Do TV shows have a gender? I know that early television was heavily tied to the concept of women’s work, but I’m not sure if that type of targeting still applies in 2007 — oh, who am I kidding? The only thing that’s changed since the 50s is that TV makes more of an effort to engage men as well as women. For every Sex and the City, there’s an Entourage, for every Oprah, a Jimmy Kimmel. But even in the bastion of the status quo that is network television, there are shows that queer the old formulas.

On the face of things, Prison Break is as manly a show as they come. The show’s first season featured shivs to the throat, gay anxiety, filial loyalty, and a general abundance of punches and guns. Freed from the confines of the ‘pen in its second season, though, Prison Break had the opportunity to branch out and let its fugitive characters explore roles other than Pitcher and Catcher. While the ostensible goal of the Fox River Eight is to stay out of the clutches of the law (and the Shadowy Supragovernmental Cabal™ that controls it), the real goal for each of the escapees (and more than a few of their pursuers) is to restore their status as good husband, boyfriend, or father. Family values aren’t in and of themselves a gender-specific topic, but they’re not necessarily at the top of the thematic heap on 24 or CSI.

And then there’s the matter of Dr. Sara. After spending the first season being little more than a romantic foil for Michael, Sara busted out in Season 2 to kick all kinds of ass, showing off levels of resourcefulness, fortitude, and survival instincts that make the boys on the show look like they’re just playing Cops and Robbers. She also developed a vengeful streak that could make Veronica Mars sit up and say “dang, she is hard.” Sara’s ascendance to a main character, both in terms of the overall plot and in who the audience is led to identify with, is another sign that despite all the seemingly boy-coded amputations and beatdowns, Prison Break is quite a girly show.

(Also: Sara and Michael continue to form a romantic couple so pretty, the very angels above weep hot tears of joy every Monday at the sight of them.)

While Prison Break may bend its gender a bit by being a female-coded show wrapped in a male-coded coating, Ugly Betty breaks the heteronormative mold completely. The show is based on a telenovela and set in the offices of a fashion magazine, so heavy doses of camp are to be expected, and the show doesn’t disappoint. However, it takes more than catty one-liners, editorial power plays, and star-crossed romances to make Ugly Betty the queerest thing on network TV. Between the gays, the hags, the divas, the post-op transsexuals, and the closeted straight men, the cast of characters is a panoply of cris-crossed gender performances. One of the most heated debates among viewers of the show didn’t involve Fey Sommers’s murder or Wilhemina’s scheming, but the question of whether the preadolescent — but exceptionally swishy — Justin is gay or just generally fabulous.

Betty herself, while straight, is as fabulous as everyone else on the show. An outsider in a hostile world, her efforts to forge an identity for herself outside of the narrow ways in which others have defined her are something that anyone can relate to, regardless of which way they swing. Betty has the advantage of having a loving family around her, while the arcs for many of the other characters involve their less-than-pleasant relationships with their birth families and their efforts to create an alternate family of coworkers and friends, a common trope in both queer texts and office comedies. The ways in which the characters find themselves and each other are what make Ugly Betty a joy to watch; Lost may have gotten its groove back, and Heroes may have been the only true appointment television on the air, but Ugly Betty is probably the show I came to love the most over the last season.