Season 1: Four years after the American version of Queer as Folk made gay men the focus, it was time for a little turnabout with The L Word (bad title, great show). Centering around a tight-knit group of lesbians in Los Angeles, this drama was far removed from its working-class male counterpart in both style and content. While the men of QAF enjoyed a fabulous if melodramatic life on the middle-class streets of Pittsburgh, the women of The L Word lived it up in sunny California, with gorgeous houses, glamorous careers and sexy wardrobes. Ironically, though, The L Word adhered more to the everyday drama of ensemble shows like thirtysomething than the soap opera antics of QAF, and the results were surprisingly heartfelt and effective, appropriately stylish but never over the top. There was plenty of room for titillation, but creator Ilene Chaiken fashioned from the start a show centered on characters and not just sex, aiming for the heart rather than... well, other places. The L Word focused primarily on committed couple Bette (Jennifer Beals) and Tina (Laurel Holloman), a former power-career duo who've decided to have a baby; however, artificial insemination and the changing dynamics of their relationship throw their previously happy existence off-kilter. Within their orbit are spunky journalist Alice (Leisha Hailey), sultry hairdresser Shane (Katherine Moenning), closeted pro tennis player Dana (Erin Daniels), and espresso bar owner Marina (Karina Lombard) who, in the show's most polarising storyline, bedded the seemingly straight Jenny (Mia Kirschner) and shook up her heterosexual world. Jenny's "am-I-straight-or-not?" kvetching frustrated both her fiancé (Eric Mabius) and many viewers, who were alternately irritated and intrigued by her inability to decide one way or the other. But Jenny's weakness was part of The L Word's strength: in exploring many sides of many issues, both domestic and political, it never came up with an easy answer for any of them, making the show all that more fascinating--and compulsively watchable. --Mark Englehart
Season 2: Once a series has broken new ground, where does it go from there? Showtime's The L Word, concerning the relationships of a community of lesbian Los Angelenos, turned heads with its smart, funny writing and fully realized characters. Season Two offers more of the same, with some notable guest stars and experiments in narrative and music. This season, Jenny (Mia Kirshner) fully embraces her sexuality as her ex-husband/roomie (Eric Mabius) departs and voyeuristic documentary filmmaker Mark (Eric Lively) and womanchaser Shane (Katherine Moennig) move in. Shane and Jenny struggle good-heartedly over the affections of new character Carmen (Sarah Shahi), who isn't given much to do plot-wise apart from occasionally spinning records and serving as one corner of the love triangle. Bette (Jennifer Beals) and Tina (Laurel Holloman) start the season on the rocks due to Bette's infidelity; the introduction of the one-dimensionally nasty Helena Peabody (Rachel Shelley) causes further friction between Bette and Tina while playing havoc with Bette's curatorial career. Meanwhile, Dana (Erin Daniels) and Alice (Leisha Hailey) go from being best friends to being a whole lot more, providing some of the most touching scenes of the season. Kit (Pam Grier) takes on The Planet, the seeming center of LA's lesbian universe, converting it into a nightclub where, conveniently, guest-starring bands can play. Strong points of the season include Bette and Kit confronting the death of their father (the superb Ossie Davis) and Shane's new job as a gopher for a high-powered Hollywood producer (the equally superb Camryn Manheim). Less strong are the distracting, neo-expressionistic passages meant to be glimpses into Jenny's creative mind and the interminable use of the series' theme song--re-interpreted in a number of genres--to the point of distraction. Mark's voyeurism, which crosses all sorts of boundaries as he installs hidden cameras around the house, is a brilliant way to challenge male viewers who may tune in just to TiVo their way to the sex scenes. That said, the arc of that particular story grows increasingly far-fetched as Mark somehow avoids criminal prosecution and instead endures the horrible fate of having Jenny refuse his offer of coffee and a muffin. Despite its flaws, The L Word is a show that deserves to be cheered on, not for its politics, but for the skillful way it conveys complex human entanglements with sensitivity. --Ryan Boudinot
