Here's How 'Kate & Allie' Brought Queer Subtext To TV In 1984

One episode, "The Landlady," found the characters pretending to be lesbians to avoid a rent increase.

For six seasons, “Kate & Allie” broke fresh ground as a feminist narrative on mainstream television. The Emmy-winning sitcom followed two free-spirited divorcées, Kate McArdle (played by Susan Saint James) and Allie Lowell (Jane Curtin), who merge their families and raise their respective children together in New York. 

When “Kate & Allie” premiered in 1984, producers reportedly went to great lengths to ensure that audiences didn’t mistake the titular characters for being queer. But, as Seattle-based writer Matt Baume recalls, one of the show’s early episodes found the two women pretending to be a lesbian couple to dodge a rent increase on their single-occupancy apartment. Their plan humorously backfires, however, when the owner of the apartment (Gloria Cromwell) introduces them to her own same-sex partner (Chevi Colton). 

In the latest installment of his “Culture Cruise” video series, Baume breaks down “The Landlady,” which aired on Oct. 15, 1984. He praised the episode for using comedy to “flip the usual straight vs. gay discrimination” as well as for showing “how same-sex parents are as much a family as anyone else” years before marriage equality became the law of the land

The episode’s debut during the HIV/AIDS crisis of the mid-1980s was also significant. “The Landlady,” Baume explained, “subtly evokes a very serious real-life housing problem that was happening at the time: Because there were so many HIV-related deaths happening and so few legal protections for couples, often, when one partner died, the survivor would lose their home.”

And although 29 years have passed since “Kate & Allie” went off the air, LGBTQ-inclusive policies for tenants have been slow to catch up at the national level, Baume noted. 

“Infuriatingly, in large parts of the country, laws are stuck where they were back in the ’80s,” he said. “Landlords can still evict tenants for who they fell in love with.”