10 Best Mainstream TV Shows That Pushed The Boundaries for Representation

When it comes to diverse representation, it has often been found on the sidelines. Diversity was rarely the focus, instead being reconciled with a symbolic role, a background character, or a character appearing for a single episode to provide some sort of moral story to the recurring normative cast.

Related: Millennial films that helped shape a more inclusive world

In recent years, however, diversity has come under the spotlight. The increasing diversity behind the camera has allowed new voices to emerge and be reflected through what is presented on screen. No longer marginalized, mainstream television’s characters have entered an era that champions diversity – telling new stories through real representation that has pushed the boundaries of diversity on screen.


‘Heartbreak High’ (2022 -)

Re-imagining the classic 1994 Australian TV series for a contemporary audience, Netflix heartbreak high follows Hartley High students through high school romance and teenage angst. Featuring LGBTQ+, POC, neurodivergent and First Nations characters as part of the main cast, heartbreak high shows the diversity of Australian classrooms.

Chloe Hayden‘s portrayal of the queer and autistic college student Quinni subverts the stereotypical depictions of autism popularized on shows like The good doctor and The big Bang Theory. Breaking boundaries by portraying an autistic character who navigates LGBT+ romance, heartbreak high‘s portrayal becomes all the more authentic as Hayden becomes one of the first autistic actors to play an autistic character on a major television series.

‘Sex Education’ (2019 -)

During the three seasons of Netflix sex education has continually explored the diversity of sexual experiences by following the lives of students, staff and parents at Moordale Secondary School.

With a variety of sexualities represented throughout the show – including lesbian, pansexual and bisexual characters – sex education shines particularly in the depiction of lesser-known sexualities. As Florence (Mirren Mack) confides in Jean (Gillan Anderson) her lack of desire for sexual attraction, Jean explains asexuality in a sensitive yet direct way to help Florence understand her feelings. This scene dispels the myth that asexual people don’t want to form emotional bonds and provides a candid performance that accurately reflects the experiences of the asexual community.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2013-2021)

With his ensemble of characters, Brooklyn Nine-Nine made waves as a mainstream comedy series with a diverse cast. Each member of the squad shows their individuality while avoiding stereotypes and letting them become three-dimensional characters.

One of the series’ most poignant plot points was Rosa Diaz’ ​​(Stephanie Beatrice), who has come out as bisexual to her friends and family, a narrative largely informed by Beatriz’s own experiences. With stories like Terry (Terry Crews), who experiences racial profiling as a POC cop, as well as that of Captain Holt (Andre Brauger) Experience as a gay black police captain making it through the ranks – Brooklyn Nine-Nine shows that it’s possible to balance comedy with inclusivity and politics.

‘Heartstopper’ (2022 -)

In the Netflix adaptation of Alice Osman‘s graphic novel, heart stopper brought a refreshingly unproblematic LGBT+ story to TV screens. subverting the history of queer representation, which often drew on trauma or tragedy, heart stopper emphasized joy and diversity in his healthy queer coming-of-age story.

heart stopper Numerous queer stereotypes have been dismantled throughout the series. Featuring Nick Nelson’s (Kit Connor) journey to discovering his own bisexuality, healthy communication in relationships and Yasmine Finney Breakthrough trans actress as trans character Elle – heart stopper proves that positive queer representation is both possible and powerful.

See also: 7 ways Netflix ‘Heartstopper’ has dismantled stereotypes of queer representation

Breaking Bad (2008-2013)

Considered one of the greatest television shows of all time. breaking BadThe five seasons of received critical acclaim for its performances, direction, cinematography and story that led the show to raise the bar for prestige TV. After Walter White (Bryan Cranston) as he turns to a life of crime following his recent cancer diagnosis, breaking Bad shows a sensitive portrait of a man who wants to take care of his family.

