MTV's new high school series Faking It revolves around Amy (Rita Volk) and Karma (Katie Stevens), two unpopular best friends who are mistakenly identified as a lesbian couple by golden gay boy Shane (Michael Willett), but quickly come to embrace the label when it transforms them into their school's most popular girls.
And if you find that premise offensive, you're not alone. Faking It showrunner Carter Covington (Greek and 10 Things I Hate About You) was initially aghast when MTV approached him with the idea for a show about two girls who pretend to be lesbians in order to be popular. "As a gay man, I told the network I was offended by that idea," he recalled to BuzzFeed during a recent set visit.
But while working The Trevor Project's crisis hotline, where he's a counselor, Covington had an experience that he felt elevated the show's potential. "I had a caller one night who said, 'I'm worried that my friends are only my friends because I'm gay,'" Covington said. "I was shocked. That idea seemed so foreign to me given the world I grew up in, but this kid explained that he went to a very tolerant high school where being gay was like a badge of honor. That's when I realized there are schools out there where being gay is no longer a problem, and tolerance is viewed as an asset. It made me think Faking It could work if we set it a high school like that and had one of the girls actually have a crush on her best friend."
Covington took the modified pitch to MTV, which, he said, they loved even more. "I think we've handled the subject matter in way that gives the show way more resonance."
And the cast couldn't agree more. "Ten years ago, we would have never been able to put this show on telly," said U.K.-born Gregg Sulkin (Pretty Little Liars, Wizards of Waverly Place), who plays Liam, Shane's straight best friend who develops a crush on Karma. "This is a great opportunity for us to show the world that times have changed. This is the future, this is where things are headed, so get on board or get out of the way."
The young cast's universal attitude toward the message Faking It espouses — Be true to yourself and people will love you because of that — reinforces a perceptible moral shift among twentysomethings who have grown up in a world with representations of the LGBTQ community omnipresent in pop culture.
But for 40-year-old Covington, who name-checked My So-Called Life's Rickie Vasquez as the only gay character the community once had, the significance of creating a series that revolves around a judgement-free examination of teen sexuality is not lost on him.
"I feel privileged to be that one that gets to put this on television," he said, beaming. "I've come to realize just how much the world has changed, and if this show can be a little moment in the evolution of acceptance and tolerance in this country, I will die the happiest person on earth."