“Do Not Disturb” Disappoints, Despite Novel Gay Character

Photo credit: Fox

I hate reviews that involve puns on a project’s title, but the new Fox sitcom Do Not Disturb is definitely one better left alone.

Which is a shame. It’s a show with a prominent gay character on Fox, a network that was named the least gay-friendly in a recent GLAAD report. And the show is written and created by an out gay man, Abraham Higginbotham, who worked previously on Will & Grace, Arrested Development, and Back to You.

Do Not Disturb tells the story of the antics behind-the-scenes at a posh New York City hotel. In a nod to the old PBS series Upstairs, Downstairs, the show contains two sets of characters — the “beautiful” ones, who work upstairs with customers of the hotel, and the “dumpy” ones, who work unseen and unappreciated downstairs.

Jerry O’Connell plays Neal, the hapless lothario of a hotel manager trying to maneuver between the two worlds, and Reno 911’s Niecy Nash plays Rhonda, the sassy downstairs head of human resources.

Meanwhile, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, a stand-out from last year’s otherwise mediocre sitcom CBS The Class, plays Larry, a sometimes lascivious, always grumpy gay man who toils away downstairs as head of housekeeping at the hotel.

First, some interesting trivia about an otherwise uninteresting show:

• Gus the bellboy is played by Dave Franco, James Franco’s look-alike brother.

• Rene Alvarado, the hunky star of 2006’s gay indie hit East Side Story, has a one-line role in tonight’s episode where he looks up from a table says, “I’m not gay.”

• Larry, the gay character, is modeled after Higginbotham, the series creator, in an uncanny case of art imitating real life; Ferguson has red hair and Higginbotham has black hair, but otherwise they look and sound almost exactly alike.

“He’s a version of me,” Higginbotham admits in an interview with AfterElton.com. “What I wanted was a normal-looking man in glasses with the hair, a normal body, a normal face. Most gays, I think, are portrayed as the people who work upstairs [at the hotel on the show], who are fabulous and have terrific bodies and gorgeous, chiseled chins – and not that Jesse’s not a handsome man, but what I wanted was a normal-looking guy who worked downstairs.”

Abraham Higginbotham

Photo credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

According to Higginbotham, this is the “next wave” of characters on television. Previously, gay characters were a gimmick — “a giant fad and we got saturated with it,” he says. “It was ‘gay is cool!’ And then it was everywhere and then it was like, it’s not cool. Now you have to make an interesting character who is also gay. Gay for gay’s sake doesn’t fly anymore, and it flew for a long time because it was fashionable and it was cool. Gay’s not that interesting anymore. It’s gotta be the next level.”

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