In the mid-to-late 2010s, one of the best places to tell stories about queer characters was kids TV. A boomlet of shows following in the footsteps of Cartoon Network’s whimsically dark series Adventure Time, shows like Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe and Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, featured characters not just discovering but celebrating their queerness.
But by 2023, almost all of those shows have gone off the air, and few similarly themed series have replaced them. In an environment where several red states have pushed laws that hope to keep kids from encountering queer identities or exploring their own queerness, it can seem like children’s TV has made a cautious retreat from discussing LGBTQ+ issues.
One of the last shows from that period still airing, the Disney Channel’s The Owl House, is not just one of the best kids shows on TV, but one of the best shows on TV, period. Its blend of whimsical humor, unsettling horror, and rich mythology made for a series whose appeal reached beyond kids to teens and adults. And from its very first episode, it’s been frequently, aggressively queer in a way even many shows aimed at adults can’t touch.
The show’s central love story is between two girls, whose process of self-discovery becomes an elaborate metaphorical dance. (And sometimes, a literal one.) Our heroes are opposed by a rigid, puritanical figure who longs to put hard and fast barriers on the wild magic that powers the series’ world. It’s a surprisingly deep allegory for the ways in which reactionary ideologies all have the same aim: stamping out that which is different.
Even in the world of queer kids TV, The Owl House stands alone. “We don’t have many, if any, [kids shows] who have taken queer relationships, made them explicit early on, and then made them central to the characters’ evolutions,” says Dr. Kyra Hunting, an associate professor of media arts and studies at the University of Kentucky who studies children’s media.
Yet now The Owl House is ending too, its truncated third season wrapping with a series finale that will air Saturday night. The Owl House was the best queer kids show. Will it be the last one as well?
The Owl House centers on Luz, a normal girl who travels to the mystical Boiling Isles. A fantasy novel nerd who’s genre-savvy enough to twist the situation to her advantage, Luz decides to learn magic herself, apprenticing to a rogue witch and later attending a magic school. There, she meets Amity, the daughter of a powerful witch family. The two initially clash, but irritation gives way to affection and, finally, romance. While other kids shows have had queer romances, they either involve supporting characters or are made explicit in the show’s series finale if they involve the protagonist. “Lumity,” though, is a full-on enemies-to-girlfriends arc.
The Owl House’s characters also include a nonbinary witch who is the great lost love of Luz’s mentor, the gay dads of one of Luz’s best friends, and a host of queer side characters, including a shape-shifting lizard (a metaphor for basically any queer identity you’d like). The show has so many queer characters that when a boy and girl character start flirting in the third season, they can almost seem like the show’s token heterosexuals. (The show also has maybe my favorite character in all of television, a seemingly infinite cylindrical owl-faced tube creature who irritates everyone he meets but also serves as an enormous, annoying guard dog. His name, of course, is Hooty.) The series goes beyond basic representation too, as the characters’ queerness always informs their story lines. Luz and Amity, for instance, become both better witches and better people when they’re able to be together.
While the show has never been a smash hit, it performs well, especially online. On YouTube, the series’ first episode has almost 9 million views; its most recent has just over 6 million. Even on good, old-fashioned television, the show’s ratings have seen a bit of an uptick of late. It’s also won awards, including a Peabody.