MTV’s Faking It is about the impossibility of getting through adolescence without telling lies. In the early episodes, Karma (Katie Stevens) and Amy (Rita Volk) pretended to be a couple in order to achieve popularity, until Amy realized she was genuinely attracted to Karma and eventually came out as a lesbian. Since then, the show has combined the kind of comedic hijinks and romantic complications that are to be expected in what is, at heart, a high school soap opera with some very astute observations about sexuality and identity.
Karma coped with breaking the heart of her best friend, whom she loves—just not like that. Confident, queeny Shane (Michael J. Willett) outed his MMA fighter boyfriend, Duke, because he couldn’t handle life on the down low, and then faced ego-deflating consequences. Mean girl Lauren (Bailey De Young) dealt with the fallout from the revelation that she’s intersex—the kids of progressive Hester High were extraordinarily supportive, but Lauren hates being treated differently because of something she has no control over. And Amy struggled to accept that she might be attracted to men as well as women, especially given her girlfriend’s hostility to that possibility.
There have been some missteps along the way, particularly the Season 1 cliffhanger, which put Amy in bed with Liam (Gregg Sulkin), who was both Shane’s best friend and Karma’s boyfriend. Their drunken hookup was season-finale shocking, and it set up several Season 2 plot threads, but it made no sense given what we knew of the characters, and it angered many of the show’s lesbian viewers, who saw it as an offensive misrepresentation of Sapphic sexuality.
Generally, though, Faking It, which was created by openly gay writer Carter Covington, takes its characters on a familiar route to a right-on payoff: 1) they are exposed to something for the first time—say, an intersex individual or a closeted gay man; 2) they say some dumb things as they struggle to understand the situation; 3) something happens that helps them relate to the previously confusing character; 4) they rally around the isolated individual, who they now realize has been wrongly vilified, and stick up for then in a sometimes amusing, always uplifting fashion.
It’s my familiarity with the show’s methods that makes me confident the blundering treatment of bisexuality in the most recent episode will soon bloom into a bi-positive teachable moment.
The shenanigans began when Shane and Karma realized they’d both flirted with a guy named Wade—and he’d flirted back. Each was sure the other had misread Wade’s vibe, so they asked him point blank: “Are you gay or straight?” With a deep sigh, the hunky lad replied: “I’m bi. Had that not even occurred as a possibility to you two?” The pair fronted that it had, but after agreeing to go to prom as a threesome, Shane and Karma then indulged in some bi-bashing, especially Shane, who questioned the legitimacy of bisexuality, which, he said, “is just a step in the coming-out process. It goes: drunken hookup, curious, bi, full-blown gay, Elton John.” When Karma pointed out that neither of them had trouble accepting that Amy might be attracted to women and men, Shane announced, “It’s different for girls.”
Shane has always pushed boundaries with his crack-wise-now-apologize-later sense of humor, and this time he’s repeating oft-heard lines from the bisexuality deniers’ playbook. But given Faking It’s track record of feinting down politically incorrect roads before returning to the path of righteousness, I’m sure they’ll be denouncing bi erasure before the last slow dance plays at Hester High’s prom.
Sometimes, the jokes feel mean and even dangerous, but by moving through that intermediary stage and eventually demonstrating why commonly held attitudes are hurtful and wrong, the show manages to be both entertaining and educational.