TV, 2010, 3.5 stars
Created by: Harriet Braun
First Run: 2010-2011 (2 Seasons)
With the appearance of Lip Service on Netflix and in much wider circulation than its first appearance, it seems like an appropriate time to revisit the Scottish lesbians.
Let’s start with what Lip Service isn’t. It is not “The L Word in Glasgow”. The two series are actually worlds apart, in both their intent and the execution. Lip Service is decidedly more middle-lower class and gritty than the glammed up Los Angeles lesbo world of The L Word. The L Word was also a lot more “issue of the week”, whereas in Lip Service you could be forgiven for thinking that lesbians pretty much have two things on their minds - where are the women and how can I shag one?
It also isn’t terribly representative of the queer world as a whole. Being queer in Glasgow appears to have the same issues as everywhere else - no black or ethnic people, butches, or anything that might make you think you were watching anything resembling the real world. However, I do like the fact that it shook things up a bit on the normally conservative BBC, and if you’re into a bit of sudsy romantic soap opera that happens to revolve around some queer ladies, you just might find yourself addicted to this.
The series starts with serial lothario Frankie (Ruta Gedmintas) returning to Glasgow to attend her Aunt’s funeral. She fled to New York two years earlier, leaving chaos and a broken hearted best friend and girlfriend in her wake. Cat, the wounded girlfriend (Laura Fraser), has just started to pick herself up and get on with her dating life when Frankie suddenly reappears. Angst ensues as Cat weighs up her strong feelings for Frankie with emerging feelings for policewoman Sam (the gorgeous Heather Peace).
Struggling along at the same time is aspiring actress Tess (Fiona Button), who stumbles from one inappropriate job and lover to another on her way to making it, or die trying. She’s the unrequited love object of Cat’s straight brother Ed (James Anthony Pearson), who has just sold his first Science Fiction novel. Ed watches from afar as Tess falls for one wrong woman after another, never able to express his devotion, though everyone knows about it except poor Tess.
Frankie’s best friend Jay also happens to be Cat’s co-worker, and he is pretending to hide his wild ways from his fiance who thinks she tamed him and he’s turned over a new leaf. Frankie re-emerging onto the scene does not help him in his futile quest to stay on the straight and narrow. He basically has a heart of gold, when he can find it, but the combination of Jay and Frankie is capable of screwing up to monumental levels, to Cat’s horror.
Other bit characters pop in and out. There’s the incorrigible Sadie, the real estate agent, and sometimes thief, who dates Frankie for a while and is as dangerous as she is, but realises before even Frankie does that Frankie’s heart belongs to Cat.
Lip Service doesn’t shy away from the sex side of lesbian culture. I do think all that skin fits the feel of the series though, as it focuses strongly on love lives, relationships, and really figuring out your heart’s desires. This is romantic indecision on steroids - it’s all about who’s sleeping with who and why.
As we move into the second season we get pretty much more of the same, only one of the characters is tragically lost in the world’s stupidest plot twist (I’ll spare you the spoiler), and the others move on without them. There’s the addition of new character Lexy the hot nurse to spice things up who becomes a roommate and a love interest for two of the other characters.
To love this show, you have to engage with the largely unlikeable characters, even the narcissistic Frankie. If you can’t find something in them, it’ll all leave you cold. Cat really spoke to me. I love Laura Fraser’s twitchiness. I related to Cat’s nervous, anxiety-ridden path through life, questioning everything but giving her heart so easily everywhere. She has a tough choice to make between Frankie and Sam, who are so different in every way. One satisfies her link to her past, and the other is so obviously the safer choice for her future. But, when does the heart ever play it safe?
The ditzy Tess is good for a laugh. She both bounces around and lays lethergically on the screen like a bipolar labrador puppy, and she’s endearing in that hopeless friend who never gets her shit together kind of way. Sam the gorgeous cop smoulders her way through every scene, I do think though that perhaps they could have given her a break and written some semblance of humour into her character. Heather Peace can also sing the lights out, I kind of wish they’d found a way to incorporate that side into Sam.
Frankie is just Frankie, and despite her endless fuckups you can’t help rooting for her to solve the puzzle she needs to solve from her past to move on. There’s a deep, dark trauma beneath her cool facade that only Cat ever seems to see, and her inability to commit to anything and anyone comes from a sense of abandonment she’s felt her whole life.
Yes, it’s facile, and soapy, and a bit sleazy at times. Yes, it’s full of sex, and drugs, and sometimes we hate the hell out of the decisions the characters make. I certainly resent some of the decisions the writers made - another dead lesbian, yawn. Prepare for some entirely shocking and unnecessary tears. Yet, there’s sort of no halfway with Lip Service, and I guess that’s where it and The L Word do collide. You’re either in for the lot or you aren’t, and if you commit, it’s one hell of a sexy ride.