Murder is a show about pretty terrible law students and their even worse professor indulging in their most transgressive behaviors. So far, viewers have seen characters help multiple murderers escape punishment (no surprise, given the show's title), exploit sex for personal and professional gain, cover up a murder they possibly committed (in the future!), and lie constantly. These people are ugly to one another, mean-spirited in even their most humorous moments.
It follows, then, that Connor (Jack Falahee), the show's most prominent gay character, would embrace an unfortunately pervasive trend among gay men to consider bottoms the submissive and/or effeminate position—and thus, for reasons that go far beyond just gay men, the lesser. It follows that the other characters would tell crass jokes about prison rape. Even if these are the most progressive, liberal people—though the show doesn't really get into political affiliations—they are still just terrible. It's the same reason why a liberal lion like Alec Baldwin can also be a tremendous bigot: Progressivism and being a jerk are not mutually exclusive.
I bring up the idea of progressivism because of what Lowder says in his piece when talking about why the specific instances of bottom shaming were included in the show:
I’ve watched the clips many times, and I just don’t get why they’re there. Leaving them out would have done nothing—except prevent a show that wants to be progressive in its sexual politics from taking up a damaging old stereotype and broadcasting it to audiences that may not know any better.
It’s not clear, though, that the show actually “wants to be progressive in its sexual politics.” It has been called progressive, sure, because it features explicit gay sex scenes on network TV. But being described as something and trying to be that thing are wholly different. One actual, clear goal of Murder is to show how awful people can be. (Again, this show is named for the evasion of punishment for a heinous felony.) The series accomplishes that goal beautifully, despite Murder's ups and downs quality-wise.
Murder never judges its characters, merely allowing them to make their choices as actual human beings might. Are all people in real life as terrible as the Murder characters? Of course not. The target audience is mature enough to know the difference between TV and reality. The show is a depiction of extremities, not normalcy. If Murder were refreshingly progressive about bottom shaming, it would be inconsistent with its own tone.
Which isn’t to say the show lacks a social conscience. Though the Alessandra Stanley/"angry black woman" debacle from earlier this fall drew attention to the fact that Murder is not really driven by Shonda Rhimes, the show is still is part of Greater Shondaland. And one of the defining features of Shondaland—as seen on Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, and Private Practice—has always been to feature diverse casts, which allows the characters to push back against sexism, racism, and homophobia without making a big deal about it. If creator Pete Nowalk really did want to endorse bottom shaming—and thereby reinforce old, damaging ideas about masculinity, femininity, and sex—he’d be pretty out of step with Rhimes's mission.