The L Word
Sunday 10:00 PM on
Showtime (60 mins)
Status: Returning Series
Premiered January 18, 2004
Show Category: Drama , Soap
The L Word is the intimate story about the lives and loves of
a group of lesbian friends living in Los Angeles. The show has
received a lot of praise for it's brilliant storylines and the
portrayal of the lesbian community. All
new television shows fight comparison, and some wage other battles
fair or unfair depending on what network they're on, who created
the show and when it airs.
But Showtime's ambitious and superb new
offering, "The L Word," may have more clutter to get through
than most before an honest assessment can occur. After all, this
is a high-profile "lesbian drama" from a channel that already
has a high-profile gay male drama in "Queer As Folk." That means
"The L Word" could be seen as Showtime's further exploration of
niche dramas (it has an African American series in "Soul Food"
and had a Latino drama in "Resurrection Blvd.," which led at the
time to assumptions the channel, in keeping with its "No Limits"
slogan, was merely offering up programs no one else was doing
and therefore making a cottage industry out of being different).
While that may be the case, it takes nothing
away from the fact that Showtime has allowed a creator, Ilene
Chaiken, to bring to the small screen her vision of an expansive
lesbian community in Los Angeles -- a feat she pulls off with
only a few fits and starts.
Still, Showtime is promoting the series in a
fashion that leaves little doubt that its ad department wants to
link "The L Word" stylistically to HBO's "Sex and the City."
It's not a very wise move primarily because there's no obvious
connection other than one is a hit comedy that's leaving the air
while the other is a fledgling drama in need of viewers.
But such is life in television -- sometimes
you've got to cut through the crap to even get noticed.
"The L Word" should have little trouble doing
that. Lesbians, despite Hollywood's fascination with them,
really haven't had much to call their own. "The L Word" is a
series that should not only attract that audience but, more
important, not repel them with stupidity or gross
characterizations. It helps, naturally, that this is Chaiken's
baby and she's a lesbian. (If it were a network show, it would
have been the brainchild of five straight males looking to
capitalize on a trend.)
And then there's the sex-sells angle. "Queer
As Folk" enjoyed free- flowing ink in newspapers and magazines
when it first came out, not only for its gay content, but for
its aggressive view of sexuality that showed no fear of
censorship or certainly, prudishness.
So, yes, the rampant nudity and omnipresent
lesbian sex scenes should be enough to stir interest all around.
But good for "The L Word." It's hard enough to
launch a show, much less on Showtime, where original programming
always seems to take a critical and audience-anticipation
backseat to HBO. A little hype never hurt.
"The L Word" has its work cut out to keep the
viewers who tune in for titillation, and build -- both in gay
and straight audience -- an allegiance to a complex set of
characters introduced in the 95-minute pilot, then fleshed out
in a series of ever-improving one-hour episodes.
What Chaiken has done with "The L Word" is
take a variety of hot-button lesbian issues and spread them out
over a web of characters who are connected generally to West
Hollywood and specifically to a hip cafe there. Imagine a
lesbian "Friends," only smarter and better-looking. The
friendships are the core of the series, and the neighborhood --
Los Angeles' trendy gay area -- serves as their safe zone.
Although "The L Word" is an ensemble, with all
kinds of characters getting fresh, interesting story lines, the
main players are Bette (Jennifer Beals) and Tina (Laurel
Holloman), a couple together for seven years who are now trying
to have a baby. Their next-door neighbor is Tim (Eric Mabius), a
straight, open-minded, nice guy who (other than the ridiculous
idea of having him drive a "muscle car") is a welcome creation
in the realm of gay-straight characterizations. Tim is eagerly
awaiting the arrival of his girlfriend Jenny (Mia Kirshner), a
writer moving out from the Midwest.
The central themes of "The L Word" are the
difficulties these couples have. Bette and Tina battle "lesbian
bed death" while Jenny has her world turned upside down when the
exotic and stunning Marina (Karina Lombard), who owns the hip
neighborhood cafe, gloms onto her.
Into this mix come Kit (Pam Grier), Bette's
half-sister, a musician and recovering alcoholic; Shane
(Katherine Moennig) the rock-star-like lesbian dynamo who has
plowed through most of the women in Los Angeles; Alice (Leisha
Hailey), a bisexual journalist, who provides the comedy and Dana
(Erin Daniels), a professional tennis player who's still in the
closet but likely to blow that cover with her swivel-headed lust
at each passing single lesbian, though her track record of
actually getting anyone to notice her is woeful.
There are a few others as well, but this core
group is well-sketched by Chaiken. We stay interested in their
interconnected friendships and dramatic fates once Chaiken
smooths over the inevitable bumpy spots of any character-
It's clear that "The L Word" is a drama meant
for everyone. It's not some exclusive lesbian-only venture -
something lesbians will discover (and possibly mock) in the
first few main scenes as the Big Issues being discussed have a
clear Lesbian 101 taint to them. But that's not a major
stumbling block. All storytellers want to bring everyone into
the tent, and Chaiken is no different.
Discussions of "gaydar" and a comic rundown of
how-to-spot-a-lesbian won't enlighten any San Francisco viewers,
but the scenes neither flop entirely nor, worse, offend. There
is a tonal shift that's a bit stark when Bette and Tina's
relationship woes suddenly give way to Dana's unsophisticated
flirtation with a sous chef at her tennis club. She doesn't know
if she's being hit on so Bette, Tina, Shane and Alice arrive in
some kind of "Queer Eye for the Clueless Lesbian" scene.
Another minor misstep is Tim -- and not just
his car. The gaydar goes off long before he pulls off his shirt,
but his too-good-to-be-true boyfriend routine ends up being
sweetly tolerable. It's the fact that an open-minded straight
male living in West Hollywood wouldn't know that Marina, working
her smoky mojo on Jenny, is a lesbian. He can see it all around
him, but not in her? Not quite believable.
These are minor quibbles. There is a forced
nature to some of the dialogue as it frantically touches on
those Big Issues, but a more natural sense of characters
relating to one another begins to emerge at the end of the pilot
and improves greatly in subsequent episodes. Chaiken and the
writing staff are still working on the humor part. Some of it
shines, almost unexpectedly -- as when Bette and Tina can't find
a willing sperm donor. Other times it trips upon itself (is a
scorned lover stalking Shane supposed to be funny or creepy?).
But the great success of "The L Word" is in
getting past all the barriers put in front of it. By the end of
the pilot, you want to follow these characters through their
lives -- easily the most important aspect of establishing a
series. The quality of the writing and acting relegate the sex
scenes, hot as they may be, to supporting-role status. (It could
easily have been reversed.) Ultimately, "The L Word" seems
nothing like an obvious effort by Showtime to capitalize on
"Queer As Folk," and more a series that has wonderful stories of
its own to tell. And no, despite the ads, it's not the next "Sex
and the City."
Maybe Showtime should change the promos to
"Come for the Sex, Stay for the Characters." At least that would
be truer, and certainly more deserving of the series.