Why Happy Endings’ Max Blum Was The Most Important Gay Character On TV
The cult comedy just got canned over the weekend, taking with it one of TV's great characters.
For far too long, as a gay man, I’ve been subjected to boring, annoying and borderline homophobic gay caricatures on TV, characters that are supposed to represent me and my gay bros. So, it was refreshing and groundbreaking to see a slovenly, chubby and lazy gay dude grace my screen. His name was Max Blum, he was hilarious, and he was arguably the best part of the best sitcom that no one ever watched, Happy Endings.
During the weekend’s fall schedule scramble, in which your beloved Community was renewed for a fifth season, Happy Endings ended up as one of the sad casualties. There are rumours that it may yet be saved by another network, but nothing concrete yet — which is sad because, in short, Happy Endings was basically this generation’s Friends, albeit with a Chicago backdrop, less sappy storylines, and much funnier punchlines. Featuring a stand-out cast and brilliant writing, it recently finished up its third and, it seems, final season. While it attracted a cult audience, it never reached the level of fandom reserved for the likes of Community or Parks and Recreation. Which is too bad, because everyone completely missed out on Max Blum, TV’s most important gay character. He’s like the Frank Ocean of sitcoms. Well, kind of.
A charming slacker and the antithesis of almost every gay stereotype that’s been pushed onto audiences by network TV for the past two decades (see: Jack and Will from Will & Grace, Kurt from Glee, Bryan from The New Normal, etc), Max (played by Adam Pally) made it a mission to eat pizza in bed and avoid having a real job. He was the witty slacker in his group of friends, a lovable loser. He also just happened to be a homosexual. No big deal. Except that it was.
The thing that made Max important wasn’t just the superficial fact that he was lazy or chubby, but because he was something different. And yes, there are a few other non-stereotypical gay guys on TV, but how many of them are main characters in mainstream comedies? You’d be amazed by the amount of people who ask me ‘Who’s the Mitch and who’s the Cam in your relationship?’, as if Modern Family depicts the only way that gay guys can be. I mean, if you’re a Mitch or a Cam, that’s cool too, but Max represents a wider spectrum of gay guys who are sick of being stereotyped.
Early on in Happy Endings, Max’s lack of “gayness” is brought to the forefront by his best friend (and ex-girlfriend) Penny, who declares him a “terrible gay husband”. Max just ain’t interested in helping her shop for clothes or joining her for brunch; he just wants to bang dudes and watch sports. The episode perfectly skewered the sitcom trope of using homosexual characters as a female character’s wisecracking “gay best friend”. To drive home the point, the show even introduced Derek, the overly flamboyant and stereotypical gay character (he’s pretty fabulous) who was basically the anti-Max.
By the end of the episode, Penny realises that she doesn’t need a “gay husband” and sees, with the help of Max, that she’s actually his ‘gay husband’ — dramatic, loud, and over-the-top. It’s at this point that every misjudged gay guy watching at home solemnly agrees with Max and realises they’ve had this moment in their lives. Gay men were not created to be your best friends, girls. Sorry.
Max’s character wasn’t just important in isolation, though, but as part of the group on Happy Endings. His friends treated him like a regular guy (as he was!), and helped him out in his love life without any of the homophobic squirming or hang-ups you often see when straight bros deal with gays on TV. It was refreshing to see gay dating dealt with in such a completely normal and honest way. But let’s not get too serious, either, ’cause the show also let Max get as ridiculously wacky as the other guys when it came to hook-ups, like that time he banged the son of a food truck owner as part of a taboo love tryst/food truck war that was a funny send-up of Romeo and Juliet.
Max’s inability to fit perceived gay stereotypes was explicitly referenced in the show, too. One memorable episode found him retiring from being gay, before searching for his very own gay subculture to fit into (note: there are a lot of them). After Jane and Derrick take him on an epic tour of Chicago’s gay bars without success, Max ends the episode by having to create his own subculture — “optimistic red velvet walrus” — and leaving the rest to fate (spoiler alert: a cute guy shows up at the end and naawww!). Between all the silly, made-up gay subculture gags, the episode perfectly explored how out of the norm Max was compared to most other gay characters on TV.
The saddest thing about Happy Endings‘ cancellation is that Max was more than just a character on a sitcom. He’s the example that young teens need to see when they start questioning their sexuality, only to realise they don’t fit into what’s typically thought of gay. He’s the character that people with no gay friends need to see and understand, so they don’t interpret all gay people through the filter of Will & Grace. Most importantly, though, he broke down stereotypes by simply being charming, likable and fucking funny.
So, spare a moment for Max and Happy Endings amidst all your happy tumbling and tweeting about Community‘s fifth season renewal. As much as the show flew under the radar, it deserves to be recognised for featuring a funny dude who told sweet jokes and just happened to be gay.
Nick Adams is a copywriter and arts journalist who has contributed to Triple J Magazine, artsHub and other sites all over the internet. He lives in Melbourne and really likes music, TV, comics and dogs. Especially dogs.