[Editor’s Note – Contains spoilers for the entirety of season 1. Proceed at your own risk.]
The L Word that we grew up with was both path-breaking and problematic in equal measure. It was probably the first mainstream television show in the world to openly show an ensemble of queer/lesbian/bisexual women as protagonists, and began on a strong note. Important issues were delved into, from race, divorce, parenting, women’s health, etc. but the later seasons are history. Characters were butchered, couples were broken up relentlessly, trans character storylines were treated with complete insensitivity, and literally everyone in that fictional West Hollywood universe could not help their sexual libidos as each character literally had sex, cheated upon and did whatever other verb that godforsaken theme song belted out. However, The L Word, problematic as it was, helped me amongst many other young queer millennials discover and/or accept their sexualities. It gave us iconic queer characters and couples to root for, with the exception of one Jenny Schecter.
I am not sure if a sequel to The L Word is exactly the lesbian content that we needed in 2020, as the cast has insisted in numerous press junkets and interviews, but as a die-hard fan who is also a sucker for new content, I am torn between two opinions on watching this new avatar of the show. The original trio of Bette Porter (Jennifer Beals), Alice Pieszecki (Leisha Hailey), and Shane McCutcheon (Kate Moennig) return to grace our screens yet again, with numerous characters missing. Since the show is set exactly ten years after the original run, both production and story wise, the writers and production took some liberties in terms of determining the fate of the other actors who probably were unable to commit to the sequel. Still, there are numerous throwbacks, references and Easter eggs throughout the show, catering to the original fans.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment for me, even prior to the show’s broadcast, was the fact that Laurel Holloman, who played Bette’s partner Tina Kennard would not be returning as a series regular. Bette and Tina are divorced in this run of the show, co-parenting their now teenage Baby Portard, Angie (Jordan Hull). Kit Porter has died due to an opioid overdose, prompting Bette to dive into another potential professional expedition as a mayoral candidate for the upcoming Los Angeles elections. Alice’s ex-military girlfriend in the original run, Tasha, has unceremoniously been dusted off. So now, Alice is a TV talk show host and a celebrity and is in a relationship with Nat (Stephanie Allyne) and unsuccessfully co-parenting the latter’s kids with Nat’s ex-wife Gigi (Sepideh Moafi). An even bigger shocker came in the fact that Shane is now married, to one Quiara (Lex Scott Davis), a supposedly international singing sensation, who seems to be probably the first equal and healthy relationship that Shane has ever had since Carmen.
The first season of eight episodes had me squealing with delight and living for the scenes that the original trio was getting together, but that joy turned into something akin to almost anger watching the new main cast members. Dani Nunez (Arienne Mandi) seemed to be the only tolerable character of sorts. She is set up as a Bette prototype, ambitious, young, smart, passionate, and highly career-oriented. Given her close professional relationship with Bette, there is always that vibe of will they, won’t they because of Bette’s history of fucking up, and because in The L Word universe, you cannot really count on anybody controlling their libido.
Dani is engaged to Sophie (Rosanny Zayas), the latter being literally the most annoying character ever. Despite having a highly pressurizing job herself in Alice’s production team, she is an absolute ass when it comes to her fiance’s professional milestones. They do introduce a minor empathy point for Sophie where Dani’s father tries to interfere with their marriage preparations but Dani rips him apart a new one, again, making it a moot point. Towards the end of the show, it is kind of unsurprising that Sophie is the one who cheats, and it is left unclear if she ever went to meet Dani at the airport, who proposed they should elope and get married in Hawaii, where Sophie always wanted to go.
Micah is a transman character (played by real life trans actor Leo Sheng) who lives his life quite amicably with the rest of his friends, he is the one who persuades Dani to propose to Sophie, but otherwise his storyline is quite separate to the others. While Micah’s character seems to be written quite ordinarily, which is a relief when it comes to the track record of this show, there is also an erasure of sorts; as in the case of Jamie Clayton, a trans actress who plays Tess, Shane’s new bar’s tender. While I am not sure if this is a move that should be applauded or not, since it does normalize trans actors by not typecasting them only in trans character roles, it is clear that Tess is by far the strongest character in the new cast addition. Micah seems to mostly act like a lovelorn puppy, and Jose (Freddy Miyares) and him seem to have a cute relationship that we all are rooting for, but since this is The L Word and everything is a mess by rule, we see their relationship on a cliffhanger as well by the end of the season.
