Television

The L Word Returns, With an Unwelcome New Obsession With Identity Politics

The original lesbian-centric series was groundbreaking. The new generation is exhausting.

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The L Word: Generation Q.  Showtime. Sunday, December 8, 10 p.m.

Except as a symptom of total intellectual bankruptcy, television's obsession with remakes and reboots is impossible to understand. Few of them last long enough to make any money, and with the exception of Roseanne and its successor The Conners, none of them have anything to say beyond "will humiliate ourselves for food."

The temptation to revive Showtime's landmark lesbian drama The L World is perhaps a little more understandable. When the series debuted in 2004 it was not only the first about gay women, but the first in which they actually had sex instead of sitting about the parlor in gabardine sheath dresses knitting doilies and exchanging severe looks.

In some ways, The L Word was the lesbian sequel to Sex and the City, positing a world in which gay women, just like Carrie Bradshaw and her friends, could not only enjoy sex, but pursue it aggressively. "Any time you get a group of gay girls together, you are guaranteed someone slept with someone else," said the dizzy bisexual magazine writer Alice to her editor, making a pitch to publish a giant chart diagramming every lesbian affair in Los Angeles.

Ironically, The L Word's pioneering status worked against it at times. Some gay activists expected it to accurately represent every nuance of the lesbian world, an obviously impossible responsibility for a single TV show. Even so, the show managed to explore a wide-ranging swath of the emotional and political lesbian landscape, from the difficulties of interracial relationships to the shaky and easily exploitable foundations of gay parenthood to the lonely experience of middle-aged women trying to emerge from old and deep closets. In the final couple of seasons, there was even a lesbian army officer who was defiantly proud of her work in Iraq.

Somewhat more reasonable was the criticism that all the characters were reed-thin yuppies from oh-so-precious world of West L.A., spending hours each day brooding about first-world problem at a tres chic coffee shop. (The show even poked a little fun at itself on this score; when the woman formed a basketball team, they called themselves the Bourgie Asses.) But that, too, doesn't sound so different than Sex and the CityThe L Word was hardly the only TV show in which the ugly and poor were seriously under-represented.

What eventually killed The L Word was not political deviationism but producer Ilene Chaiken's exhaustion with her own characters. The 2009 season, its last, was basically a long murder mystery. (The victim was a nastily manipulative bisexual writer. The suspects included basically every other character on the show and a couple of million of its viewers.) Chaiken tried to interest Showtime in a spinoff about women in prison—four years before Orange Is the New Black came along—but the network declined.

What changed Showtime's mind is far from clear in The L Word: Generation Q.  Three of the five principal characters of the original show have returned for the spinoff. (Missing are the vicious bisexual Jenny, who's rotting somewhere around the eighth circle of Hell, and the unfaithful studio executive Tina, who's disappeared into the mists of Bitchy Ex-Spouse Land.)

But aside from some career advancement, none of them has changed much during the decade since we last saw them. Stick-up-the-ass arts administrator Bette Porter (Jennifer Beals) is now a stick-up-the-ass mayoral candidate, still sleeping with subordinates and still wondering why anyone would look askance at that.

Alice the dizzy writer is now Alice Pieszecki (Leisha Hailey), the dizzy TV talk-show host. Instead of getting emotionally trashed by girlfriends, she's now getting emotionally trashed by ex-wives and stepchildren. And Shane McCutcheon (Katherine Moennig), the promiscuous hairdresser who was at the center of that blueprint of L.A.'s lesbian action, is back from doing business in Europe, wallet fatter and chart broader.

Conversational topics may have modified a bit as the women slip into motherhood and middle age, to hot flashes and child-rearing tips (Alice: "I'm still stepping on those Legos, and those things are fucking deadly." Bette: "Stick to Lincoln Logs, they're way less hazardous.) But all the old neuroses and neurasthenias are still firmly and boringly implanted in everybody's brains.

Yet if the characters haven't changed much, The L Word's texture certainly has. While guys were mostly notable in the original show by their absence—the show could just as easily have been titled L World instead of L Word—there was no sense that they were the enemy. Most of the damage done to the female characters, right up to the childhood molestation that put permanent kinks in Tina's psyche, was inflicted by other women.

That's not so much the case in the spinoff, where far too many lines are delivered with prologues like, "While I might understand the willful ignorance of a straight white man… ." Identity politics are the newest member of the cast, and a most unwelcome one.

Not that there aren't some actual new characters to justify that Generation Q subtitle. They include Alice's TV producer Sophie Suarez (Rosanny Zayas, Orange Is the New Black), whose fiancé Dani Nùñez (Arienne Mandi, In The Vault) is at war with her father, a Big Pharma swine.

They room with Micah (newcomer Leo Sheng), newly identifying as a trans man. Another member of the crowd is Finley, (Jacqueline Toboni, Grimm), a careerist long on aspiration but short on competence. Fresh-faced all these characters may be, but they all seem to be from the cookie-cutter mold of ambition streaked with idealism and sexual uncertainty.