Walter’s son Walter Jr. (RJ middle) has cerebral palsy — a condition that affects muscle coordination, speech, and motor skills. As Mitte herself suffers from cerebral palsy, this casting not only brings an authentic sincerity to the character that allows for accurate portrayal, but has also advocated for characters with disabilities to be played by actors with disabilities and has allowed greater access to the industry .

‘Hawkeye’ (2021)

Marvel’s foray into television has allowed the Marvel Cinematic Universe to expand its reach by telling more of its diverse characters and stories. Clan Barton (Jeremy Renner) finally got his chance to shine in the Disney+ series hawk eye.

Hawkeye suffers from hearing loss from his years of damage as an Avenger and now wears hearing aids to help with his everyday life. His hearing loss is a major plot point of the series and shows his communication problems. hawk eye also introduced the second deaf character in the MCU Maya Lopez, played by the deaf actress Alqua Cox who will have their own series echo in 2023.

Related: How 2021 brought us positive portrayals of disabled superheroes

‘MS. Miracle’ (2022)

The early stages of the MCU largely focused on the typical hero archetype – Iron Man, Captain America, Thor – all powerful middle-aged white men. However, since a franchise is largely based on its fans, it’s important that fans feel represented on screen by role models who represent their audience.

Mrs Miracle follows Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), a 16-year-old Pakistani-American teenager who is obsessed with the Avengers. The show charts Kamala’s coming of age and struggles with her sense of belonging while balancing her family’s culture and religion. By depicting a young Muslim teenager as a superhero, Mrs Miracle redefining what’s possible for women and POC in an industry defined by white men.

‘The Umbrella Academy’ (2019 – )

Netflix The Umbrella Academy was a faithful adaptation of Gerhard way‘s comic series. After the estranged siblings of Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) each of his adopted children forms a team of superheroes, each with their own unique abilities.

Victor Hargreeves (Eliot Page) had the most progressive arcs of the series; After initially believing he had no powers, by the end of season one he found that he has the strongest ability of them all. Even more poignantly, however, the showrunners wrote a coming-out narrative into Season 3 to correspond with Page’s own transition, with his character adopting he/him pronouns and now being named Viktor. The Umbrella Academy proves how easy it is to script inclusivity while pushing the boundaries with authentic transgender performance.

‘Adventure Time’ (2013-2019)

Known for his complex ideas told through psychedelic narratives in sharp 15 minute episodes, adventure time was a long-running animated series on Cartoon Network. After the adventures of Finn the Man (Jeremy Shada) and Jake the dog (John DiMaggio) in the land of Ooo, adventure time is a magical odyssey full of colorful landscapes and whimsical characters. Two characters throughout the series – Marceline (Olivia Olsen) and Princess Bubblegum (Hyden Walch) – had been hinted at having a romantic relationship, which was only confirmed in the last episode.

LGBT+ representatives on children’s television are rare, but thanks to shows like adventure time Pioneering this journey, it has allowed other media companies like Disney — which historically has a turbulent history of queer representation that resorts to stereotypes and queerbaiting — to take a positive step in the right direction The Owl House starring Luz Noceda (Sarah-Nicole Robles), who made history as Disney’s first openly bisexual protagonist.

“The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” (2022 – )

Amazon Prime expands on the mythical world created by JRR Tolkien The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Takes place during the Second Age of Middle-earth, thousands of years before the events of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, Rings of Power introduces an ensemble cast of characters drawn from every region of Middle-earth.

A genre that has historically favored an all-white cast, the Amazon series subverts this vicious notion of the fantasy genre by casting actors of color as elves, dwarfs, humans, and harfoots. The series has pushed the boundaries of representation and defied genre conventions to open the industry to inclusivity. With Hall Bailey will play Ariel next year The little mermaid As a live-action film, we can only hope that the diverse cast of traditional roles can continue to have a positive impact on screen representation in the future.

Next: The TV fantasy boom offers opportunities for diversity and rich storytelling

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Sarah Ridley

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