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There is little media that has played as central of a role in the queer community as “The L Word.” The original series, which aired on Showtime from 2004 to 2009, followed a group of fictional sapphic women in Los Angeles as they lived lives of “Talking, laughing, loving, breathing / Fighting, f*cking, crying, drinking / Riding, winning, losing, cheating / Kissing, thinking, dreaming” (as the iconic theme song lists). “The L Word” was certainly far from perfect and some of its content has been rightfully critiqued for its harmful character portrayals. Still, the series was absolutely groundbreaking in its willingness to loudly and proudly tell BGLTQ stories in the early 2000s during a time of virtually nonexistent TV representation, and for that it holds a deeply special place in the hearts of many — particularly queer woman-identifying — viewers.
It is no surprise then, that news of a “The L Word” reboot premiering in 2019 was quite well received. Titled “The L Word: Generation Q” (also known as “Gen Q”), the new series was set to take place ten years after the end of the original show and featured the return of three favorite characters played by their original actresses (Jennifer Beals as Bette Porter, Leisha Hailey as Alice Pieszecki, and Katherine Moennig as Shane McCutcheon) along with a variety of new faces. Seasons one and two performed quite well: they resumed Bette, Alice, and Shane’s stories in ways that felt natural to the characters, introduced several interesting new plotlines, and notably diversified its cast. It is too bad, then, that season three of the series brought on a rapid quality devolution. What remains is a shoddy construction that can barely hold itself together, let alone live up to the standards set by its predecessor.
Poor show writing lies at the core of the issues plaguing season three. Underdeveloped plotlines run amok, ranging from Sophie (played by Rosanny Zayas) and Sarah Finley’s (known as “Finley” and portrayed by Jacqueline Toboni) frustrating on-again, off-again relationship, Bette and Tina’s (Laurel Holloman) rushed reunion, their daughter Angie’s (Jordan Hull) relationship with her professor, or the tired trope of Shane’s unfaithfulness. Not to mention the odd story arc in episode five where Angie helps to remove a condom from inside her roommate, or Shane and Finley’s construction zone dancing/grinding scenes. There are many ways to convey a sense of levity in a television show, but these two are certainly not among them. And where the show tries to capitalize on a shock factor by arresting Dani (Arienne Mandi) for involvement with her father’s white collar crimes, placing GiGi (Sepideh Moafi) in a car accident, or having Carrie (Rosie O’Donnell) suffer from a heart attack, it promptly self-sabotages by revealing that all becomes resolved (in the preview for the next episode, no less). Room for imagination, speculation, or suspense is absolutely nonexistent.
In any case, the stories that do get more screen time tend to be those of generally unlikeable characters. Perhaps if Finley did not act like an irresponsible child who never learns from her own actions, then fans would actually feel invested in her and Sophie’s relationship drama. Though not quite to the same extent of insufferability, Micah (Leo Sheng) and Maribel (Jillian Mercado) are another example of a romantic pair that is difficult to care about — mainly because Maribel’s character often acts irrationally, impulsively, and without consideration of others. On the other hand, the writers took a popular romance between fan-favorites Dani and GiGi and nixed it completely in one episode with minimal explanation. Well-loved character GiGi (Sepideh Moafi) was never to be seen or heard from on screen again.
This points to the larger problem of a lack of relationship continuity in “The L Word: Gen Q.” Hookups, one night stands, cheating, and a variety of sexual escapades are a hallmark of the original “The L Word.” The difference between the OG show and “Gen Q,” however, is that the latter only includes such short-term relationships, whereas the original series complemented its more promiscuous plotlines with lovable long term relationship endeavors that lasted for at least a couple of seasons, including Tina and Bette (TiBette), Alice and Dana, or Alice and Tasha (R.I.P. Dana). “Gen Q” thus far has seen so many cheating and fleeting hookup plotlines that any new love interests introduced feel impermanent and thus fail to demand any real investment from the viewer. Adding insult to injury, “Gen Q” does not even let its characters use their relationship-free status as opportunities to work on themselves; where the show lacks lovable couples for fans to root for and “ship,” it also feels like it does not allow its (endearingly) flawed characters to learn from their mistakes and grow as individuals, either.
