I Saw the TV Glow Star Brigette Lundy-Paine on How the Film Captures a New Kind Of Trans Narrative

“It’s a story about what happens when you don’t listen deeply to who you are.”

by Daisy Jones

Justice Owen and Brigette Lundy-Paine in I Saw the TV Glow

In I Saw the TV Glow, the latest project from rising indie filmmaker Jane Schoenbrun, outcast teenagers Maddy (Atypical’s Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Owen (Generation’s Justice Smith) find respite from their lonely ’90s suburban life through their shared obsession with The Pink Opaque, a Buffy the Vampire-esque, supernatural show that offers a portal to a world where people can be their authentic selves. Maddy is cool and grungy, with black eyeliner and drapey clothes to match, and plays a kind of older, queer advisor to the painfully shy Owen. As time goes on, Maddy finds a way to break free of the constraints of their conformist world, while Owen languishes, too afraid to risk change at the tragic cost of his health and sanity.

“It’s a story about what happens when you don’t listen deeply to who you are, and you try to scab over truths because of how scary they are,” says 29-year-old Lundy-Paine over Zoom, a vintage suit jacket slung over both shoulders and a baby blue shirt buttoned up to their chin.

I Saw the TV Glow is the sort of muted horror Schoenbrun became known for with their 2021 breakout, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, which also uses a neon-soaked, psychedelic allegory to explore gender identity. Schoenbrun wrote I Saw the TV Glow during the process of coming out as transgender, and as a result, it isn’t a trans story in the way we’re used to seeing them from cisgender creators: on-the-nose scenes of cis actors trying on wigs or reenacting hate crimes. It’s much smarter—and stranger—than that, filled with abstract imagery that feels multilayered and human.

Maddy (Lundy-Paine) and young Owen (Ian Foreman)


For Lundy-Paine, it was this sense of knottiness that drew them to the film. “I’ve had a personal resistance to working on most of the projects that are available to me because often they’re simplistic or casually exploitative of queerness,” they said. But this film felt different: a story of self-actualization that Lundy-Paine could actually see themselves in and engage with. “I know a lot of people who feel this way after seeing I Saw the TV Glow,” they add. “Like, ‘That’s it! That’s what it feels like! No one’s said it before, but that’s what it feels like!’”

It might seem odd to talk about relatability when I Saw the TV Glow centers on two high schoolers who become so enamored with a late-night show that they start to lose track of reality. But Lundy-Paine believes that it’s this mythical quality that makes the film so resonant—because life isn’t black and white, especially when it comes to queer and trans stories. “Gender is something we play with as myth,” they explain, mulling it over. “It’s like color. Black and white are two dynamics that we need to understand one or the other—they depend on each other, and gender is the same way. Male and female are archetypes. These are tones, it’s not something that actually exists. We’re not actually one gender.”

At the end of the film, Maddy has undergone a rewarding process of self-fulfillment. They’re no longer hiding behind long curtains of hair, the dark circles from beneath their eyes gone to reveal a bright-eyed gaze. Owen isn’t so lucky. His body withers, his face paling like a corpse. This isn’t something we see often either: stories that show what happens when a trans person doesn’t step into themselves. “I think the physical state of Owen is how people feel on the inside when they don’t allow themselves to be fully them,” says Lundy-Paine. “He’s dying because he’s starving, and because he hasn’t allowed himself to be filled up with his real life.”

One can only hope that the cult success of recent films and series like I Saw the TV Glow, Stress Positions, The People’s Joker and Sort Ofkaleidoscopic stories told that go beyond the one-dimensional tropes we’ve been fed for decades (if we’ve been fed them at all)—might open the door for more creations like them. It’s a sentiment that Schoenbrun shares, posting on X recently: “I want to be frank with u, plz buy tickets and tell ur friends to do the same. i really want the movie to make a bunch of money bc it'll make it easier for me to convince cis ppl to keep letting me do this shit.”

In the meantime, Lundy-Paine is working on another movie they are writing and directing themselves. It’s called October Crow, and it stars Lundy-Paine’s real-life mother, their 71-year-old neighbor Peter, and themselves as “a guy getting degraded.” They’re at a stage in their life where, like Maddy, they’re fully stepping into themselves and doing what speaks to them, whether creatively or as an actor (or both). “Doing this movie has really taught me to understand and find confidence in myself and my gender identity,” they say. “But also, as an actor, this was one of the greatest things I’ll ever get to work on,” they add, “because Jane is such a genius.”

I Saw the TV Glow is now in theaters.