Finley (Jacqueline Toboni) is also one of the new lesbian women this season. Her character seems to come off as a mix of Shane and Dana, womanizing, and yet confused as hell, but in this case, it is her Catholic upbringing which drives her into personal crisis and unacknowledged alcoholism. I really don’t know if they were trying to be body positive when it comes to all of these characters, especially Finley, but for some reason, Finley has mad armpit hair, and looks miraculously waxed and threaded everywhere else. Even this feels like a token representation and positivity shout out. Although you can’t really visually miss it, Finley does seem to have some sort of a redemption arc as a character, mostly thanks to her priest love interest, Rebecca (Olivia Thirlby), both of which I would like to see more of in season 2.
Shane and her ex-wife Quiara seem to be going through what Tina and Bette sort of went through in season 1, although in a less hostile manner. Things seem to be on the mend, however, Quiara wanting kids and getting pregnant is something that Shane is completely scared about. It’s a little out of character and yet in character for Shane, who we always have seen to be great with kids. Somehow even Shane’s one-night stand and other dalliances has more repercussions on Tess’s relationship, than her marriage to Quiara, which is a plothole that the writers very conveniently left out. But all in all, Shane seems to be the glue between the original trio this season, she has an unprecedented calming energy, the kind both her volatile friends are in dire need of. Her relationship with Angie is rather endearing, and she refers to baby Porter-Kennard as her niece.
Gigi and Nat and Alice seem to be one of the most fleshed out characters, and to their advantage have three great actresses playing them with great chemistry. The three eventually become a throuple, all thanks to Alice, who seems to have the magical attributes to constantly fucking up her own relationships with unhealthy boundaries since the first season of the original run. Getting into a throuple with two ex-wives and co-parents should seem like nuclear territory, especially for Alice who we saw in a failed throuple as well in the last season of the original run. But she goes ahead with it anyway, being completely on-brand with her character. They do run into a roadblock where Nat and Gigi reconnect in a steaming hot bomb of a sex scene, but eventually Nat and Alice do get back together, which seems kind of convenient, considering her emotional history with her ex-wife.
Undoubtedly, the MVP of the season, as usually always, is Jennifer Beals as Bette Porter. The actress is at the top of her game this season, emoting in ways that will make your heart crash and burn along with Bette’s, as she has done consistently in the past. Angelica and Bette’s storyline is also one of the most heart-warming ones on the show, and possibly the only platonic relationship apart from the original trio which has been delved into properly. In the most surprising of twists, Laurel Holloman returns as Tina, the love of Bette’s life. As an ardent fan of this show, I was quite disappointed when I heard that Holloman would not be returning, so quite naturally, my girlfriend and I were screaming for two minutes straight at her first shot. The chemistry between the two is undeniable fire and electricity, but since, yet again, everything on this show is messed up emotionally, even though Tina is planning to return to LA to be closer to Angie, she is engaged to the woman who she left Bette for. And it is not only our’s and Bette’s hearts that broke during that moment, Angie makes it clear that she was rooting for them as well, in a beautiful mother-daughter bonding hike in the season finale.
So all in all, the casting is diverse, the politics seems to be more in place than the original run even though some of it is tokenistic, but the writing of interpersonal relations in this universe seems just as worse. Not much of the new characters’ motivations are given away, except for Finley and Dani, which makes only the two of them relatable amongst the lot. The supporting characters seem more relatable – Lena and Tess, Rebecca the priest, Jose, even Micah’s mother. Celebrity cameos make more sense now that Alice is a primetime talk show host – Roxanne Gay, Megan Rapinoe appear on her show as themselves. Shoutout to Fortune Feimster, who emcees the show. I am personally rooting for Quiara and Shane to stay because Shane does seem a little more mature around her and for Shane to discard the rest of her wild Shane habits and transform a little more into doting Uncle Shane. But I am not very interested in whoever else is set up with Bette because nobody is coming even close to Tina. Season 2 has already been announced, and I cannot wait for it to come back. It feels good to have some emotionally unhealthy lesbian drama on our television screens again. You can find the first season on Hotstar Premium.