The only real highlight of this season was the rekindled connection between Bette and Tina and their eventual wedding in the season finale. Already having experienced a multitude of relationship highs and lows throughout the original “The L Word” and finally ending the series as what appeared to be a long-term couple, it was disappointing for TiBette fans to see the two begin the reboot as divorcees. Season three redeems this arc, with episode two featuring what is perhaps the highlight of the season, with Bette dramatically professing her love and commitment to Tina amidst standstill LA traffic. In fact, this sequence is probably the only one in season three that felt just right. Bette is one of the only characters who experienced significant — though rushed — personal growth in “Gen Q,” making her and Tina’s reconciliation actually seem believable. The season concludes with their wedding and thus also a massive sense of catharsis for long-time TiBette fans.
As one of the most iconic gay couples on TV to date, witnessing their nuptials was also something of a historic cultural moment. It seems, however, that show writers succumbed with reluctance to fan demands with regards to TiBette: The women barely had any screen time at their own wedding, the final episode focused disproportionately on the shenanigans of other characters (Why is Dani rolling on molly the whole time?), and more certainly could have been done to honor the history, impact, and legacy of their relationship. But as the saying goes, “a win is a win,” and seeing Bette and Tina finally get their happily ever after is a victory by any standard.
A final critique lies in the character of the show itself. The original “The L Word” was known and loved for its portrayal of drama, yes, but also the friendship and community these women cultivated amongst themselves. In fact, some of the most enjoyable moments from the original series are where all the characters gather at the local gay coffee shop/night club called “The Planet” and simply banter or debrief recent life occurrences. And whenever a crisis struck, any ongoing conflicts were immediately forgotten in favor of everyone rushing to support the woman that needed it. Unfortunately, “Gen Q” just does not capture this same spirit of queer love and camaraderie. Sure, it has events held at the local gay bar and all the characters are intertwined in some way, but they simply do not form a unit in the same way as their predecessors did. “Gen Q” feels more like it tells parallel stories of characters that know each other to some extent, rather than the story of a friend group that would follow each other to the ends of the earth.
Given all these critiques, it would be unfair to the series to not also mention its upsides. It is special simply for existing: There are virtually no other shows about the lives of all queer characters, especially queer women. Actresses Jennifer Beals, Leisha Hailey, and Kate Moennig can be thanked for this, as they fought hard to revive “The L Word” after realizing that no other series filled the space left behind by the OG series following its conclusion. Working with original airing platform, Showtime, in addition to consulting with OG writer Ilene Chaiken before passing the showrunning torch to “Gen Q”’s Marja-Lewis Ryan, the reboot truly had a lot of potential. It is aesthetically pleasant to watch, has high production quality, and features a score of hard hitting queer guest stars including Fletcher, Margaret Cho, Kehlani, Chrishell Stause and G Flip, and Rosie O’Donnell as Tina’s ex, Carrie. It is also impressive that so many original actors return for the series, of course including Beals, Hailey, and Moennig, but also Laurel Holloman as Tina, Daniel Sea as Max Sweeney, and Rose Rollins as Tasha Williams.
This is all to say that as imperfect as the show is, it is still worth a watch if only for its strong and diverse queer representation. Unfortunately, its future is looking pretty bleak. One glance at Twitter under the hashtag #thelwordgenq quickly reveals discontent among fans, and the series still has not been renewed. Without Bette and Tina (presumably, since they seem to be making a permanent move to Toronto), the show also loses one of the only pillars currently holding it up. This is not to say that the series is unsalvageable, because it very much is. The foundation and concept are more than solid, but the real question lies in whether the writers and showrunners take viewer critiques seriously and produce the wonderful show that is possible, or if they will continue as they are until “The L Word: Generation Q” simply is no more.
—Staff writer Julia Hynek can be reached at email@example.com.
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