It’s no secret that the popularity of many shows — “Sherlock,” “Supernatural,” “Hannibal,” and “Rizzoli & Isles” being a few oft-referenced examples — was driven greatly by fandoms who shipped queer couples. Similarly, the practice of fans backing LGBTQ+ couples in film and TV series predates the age of social media. Rest assured, dear readers, the younger me never stopped hoping for Cory Matthews (Ben Savage) and Shawn Hunter (Rider Strong) to get together for real on “Boy Meets World,” no matter how much the beloved 1990s sitcom played the idea for laughs.
Yet, as that very example illustrates, time and time again, these shows would either queer-bait or subtext the hell out of these pairings without making them official. Even the erotically-charged “Hannibal” resisted going so far as to have Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham kiss in its season 3 finale (though stars Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy did so in some unused takes anyway). In many of these cases, they would make supporting characters canonically queer, but rarely the leads. Perhaps most notoriously, the CW series “Supergirl” featured several LGBTQ+ heroes yet danced around ever exploring a romance between the titular Kryptonian, Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist), and her pal Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath), a ship commonly known as “Supercorp.”
None of this is to say that artists should always give their fans what they want. Plus, we know for a fact that even when shows have included LGBTQ+ romances, it’s usually come with network-imposed limits. (Nickelodeon can toot its horn about being queer-friendly all it wants, but I haven’t forgotten how it handled “The Legend of Korra.”) There are also great exceptions to this trend, like The CW’s “Legends of Tomorrow.” But at the same time, it’s telling how often these series would explore hetero romances almost on a whim (I still have no idea why Lena dated Mehcad Brooks’ Jimmy Olsen on “Supergirl”), only for their creatives to imply a fan-shipped queer couple just didn’t make sense, despite all evidence to the contrary.