LGBT Media: The L Word. Season One (2004)

The L Word follows a group of lesbian and bisexual women living in Los Angeles. They hang out, gossip and hook up. The first season is short on plot and momentum. It takes eight episodes to introduce a serious conflict. Later seasons would over correct with wild soap opera twists. Critical response was mixed but the show got six seasons and a reboot. I’m not the target audience. I found the characters obnoxious and the pace sluggish. But I respect its place in history and the doors that it opened.

Let’s take a look at season one in this spoiler filled recap.

Scene One: The Planet Coffee Shop
JENNY (A writer): Hi! I just moved here with my boyfriend who I’m super in love with. Who are you?
BETTE: I’m a career focused museum director.
TINA: I’m Bette’s neglected wife. I want a baby.
SHANE: I’m a promiscuous hair stylist.
ALICE: I’m a gossipy journalist.
DANA: I’m a socially awkward tennis pro.
JENNY: Gosh. Six principal characters? Who’s the protagonist?
BETTE: You, mostly. But sometimes me.  

Scene Two: Jenny’s Story
JENNY: Lesbians are great! I’m starting to think I…
BOYFRIEND: Let’s get married.
JENNY: Okay. If I sleep with a woman, am I technically cheating?
BOYFRIEND: You are. But I’ll marry you anyway to create melodrama.
GIRLFRIEND: Divorce him, Jenny.
JENNY: Can’t I just string you both along? I’m sure the audience won’t get bored.
BOYFRIEND: I’m leaving The L Word to co-star on Ugly Betty.  
GIRLFRIEND: I’m seeing someone else. You can be my side piece.
JENNY: I’d rather stare at manatees.

Scene Three: Bette’s Story
BETTE: I want my museum to showcase sexy art.
CONSERVATIVES: Sexy? In a museum? Outrageous!
TINA: Can we talk about the baby some more?
BETTE: We talk about the baby a lot.
TINA: Well, I just miscarried. Now my character has no purpose.
CONSERVATIVES: We won’t let your pornography into the museum.
BETTE: Lesbians assemble!
(Bette’s friends and the Conservatives fight and spend a day in jail.)
BETTE: My life is so stressful. I think I’ll have an affair.
JENNY: Oh, Bette has an affair and it’s fine. I have an affair and the audience thinks I’m trash.
BETTE: I didn’t whine about mine all season.

Scene Four: The Rest
JENNY: You three are the only ones having fun on this show. What have you been up to?
SHANE: I fell in love with a married woman.  
ALICE: I drew a chart of our sexual histories.
DANA: My girlfriend killed my cat.  
JENNY: Huh. It’s nice to meet other queer women. I’m sure this sisterhood will make me a better person.
(Shane, Alice and Dana burst out laughing.)


Talking, Laughing, Loving, Breathing

[I]t had the luxury of being unapologetically sudsy. That was what made it so simultaneously addictive and offensive.

Judy Berman, Time Magazine

Audiences hated the chaotic Jenny Schecter. Her defenders attributed this to sexism. She’s a dynamic character but the first season siloes her off from the main cast. She’s at her worst when she argues with her dull suitors. She’s better when she’s chatting with a pair of hitchhikers or a platonic college friend. Characters removed from her endless angst.

The museum protest is the largest storyline outside of the relationship drama. It brings to mind the struggles the National Endowment for the Arts faced in the 1990’s. Congress punished them for supporting controversial artists like Robert Mapplethorpe, Andres Serrano and the “NEA Four.” The L Word humiliates the head protester on television (Helen Shaver of Desert Hearts) and sends the rest to jail. I wanted to know the fallout from this. But the show shifted focus to Bette’s affair.

I’d like to hear your memories of the show. Who were your favorite characters? What was your favorite season? Are you watching Generation Q? Does it treat the trans and bi characters better?

You can hear cast members recap episodes on the PANTS podcast. You can find more of my reviews on The Avocado, Letterboxd and Serializd. My podcast, Rainbow Colored Glasses, can be found here.