of “The L Word” (a show every character in “The Bisexual” openly loathes, yet can’t stop quoting). If you’re not in the same headspace, it can come across as exclusionary and unfocused. But the show’s meandering pace lends unexpected punch to Akhavan’s Jack-in-the-box wit. “Your white man Orientalism fetish is the reason the spice cabinet is such a fucking mess,” Leila grouses, brilliantly, to her new roomie.
At a glance, “The Bisexual” may not be for you. Commit to it for an episode or three, however, and you might find yourself rewarded with a witty, spiky, lovably snarky sitcom that plays like an indie dramedy.