Monday, December 02, 2019

TV Review: The L Word: Generation Q

[Warning: Mild spoilers for the women who long, love, lust.]

The ladies who love talking, laughing, loving, breathing, fighting, fucking, crying, drinking, riding, winning, losing, cheating, kissing, thinking, and dreaming still love doing all those things in the new revival of “The L Word.” But now, in the return of the show 10 years after it went off the air, they no longer have to sing about it – at least not in the theme song.

Yes, lesbians, there is a Santa Claus. That Betty theme song we all love to hate is gone.

Instead, the sequel to the seminal series about women who love women in West Hollywood is back with a slew of new cast members to help fill out its new subtitle: “Generation Q.”

The result is a show that manages to feel true to its trio of core characters – oh, Bette, Alice and Shane, we missed you so – while organically bringing in new women, and men, into their and our lives.

But, enough about the basics, let’s get to the sex. True to its original frisky nature of “The L Word,” the sequel does not shy from showing women loving other women in flagrante. In fact, the series starts out with a real bloody bang, both figuratively and literally. Consider it a naked attempt to familiarize us with two of the new characters, again both figuratively and literally.

Soon after the series starts laying out the new landscape of the way “The L Word” ladies live today, in 2019. While the original series was about bunch of friends (a bit like queer women’s “Friends” with more nudity and less heterosexuality), the sequel plays a bit more of a workplace adjacent drama with plenty of backstory.

The intertwining of the new cast with the old cast is well done and helps create a natural barrier to our expectations. Before we had a tight-knit group who hung out together despite wildly disparate socioeconomic statuses. The unifying factor instead was their love of other women.

But in “Generation Q” those “we’re friends because we’re gay” assumptions have been jettisoned. Their lives are now less, if more realistically, intertwined.

Bette, Alice and Shane’s return highlights just how well the three women have done for themselves in the past decade. Bette is running for mayor of Los Angeles. Alice is starting the second season of her podcast-turned-TV talk show. And Shane, well, Shane literally jets in from Paris/New York where she ran wildly successful salons.

Our baked-in affection for these three central characters – now leaning into wealth and power – provides spillover goodwill to the new character. They are Dani (played by Arienne Mandi) and Sophie (played by Rosanny Zayas) a longtime couple who live together in a complex with their roomie Micah (played by trans actor Leo Sheng).

Dani works for her father, an influential private investment company, and Sophie works for Alice as a producer on her show. Micah is a college professor who lives with them for reasons I don’t fully understand yet.

And then they’re Sarah Finley, or Fin (played by Jacqueline Toboni). Make no mistake, Fin will be the Jenny of the new series – but in an entirely differently way than Ms. Schecter. You either love her or you immediately hate her. I fall into the latter; I find her truly annoying.

Toboni, who is great as half a lesbian couple the Netflix anthology series “Easy,” feels forced as Fin. While the trailers positioned her as a sassy fan favorite, I find her overly eager, immature puppy dog energy to be grating. But, who knows, maybe she’ll grow on me and the role.

One of the more welcome changes to “Generation Q” is how effortlessly diverse the series feels. The new black and brown characters don’t feel token in any way, instead their ethnicity has been woven into the stories. Jennifer Beals was the only minority in the original cast of series regulars (with Pam Grier as her sister as well), but now Toboni is the only white new addition to the new regular cast.

Also refreshing is the show’s attempt to make real amends for its disastrous past portrayal of the trans community. The Max storyline will always be one of the most shameful chapters in “The L Word” history. In Micah we see a full-realized trans man living his life and navigating modern dating, with no horrendous Willy Wonka-themed parties in sight.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect. Like the original, which was also far from perfect, the show has some clunky storylines out the gate. One about the opioid crisis, an obvious attempt at pulling national news into the series, feels particularly forced. And it’s also clearly telegraphed as “The Reason” Bette is running for mayor.

p.s. Poor, poor baby girl. Kit, you did not deserve the fate we can all already tell has befallen you.

The old Alpha Bette is still there, along with that strong vein of self-righteousness even she can’t always live up to. But now divorced from Tina (thank goodness they didn’t Dana Fairbanks her, instead the reason for their split is more mundane), she is raising Angelica as a single mom. I’m not entirely sure where they plan to take Angie’s budding teenager storyline. Perhaps she’s there to serve as a reflection to Bette’s best, though imperfect, intentions.