Give them credit, though; they're just as libidinal as their elders. I counted three explicit sexual encounters in the first 10 minutes of the pilot. And the geezers haven't really lost a step, either. When Alice demands of Shane, "Are you trying to fuck my mom?" you just know what the answer is going to be.

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  1. Be careful what you wish for.

    If you play identity politics to force people to accept gay people’s “rights”, expect that strategy to be used against you.

    1. You’d be a terribly unpleasant human being if you weren’t a Russian bot.

      The Republican party has practiced almost nothing but identity politics for most of a century. It’s all they have, because they have no ideas. They prey on the stupid and the afraid. That would be you. A Jews Will Not Replace Us parade is identity politics. You do get that, right?

      1. A lot longer than a century or Republicans, or 19th century Democrats. Think millenia.

        It was astounding when Disney gave partner benefits, in the face of the last gasp of TV preacher boycotts.

        I can’t blame them now that the shoe is on the other foot. Only lament that the learned lesson was not just live and let live, something people through those millenia would have been brought to tears just to have.

      2. a Russian bot

        It blows my mind that extremists like Tony, don’t realize how conspiratorial and stupid that sounds.

        1. Take it up with the United States intelligence services.

          You’d believe it if their compromised dupe in the US government had a (D) after his name. You’d believe it more than it merited.

    1. So exhausting. I’ll be in my bunk.

      1. Ugh. How did Lena Dunham not make the cast of this one?

  2. but the first in which they actually had sex instead of sitting about the parlor in gabardine sheath dresses knitting doilies and exchanging severe looks.

    I can tell you from personal experience, the latter is more realistic.

    1. I can tell you from personal experience, the latter is more realistic.

      In my limited experience, there is an age/generational element to it. I would agree that the lesbian version of Friends, where all the lesbians get together and hang out at the coffee shop, draped on the furniture and each other, talking about their relationships, is pretty fantastic. Maybe that’s what went on in L.A., but in pretty much any other community where you couldn’t be guaranteed to fill a coffee shop with lesbians who were obsessed with themselves and lesbianism, they behaved much more… normally.

    2. In my experience there is a lot of wrestling and drinking (my buddy rented a room to some young lesbians for a while some years ago and there were some pretty interesting parties). But that may not be typical of all lesbians.

  3. Somewhat more reasonable was the criticism that all the characters were reed-thin yuppies from oh-so-precious world of West L.A., spending hours each day brooding about first-world problem at a tres chic coffee shop.

    The L Word was hardly the only TV show in which the ugly and poor were seriously under-represented.

    I’m duly impressed by the thinking that takes 3 dimensions; rich/poor, attractive/ugly, and shallow/deep and compresses them into a line. I’m sure it’s got some pretty wide ranging concepts of diversity.

    1. There are some pretty ugly-ass rich people out there. But they don’t put them on TV too much. Except Donald Trump.

  4. Missing are the vicious bisexual Jenny, who’s rotting somewhere around the eighth circle of Hell

    Never saw the show, but after the Chappelle special, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the B in the Alphabet People was portrayed by Chaiken as an utter bitch.

    1. What did he say about the B’s? All I remember is that the T’s don’t like him.

      1. The Gs and the Ls think the Bs are “fucking gross.”

  5. I find that shows about someone who thinks that the most important or interesting thing is that he or she is gay are boring.

    1. But the show highlights the gay experience through the lesbian lens. I do note a distinct lack of salt-and-pepper mullets, cargo pants or shirts tucked into rotund belted waists.

      1. Sounds more like my inlaws.

    2. Does this apply to the Buttgieg campaign as well?

      1. Well, it is pretty boring, but I don’t think that’s the main reason why.

    3. What kinda fake lesbian shit is this? None of them bitches are wearing latex, no dildos, no bondage, no spanking.

  6. I found it hard to wank to, and I can’t imagine any other reason to watch it.

    1. So you have something to talk about at the water-cooler at work to show you’re woke and keep yourself in line for a promotion?

  7. A show about one of the subsets of “alphabet people” in 2019 is all about identity politics? What a shock.

    1. Seems like it’s going backwards. In 2005 they had a show about lesbians that was (I assume, I didn’t watch) about lesbian characters than relationships as a normal thing. Now it has to be some kind of political BS.

      1. Hell, look at the late-night talk circuit or cable news comedy genre–those people are all running skits and jokes like it’s still the Bush era. They don’t even realize that most of the country outside Megacity One and Megacity Two moved on from that a long time ago.

  8. Not all shows have to be made for you.

    Not being able to get beyond a kindergarten level of understanding of minority politics doesn’t mean you have to bitch about things you don’t understand.

    1. “minority politics”

      You misspelled “identity politics”, tovarishch.

      1. He’s gotta have something to make him feel special.

      2. That’s a broader term, one that straight white Christian men (the majority) practice with reckless abandon at every opportunity to to everyone’s annoyance. I’m not just talking about their white power parades.

  9. I can tell you from personal experience: I would agree draped on the furniture

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