The series gradually charts the ground broken by programs like “All in the Family” and PBS’ documentary “An American Family.” At the same time, it connects those standout projects to reflection by LGBTQ people — many of them now working in TV — and the importance of seeing versions of themselves on screen, for good and sometimes ill.
There are, not surprisingly, plenty of wince-inducing scenes in the early images of gays (especially) on vintage series. “Visible” makes clear how TV — while generally a force for progress — often took a step back for every one forward, inching toward an environment of greater inclusion and acceptance, but easily startled by pushback and criticism.
Those aspects include what came to be known as the “Bury your gays” trope, where LBGTQ characters kept dying in drama series as a means of advancing a straight character’s development arc.
“Visible” also breaks down the subject by genre, in one of the more interesting passages contemplating the significance of reality TV, since the people featured — even within carefully massaged and edited storylines — weren’t actors portraying characters, but real people representing themselves.
There was Richard Hatch, for example, winning the first “Survivor,” participants in MTV’s “The Real World,” and Adam Lambert’s success on “American Idol.”
Amid the chorus of voices discussing TV’s ability to soften hearts and change minds, Oprah Winfrey — one of the savviest personalities ever in doing just that — says, “I just don’t know of anything that has a more powerful influence.”
“Visible: Out on Television” is a reminder how far both TV and society have come, but also the setbacks and sacrifice in the uneven road getting there. While we remember many of these big moments, what White has done is to meticulously connect the dots — drawing in lines that history has a way of rendering, well, invisible.
“Visible: Out on Television” premieres Feb. 14 on Apple TV+.