the l word: generation q
TV, 2019, 3 stars
Created by: Michele Abbott, Ilene Chaiken, Kathy Greenberg
First Run: 2019-2022 (Warning: Spoilers to season 3)
The L Word franchise is an odd beast, sitting as it always has somewhere between frothy soap opera and a milestone in lesbian culture. When rebooting the baggage-laden franchise, they would have faced a myriad choices that boil down to one thing: how do you recapture the audiences of the past while connecting with new audiences, most of whom have entirely different expectations and experiences?
This new iteration is different. Three original cast return as leads (Jennifer Beals, Kate Moennig and Leisha Hailey), while many others - particularly Laurel Holloman - return for significant arcs throughout the series. Even Dana gets a heartbreaking outing in season three. The rest of the cast is made up of previously-unknown twenty and thirty-somethings who we need to get to know from the beginning.
Linking past struggles with the new gives this show its edge and its continuity. I do love the ease through which the legacy characters now make their way through the world. It feels like progress; there’s total openness and a complete lack of shame, as younger folks would now expect.
It’s not about coming out or sexual insecurity anymore - that would have rung false to today’s viewers. It’s about standing up to parents and bosses, navigating social pressures, work and life, and being authentic in all facets of life, all soaked in those glorious suds. It calls to the new generation without denying that pockets of pain and discrimination still exist outside the safety of this Silver Lake enclave, especially now.
Somebody went back and consulted the ghosts of diversity mistakes past. We have black, latina, south american, Iranian, disabled, and bisexual women, plus a trans man. We have rich, we have poor, plus a trans actress not playing trans. They’ve cast more out lesbians to play lesbians, something younger audiences demand. The only type of lesbian the show still seems to be allergic to is plus-sized women. The butches really aren’t that butch either, but that’s television, I guess. (I’m still sore about the drubbing real butches got in the original L Word.)
They’ve hired decent directors, the wardrobe is hot (whoever is dressing Leisha Hailey deserves an Emmy for “most outfits for one person that could be their own character in a series”). You can practically smell the increased budget in every detail.
But… oh you knew there was a but coming didn’t you? The only way you can describe the writing is… patchy. Why can’t people write for Bette Porter? Everything that comes out of her mouth is contrived, cold and pretentious - it improved in later seasons but not by much. Jennifer Beals can act! At her best, Bette is the most evolved character, and always has been. So flawed, so clever, still so goddamn sexy. Why is it so hard to make her sound like a real person?
On the other hand, the writing for Shane is on point. They’ve grown her up in all the right ways, while leaving in those ragged elements we all love. Much like ye olde days, Alice is a queer caricature but has her own comedy gold and emotional moments. The inconsistency is maddening. So pretty much the same as before, with more mature problems.
As the affable Finlay, Jacqueline Toboni had some fun developing out the character, from too young, too too old and experienced for her age. Watching chaotic characters get their shit together is a long game (long time fans of Shane can attest to this), and our “new” Shane is no different.
Dani Nunez (Arienne Mandi), the “Bette-Lite” of the group, is power-hungry with some serious daddy issues. She and Bette are friendly at first when on the same side, but how alike they are eventually drives a wedge between them. Dani initially having a crush on Bette, an older version of herself, simply highlights her borderline narcissism.
Then there’s poor Sophie Suarez (Rosanny Zayas). Sophie is honestly a bit of a nothing character throughout, despite much of the drama focusing on her. She’s meant to represent more of a down to earth, “normal” character, but more often than not that translated to either “doormat” or boring. Not until the back half of season 3 does she develop a spine.
Trans men are finally getting the look-in they deserve with Micah (Leo Sheng), the best friend of Dani and Sophie. He’s a sweet, mostly underdeveloped character, but I do feel he’s important to the balance.
My sentimental fave of the new ensemble is Jamie Clayton as Tess Van De Berg, the manager of Shane’s new lesbian bar. Clayton has charm for days and a gift for delivering a dry line. Her wit, cynicism and realness provide a perfect foil for Shane, and oh, watch out for that deep sexy voice. How I’ve missed that since Sense8 ended! Her rocky road with Shane often digs deeper than I thought TLW (or Shane) was capable.
There are guestbians aplenty! With Rosie O’Donnell, Megan Rapinoe, Roxanne Gay already seen, the tradition of dragging in lesbian celebrities for guest spots in a knowing nod to broader queer culture continues from the original show. It’s a tradition that brings “aha!” moments and often laughs, and it was well worth keeping.
Rosie O’Donnell had zero chemistry with Laurel Holloman, so moving Carrie on to bigger and better things, especially in Season 3, was a good move. Besides, nothing could be allowed to stand in the way of Tibette, the old guard simply would not allow it. Rosie contributed major lesbian street cred to both here and in A League of Their Own, and we were all happier for it.
With the diversity machine kicking in and the whole cast pretty high voltage on charisma and sex appeal, there was a lot to like and get engaged with in this new iteration. The sex was pretty out there to start, but thankfully has dialled back a bit in favour of actual character development.
Downside - someone forgot to inject real humour into here, and Alice and Finlay can’t carry the whole load. Everyone takes themselves way too seriously for the level of suds, and the characters’ tendency to whine is something I could happily jettison.
Finally, Bette is too strong a presence in the series to make her permanently into a stone cold bitch. She does thaw eventually in an important S3 plot point, and thankfully so. Beals has amazing comedic chops and plays her heart so well. A little bitch Bette goes a long way.
Season one and two had serious heart and fire, and I was in for the ride, until season three utterly derailed everything and every single character seemed determined to make the stupidest decisions possib;e. When Finlay turned out to be the most level headed character in the show, you knew the season had jumoped the shark. Alice’s search for true love was sweet, Tess and Shane’s meltdown less so, and the final reunion of Tibette was not enough to save it.
So much inconsistency - so frustrating.