Shane is, well, Shane – but now with the added heartbreak of an estranged marriage and an empty L.A. mansion.

Of the original three, Alice seems the most out-of-character at times. Sure, wee see flashes of the old “this coffee tastes like poopy shit” Alice. But now she is in a relationship with a woman with two grade-school age kids, who have all recently moved in together. This bewildered mommy mode Alice feels like a neutered version of the Alice we all adore.

Fans of the original show will appreciate callbacks to its past plotlines. The night Bette spent in jail with The Carpenter. Alice’s past research into vaginal rejuvenation. The infamous billboard heist. And, like the original, there are plenty of name drops from Megan Rapinoe to Roxane Gay and, yes, Straight Bette Porter herself, Kamala Harris.

Perhaps most significant of all, we finally find out who killed Jenny Schecter in what amounts to almost a throw-away line that somehow still succinctly wraps up the insane clown posse madness of the series’ soapy, crazily careering storylines.

But here’s the thing, what we as queer women loved about the show wasn’t necessarily its many twists and at times unexplainable turns (shame circuses, stolen films, murder mysteries). What we loved was seeing ourselves reflected however imperfectly in these characters lives. For once we were the ones seeing our day-to-day happenings and over-the-top plot points broadcast on television. It wasn’t us transposing our lives and loves onto the stories of our straight friends and family, but us – seeing ourselves as lesbian, bisexual and queer women.

Now, one may ask if a revival is necessary. In light of improvements in the portrayal and frequency of LGBTQ characters on television, a show dedicated just women who love women might feel quaint. And the bigger question is who can tell our story the best.

The answer is no one show can. Queer people, like everyone else, contain multitudes. Some of us are wealthy, many of us aren’t. Some have children, some don’t. Some run for elected office and have dad’s who run investment firms. Other of us steal our bootycall’s bikes to make it to work on time. OK, I hope not too many of us do that last thing.

What we hope for instead is that a show about us feels like us. The commonalities among women who love women is what it has taken to survive in a world that still treats both women and queer people as less than. “Generation Q” is less about the wider struggle of being queer in America, and more about the continual struggle of queer women to remain true to themselves. And, you know, a little sex never hurt either.

“The L Word: Generation Q” air at 10 p.m. Dec. 8 on Showtime. And, yes, screeners permitting, I will be doing Pre-Ls for the revival series.


Panty Buns said...

I love the characters Bette, Alice and Shane. I also love Leisha Hailey's music ('The Murmurs' and 'Uh Huh Her'). I wonder whether she has a new band?
P.S.: Although I suspected Adele Channing was Jenny Schecter's killer in The L Word plot, I had trouble ignoring the fact that it was most likely @ileneChaiken who killed off the character Jenny. :/
I'm sure will love the female characters in 'The L Word: Generation Q'. I'll be waiting for it to come out on NetFlix so I can fast-forward past the scenes that have males in them.

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Carmen SanDiego said...

I’m so excited, this is like lesbian Super Bowl
I liked Finley in the trailer but not so much on the first episode. Actually I didn’t really like any of the new characters to be honest... and that includes Angie
I thought they were going to have Tina be in jail for the murder of Jenny but...
And yeah, Kit, right? it’s clearly why Bette is running, right?
I’m so excited for your Pre-L, post-L, during-L recaps of the episodes

rizzoli50isles said...

you never seem to fail in recalling events well the divorce of tina and bette was maybe the right thing to do I thought maybe bette would cheat on tina coz she didn't feel tina wanted her however time will tell how it all pans out though I get the impression from you that it wasn't all that good so eventually when the uk decides to fall into line and actually air it I will give it a chance lastly with all the originals tina kit etc has it really done it justice by not including them there was a post saying kit wasn't gonna be involved as she had other commitments but there was still sarah shahi and laurel holloman who said she was done with acting and wanted to commit to painting and marriage however there was also rumours that Jennifer and laurel had a lust filled affair behind their husbands back but only laurel lost her hubby jenn didn't and I think laurel refused to come back as it would be too emotional for her to see maybe bette sexing with other women do you think it would get a 2nd series just on that episode alone or is it gonna peater out come ep 8 and be done