×

How ‘Pose,’ ‘The Passage,’ ‘Single Parents’ Redefine Fatherhood

From sitcoms to family dramas, TV has always explored fatherhood. But many recent depictions, across genres, are challenging traditional ideas of the nuclear family and redefining what it means to be a dad. From Pray Tell (Billy Porter) on “Pose” to Brad Wolgast (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) on “The Passage,” biology is not the most important factor — instead that is the character’s choice to look after the vulnerable.

Set in the 1980s New York City ballroom scene, FX’s “Pose” features “houses” whose members are primarily LGBTQ black and brown youth. MJ Rodriguez stars as Blanca, a trans woman and mother of the House of Evangelista, alongside Porter’s patriarch, a gay man and a legendary ball emcee. Together, they mentor their kids, some of whom were living on the street or kicked out by their biological families.

“When we come out as gay, when we come out as trans, when we come out as different in this way, very often we’re put out of houses,” Porter says. “We’re put out of the love that the traditional family gives, and so we’re forced to create our own. And ultimately, I have learned that it’s the best kind of family that you have, because you get to choose it.”

Similarly, Gosselaar was tasked with being a father figure in Fox’s apocalyptic thriller “The Passage.” Much of the action of the show centered on vampire-like creatures called virals preparing to end humanity as we know it, giving Gosselaar a chance to play an action hero, but also the “emotional heart” of the show, as his character protected the girl who was humanity’s last hope.

“Being a surrogate father to someone is very different than being a biological father,” Gosselaar says. “We had an episode where she flat out said to Brad, ‘You’re not my father, you’re not my dad.’ To play those emotions on the screen, as actors, we’re always looking for a challenge.”

Although Taran Killam’s Will Cooper on ABC’s freshman comedy “Single Parents” is a biological parent, he still had the opportunity to break out of the stereotypical sitcom dad mold. Will loves being a stay-at-home dad; he’s extremely in touch with his feelings; he breaks out into song at any opportunity; and he not only participates but actually revels in school bake sales.

“I was very excited to play someone who’s sensitive, someone who’s creative, someone who really is a grand romantic, and goes above and beyond,” Killam says. “Redefining the cliches of what is masculine and what is feminine is a very exciting conversation that’s happening in the world right now. And so Will Cooper felt like a step forward for playing the emotional man.”

These unconventional roles give actors a lot to play with in their performances. Killam says he gets to mine his comedy chops as goofball Will, while more sincere moments require some guidance from director Jason Winer so he can “shift down” any over-the-top tendencies.

As the world becomes more progressive and inclusive in its notions of fatherhood and masculinity, shows including “Single Parents” “reflect the times,” Killam says.

Meanwhile, “Pose” shines on light on real stories that have existed for decades, but were not often given a platform.

“It’s very rare up until this point in our culture, that we’ve been able to see three-dimensional gay characters of color,” says Porter, an industry veteran of 30 years. “This show puts people of color in the driver’s seat, in the leading roles. When I started in this business, there was nothing that looked like this for me. Nothing that looked like Pray Tell. It’s an extraordinary thing that I am so grateful to have lived long enough to see.”

More TV

  • THE ORVILLE Fox

    'The Orville' to Move From Fox to Hulu for Season 3

    Seth MacFarlane’s “The Orville” is on the move. MacFarlane announced Saturday at the show’s San Diego Comic-Con panel that Season 3 of the sci-fi series will air exclusively on Hulu rather than on Fox as it has for its first two seasons. According to an individual with knowledge of the situation, MacFarlane’s current workload and [...]

  • Westworld Season 3 Trailer

    Aaron Paul, Showrunners Unveil 'Westworld' Season 3 Trailer (Watch)

    Season 3 of “Westworld” is going to new worlds altogether. Unveiled during the show’s Comic-Con panel, the trailer teases Thandie Newton’s character Maeve entering a new world of hosts set during World War II. Meanwhile, in the human world, Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and her fellow hosts who escaped “Westworld” in season 2 are being [...]

  • Variety Cord Cutting Placeholder Cable

    Dish Faces Multiple Outages as Carriage Contracts Come Due

    Satellite-broadcaster Dish is known in the media industry as a hard bargainer when carriage contracts come up for renewal. HBO hasn’t been available on the service since November. Now, other TV networks face a similar prospect. Unless Dish and certain content suppliers reach new terms by Monday evening, subscribers who use several cable networks currently [...]

  • Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard of

    'Star Trek: Picard' to Feature Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Jeri Ryan

    “Star Trek: Picard” is bringing back some familiar faces. During the show’s San Diego Comic-Con panel on Saturday, it was revealed that Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, and Jeri Ryan would reprising their roles from “Next Generation” and “Voyager” in Ryan’s case. Jonathan Del Arco will also appear, likely reprising his role as the [...]

  • The Simpsons Homer Live

    'The Simpsons' Will Finally Release Season 19 on DVD, Helping Out Purist Collectors

    “The Simpsons” DVD collectors who also happen to be obsessive-compulsive can rest a little easier: You’ll finally be able to fill in that missing Season 19. Executive producer Al Jean revealed on Saturday that 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment will finally release the 19th season of “The Simpsons” on DVD this December 3, two years [...]

  • Pictured: No'l Wells as Ensign Tendi;

    'Star Trek: Lower Decks' Sets Main Cast

    The upcoming animated series “Star Trek: Lower Decks” has announced its main voice cast. Tawny Newsome, Noël Wells, and Eugene Cordero will all star in the series. As Variety exclusively reported, Jack Quaid has also been cast as Ensign Brad Boimler. The Starfleet characters that comprise the ship’s bridge crew include Captain Carol Freeman, voiced by [...]

  • Jack Quaid

    'Star Trek: Lower Decks' Casts Jack Quaid (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jack Quaid has joined the voice cast of the upcoming animated series “Star Trek: Lower Decks” at CBS All Access, Variety has learned exclusively. As previously announced, the series will focus on the support crew serving on one of Starfleet’s least important ships. Quaid will voice the character of Ensign Brad Boimler. Described as a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content