Scott D. Pierce: BYUtv says it will consider airing shows with LGBTQ characters

Two new, interrelated comedies on the channel feature an interracial family.

(Photo courtesy of BYUtv) Millie Davis as Amelia, Devin Cecchetto as Victoria, Kate Hewlett as Cleo, Charlie Zeltzer as Charlie, and Agape Mngomezulu as Nathan appear in "The Parker Andersons."

BYUtv is “exploring ways” to include LGBTQ characters in its future programming, although its management stopped short of making any promises about when or how that could happen. And, it appears, Canadian producers and programmers have been trying to back the Provo-based channel into a corner.

BYUtv has long encountered criticism about its programming on two fronts — the relative lack of racial diversity, and the absence of any characters who are members of the LGBTQ community. It will take a huge step toward addressing the first of those issues with a pair of new shows — which set off more controversy about the second issue.

Beginning Monday at 5 and 5:25 p.m., BYUtv will air a pair of interrelated half-hour comedies — “The Parker Andersons” and “Amelia Anderson” — about an interracial family. Not only is half the cast Black, but so is the showrunner, Anthony Q. Farrell. And the staff writers are Black, Indigenous and people of color.

But, according to Farrell, BYUtv would not allow them to include clearly identified LGBTQ characters in the shows. BYUtv is operated out of Brigham Young University, which bans LGBTQ relationships and is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After Farrell raised the issue in an interview with Now Magazine in Toronto, the Canadian production company behind those shows, Marblemedia, said that another show it will produce for BYUtv — tentatively titled “Overlord and the Underwoods” — definitely “will have LGBTQ characters.”

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which will also air “Overlord” (a comedy about an alien villain seeking asylum on Earth), threatened to pull its funding from the project unless it was assured that BYUtv’s “values regarding diversity and inclusion are aligned with ours” — including LGBTQ inclusion.

(Photo courtesy of BYUtv) Arnold Pinnock, Charlie Zeltzer, Kate Hewlett, Millie Davis, Sandy Jobin-Bevins, Devin Cecchetto, Chris Rivers, Agape Mngomezulu, Jaida Grace Mardon and Akiel Julien star in "The Parker Andersons" and "Amelia Parker."

Vague promise

BYUtv didn’t exactly confirm that it’s on board about “Overlord,” issuing a couple of vaguely worded statements. In the first, channel execs said they are “committed to bringing together religious and nonreligious audiences. … While BYUtv has not referenced LGBTQ topics and characters in the five original scripted series it has aired to date, we desire to address subjects — including LGBTQ — that are important to our growing and diverse audience.”

It said it has “no policies that would exclude the network from including characters who identify as LGBTQ, and BYUtv is exploring ways to do so.”

While there have been no gay characters in BYUtv shows like “Dwight in Shining Armor,” “Extinct” and “Granite Flats,” it has worked with gay producers, writers and actors. And its original, scripted shows have not been anti-gay — even “Extinct,” which was created and produced by Orson Scott Card, who has a history of making virulently anti-gay statements.

“We aim to show kindness, inclusion and respect for all people with every production we do,” channel execs said in a second statement. “BYUtv will continue to consider content consistent with our mission and values to create purposeful, engaging viewing and listening experiences that entertain, inspire, uplift and improve families and communities.”

Considering content and actually putting it on the air are two different things, of course.

(Photo courtesy of BYUtv) Arnold Pinnock as Tony and Kate Hewlett as Cleo on "The Parker Andersons" and "Amelia Parker."

Racial representation

Criticism of BYUtv’s lack of gay and ethnic characters ramped up at the Television Critics Association press tour two years ago. To be fair, the channel has deserved some, but not all, of the brickbats for its lack of racial representation. Over the past few years, it has certainly been less white than, say, Hallmark Channel made-for-TV movies. There have been a lot of ethnic minorities in BYUtv’s reality shows, and minority actors in mainly supporting roles in scripted series.

But BYUtv could obviously do better. And, with “The Parker Andersons” and “Amelia Parker,” it has.

“The Parker Andersons” is about a Black, British, ex-soccer player, Tony Parker (Arnold Pinnock), who moved to the United States after the death of his wife two years earlier. He and his children — 15-year-old Nathan (Agape Mngomezulu) and 12-year-old Amelia (Millie Davis) — are not only adjusting to life in Chicago, but to life in a new family.

Tony met, fell in love with and married Cleo Anderson (Kate Hewlett), a white, divorced dentist. She’s the mother of 15-year-old Victoria (Devin Cecchetto) and 8-year-old Charlie (Charlie Zeltzer).

The cast also includes Tony’s soccer-star adult nephew, Nick (Akiel Julien); Cleo’s ex-husband, Roger (Sandy Jobin-Bevins); and Amelia’s friends Vikram (Chris Rivers) and Declynn (Jaida Grace Mardon).

It’s essentially an interracial “Brady Bunch.” Although, in the pilot, the differences are more about nationality than about race. The Parkers are excited about a breakfast of beans and toast and black pudding (which looks like sausage but is made from pig blood and oatmeal). The Andersons are not thrilled.

The real racial moment, if you can call it that, in the first episode comes when Tony learns that Cleo is taking Amelia to the “Black mall” for some makeup.

“It’s just a mall that has more stuff that Black people need,” Dad says. “Most big cities in the States have them.”

“Wow. Learn something new every day,” Cleo says.

(Photo courtesy of BYUtv) Millie Davis stars as Amelia Parker in "The Parker Andersons" and "Amelia Parker."

That moment plays much bigger in “Amelia Parker,” the companion show that airs right after “The Parker Andersons.” It tells the same story from Amelia’s point of view — and, while Amelia speaks in her online vlog, she hasn’t spoken directly to anyone else since her mother died.

“I would love to ask Cleo and Victoria if I could use their makeup,” Amelia says. “But … I’m not sure if they’d have the right … shades.”

Cleo wants to help, but she doesn’t get it. And Amelia, who won’t speak, can’t explain it to her. After the makeup artist at the “Black mall” clears up the confusion, Cleo says to Amelia, “You could’ve come to me, you know.”

“What’s the polite way to say, ‘I’m Black, so it’s different’? Without words,” Amelia says in her vlog.

It’s all sweet and mildly amusing. Sometimes kind of goofy. But these shows are not going to send you into guffaws. They’re more like light dramas than sitcoms, which is not a bad thing.

The same-story-from-two-perspectives angle is intriguing. You can watch one show without the other, although — obviously — you won’t get the whole narrative. And the writers do a fine job of making a point without delivering sermons on race relations.

According to Farrell, both shows will include LGBTQ characters in their second seasons — assuming they’re picked up for second seasons. We’ll see on both counts.