Season 3: The third season of The L Word is all about transitions. The season opens with Alice Pieszecki (Leisha Hailey) coping with her between-seasons break-up with Dana Fairbanks (Erin Daniels), who is herself headed for an even heavier series of transitions. Kit Porter (Pam Grier) both falls in love with a younger man and discovers she is going through menopause. Shane (Katherine Moennig), who spent much of the first two seasons of the show hopping from bed to bed, finds herself more or less committed to Latina deejay Carmen (Sarah Shahi). And the second season's resident villain, Helena Peabody (Rachel Shelley), becomes embroiled in a sexual harassment case that leaves her ultimately looking like the victim. As with previous seasons, The L Word gets all hot and bothered with various seductions filmed to sometimes jarring music on the soundtrack, but it's the day-to-day foibles and celebrations of Los Angeles's lesbian community that keep the show interesting. Newcomer Moira/Max (Daniela Sea) begins the process of gender reassignment, making for some curious situations with potential employers. Bette (Jennifer Beals) and Tina (Laurel Holloman) begin to drift apart when Tina lands a big movie studio job and starts feeling attracted to men, leading to a custody battle over their baby daughter. Where The L Word starts getting preachy and obvious is in the opening flashback sequences. When these vignettes refer to current characters of the show, they make sense; when they depict situations meant to underline how queer identity has evolved over the years, they seem politically overloaded. The L Word works intelligently through its characters' concerns without having to resort to such direct appeals for tolerance. Its strength isn't in making lesbian culture appear more mainstream, but in making us care and identify with these women's struggles, regardless of our sexual orientation. --Ryan Boudinot
Season 4: If the third season was marked by transitions, The L Word's fourth concerns growing up--or trying to, at any rate. Shane (Katherine Moennig) becomes her brother Shay's guardian, Bette (Jennifer Beals) and Tina (Laurel Holloman) stop fighting over their daughter Angelica, and Bette's new boss, Phyllis (a very game Cybill Shepherd), decides it's time to embrace her true nature. So, after 25 years of marriage (Bruce Davison plays her husband), Chancellor Kroll comes out of the closet--and sets her sights on Alice (Leisha Hailey). For all the inclusiveness, Max (Daniela Sea), still remains on the margins. Dumped by Jenny (Mia Kirshner) the year before, Max continues to share her apartment while acclimating to life as a man. For those who felt season three was too dark, four offers a welcome corrective. There's still plenty of angst--Jenny's memoir meets with a few negative notices (Heather Matarazzo's journalist pens the harshest critique) and Helena (Rachel Shelley) learns to live without Mommy's money--but there are plenty of moving moments to compensate (most revolving around Shane and Shay). New additions also arrive to shake things up, like Marlee Matlin as an artist who helps Bette to broaden her horizons, Kristanna Loken as a single mother with a yen for Shane, and Rose Rollins as an Iraq War veteran with whom Alice has a tryst (leading to a well intentioned, if heavy-handed message about how even liberals should support the troops). As in seasons past, the directorial line-up impresses as much as the acting talent, and includes Oscar winner Marleen Gorris (Antonia's Line) and playwright Moisés Kaufman (The Laramie Project). --Kathleen C. Fennessy, Amazon.com
Season 5: In a clever move, the producers of The L Word use season five to revisit the origins of their own creation. After Jenny (Mia Kirshner) sets out to direct the silver-screen edition of her novel, Lez Girls, she enters a parallel world populated by actors playing thinly-veiled versions of the central cast (in a typical Jenny move, she sleeps with the star who portrays "Jesse"). This post-modern plotline brings newcomers up to speed, while offering early-adapters new perspectives on the past. Naturally, the shoot doesn't go smoothly. When the increasingly self-absorbed Jenny hires adoring fan Adele (ER's Malaya Rivera Drew) as her assistant, events take on All About Eve overtones. Since Jenny is turning her life into a movie, it only makes sense for the two to bleed into each other. In other developments, Tina (Laurel Holloman) and Bette (Jennifer Beals) consider reconciliation, Helena (Rachel Shelley) does time in prison, Alice (Leisha Hailey) takes her penchant for gossip too far, Tasha (Rose Rollins) fights to stay in the military, and Shane (Katherine Moennig), a dead ringer for Warren Beatty in Shampoo, rejoins the ranks of the single, only to fall for straight girl Molly (Cybill Shepherd's daughter, Clementine Ford). In a more melodramatic, but equally entertaining move, Dawn Denbo (Elizabeth Keener), proprietor of new hotspot SheBar makes life hell for the Planet, but Kit (Pam Grier) and her loyal clientele refuse to go down without a fight--even if they don't offer "Lesbian Turkish Oil Wrestling". Aside from the fact that Max (Daniela Sea) continues to get short shrift, The L Word's fifth season proves the show has more than a little lusty and gutsy life left in it. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
Season 6: In the sixth and final season of The L Word, careers evolve, relationships are tested and friendships end in murder. It begins with Jenny found dead and as a result, everyone’s lives are turned upside down leaving all the friends despondent, but also suspects. Who did it and how did it happen? Flashbacks of the months leading up to the murder will be the only way to put the pieces together to learn why.
Cast: Jennifer Beals, Laurel Holloman, Rachel Shelley, Kate Moennig, Leisha Hailey
Publisher: Twentieth Century Fox, Year: 2004/1
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