Showtime Entertainment // 2005 // 700 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // November 2nd, 2005
Peggy Peabody: I hope you girls write fabulous, sick, neurotic, tortured love
poems to one another.
Bette: [smiling] I'm actually working on several right now.
Peggy Peabody: Send me one, would you, Bette?
The L Word is one long, fabulous, sick, neurotic, tortured love poem to the lesbian community. I don't mean that in a negative way, because the show is brilliant. It has smart-as-hell scripts, a stellar cast, and enough blissfully dysfunctional drama to rival the most salacious nighttime soap operas. It "out-gayed" Queer as Folk, made Sex and the City suddenly provincial, and transformed lesbians into mysteriously hot women after years of assumed manly flannel and mullets. The second season of The L Word found the show at a crossroads, and the creative team struggled to redefine the series. A couple of key cast members moved on, and The L Word had been harshly criticized for being too sexual. The show's second season remained completely watchable, and became something the lesbian community could be proud to claim their own. It grew up, and became more riveting than ever.
The second season picks up from the first, and deals almost exclusively with the fractures and problems created by previous events. Tina (Laurel Holloman, The Myth of Fingerprints) and Bette (Jennifer Beals, The Anniversary Party) have spilt, and it appears on the surface the reason was Bette's infidelity with a female carpenter. But as the show explores their rift, more bubbles to the surface. Bette let her career overtake the relationship, and she's become too controlling and domineering. Tina let her career lapse, and allowed herself to be submissive and codependent. Worse still, Tina is hiding the fact she is finally pregnant as she strikes out on her own.
Jenny (Mia Kirshner, Not Another Teen Movie) has to deal with the fallout from her short-lived marriage to Tim (Eric Maibus, Resident Evil). She finally gives up her "Am I straight or gay?" angst from the first season, and settles down into the community. Unfortunately, the woman she loved, Marina (Karina Lombard, Legends of the Fall), has attempted suicide and remains in an institution. So Jenny has to go this road alone, and moves in with lady-killer Shane (Katherine Moennig, The Shipping News). The roomies quickly become entangled in a bizarre love triangle with new arrival Carmen (Sarah Shahi, Old School), a hot Latina who deejays.
Dana (Erin Daniels, House of 1000 Corpses), the tennis pro, has met and become engaged to an ambitious manager named Tonya (Meredith McGeachie, Punch). But her best friend Alice (Leisha Hailey, All Over Me) begins to realize she is in love with Dana, and things get complicated fast. As the lines blur, the two friends must deal with their emotions before Dana commits to a life with the other woman. But what will happen to friendship when the line is crossed?
With Marina out of the series, Kit (Pam Grier, Jackie Brown) buys the Planet coffeehouse. She begins to fall for a self-help guru played with delicious smarm by Charles S. Dutton (Alien 3). Things come to a head when her father (Ossie Davis, Bubba Ho-Tep) arrives on the scene, terminally ill, and confronts both Kit and Bette about their lifestyle choices. Seems he has never accepted Bette's sexuality, and both women wrestle with the strong emotions his sickness uncovers.
The L Word was destined to make an impact, because it marked the first lesbian drama to hit the airwaves. Ellen had pioneered gay women on the tube with her situation comedy, but this was a completely new venture into the hour-long prime time soap opera format. Showtime produced the series, and ran it alternately with their drama Queer As Folk, which dealt primarily with gay males. The network was pushing the limits of niche programming with two shows aimed squarely at the gay community. They let creator and lesbian activist Ilene Chaiken shape and form the show as she saw fit, and as a result the series has an authenticity it would lack had it appeared on a broadcast network. It is not a corporate vision of politically correct lesbians formed from focus groups out of Kansas. These are bona fide Los Angeles lesbians, allowed to be sexual and dangerously real. The show is confrontational, and those outside the lesbian community are going to be shocked at the issues brought up. The first season of The L Word contained tons of sex scenes, and straight males latched on to the series with Tivo remotes in hand to skim through episodes to the girl-on-girl love scenes. But The L Word: The Complete Second Season takes a more character-intensive approach, and will alienate anyone seeking pure titillation. The show moved into braver territory, and allowed somber shifts into more emotional territory.
The cast is first-rate, easily the best ensemble on television today. Jennifer Beals looks amazing, and it's hard to believe her Flashdance days are twenty years past. She anchors the group with superb grace and natural charisma as Bette Porter. Pam Grier adds an stellar "Old School Hollywood" aura to the character of Kit, and remains one of the highlights. Nobody plays crazy quite like Mia Kirshner, who is amazing to watch. Her Jenny is the tortured, neurotic soul of the show -- often the series seems to be from her point of view. She eats up everyone with her slightly crazed eyes and world-weary smile. Erin Daniels and Leisha Hailey provide most of the comic relief as Dana and Alice. They get wonderful fantasy scenes, such as when Alice dresses up as Julie from The Love Boat to seduce Dana. You smile every time they hit the screen, and it's hard not to root for them to be together. Laurel Holloman was really pregnant this season, and she plays the sexiest mom ever portrayed as she becomes the apex of the show's most interesting love triangle. Katherine Moennig plays Shane as if Joan Jett had become a hairdresser, and could still get any girl she wants. She drips androgynous sex in every scene, but still manages to resonate Shane's utter loneliness too. Sarah Shahi is a sex bomb who commands the screen, and expands The L Word to mean "latin." They all get stunning scenes, and develop a truly first-rate group of characters we come to care deeply about.
Two new characters really intrigued me this season -- Helena Peabody (Rachel Shelley, Seeing Other People) and Mark Wayland (Eric Lively, Speak). They both blow into the show as villains. Helena courts Tina, while Mark secretly tapes Jenny and Shane as he lives out in the guest house. Don't think the irony of a straight man taping the girls for titillation didn't pass me by -- it's the shows reaction to the Tivo-obsessed straight guys who see the show as soft porn they can skim through. You would think they would be the most unsympathetic characters in the cast, but leave it to The L Word to stray against type. By the end of the season we get to see them both belittled and vulnerable. They become likable once their claws are removed, and we almost root for them to be completely redeemed. But we'll have to wait for season three to find out if that happens.
The guest stars found in The L Word: The Complete Second Season are astonishing. Ossie Davis gives his last screen performance as Bette and Kit's dying father. His performance is touching and real. Charles S. Dutton appears as a self-serving self-help guru having an affair with Kit, and seems to be having a ball doing it. His performance here rivals that of Tom Cruise in Magnolia. What lesbian show would be complete without cameos by Sandra Bernhard, Carmen Manheim, and Gloria Steinem? They all appear in featured roles. Arianna Huffington even ends up in Shane's chair in one episode. Kelly Lynch (Threesome) does a knock-out turn as a transsexual named Ivan. Obviously the show attracts mainstream Hollywood actors eager to support the series, and the quality is extremely high thanks to their efforts.
The production values are top notch, and The L Word looks like it has a much bigger budget than it actually does. The series shoots interiors at studios in Canada, but allows for exterior sequences to be filmed on location in Los Angeles. The result is a Southern California feel, even though the bulk of it is actually produced north of the border. Unlike its sister show Queer as Folk -- where Pittsburgh was unmistakably Toronto -- The L Word showcases the "City of Angels" every chance it gets. The camera work adds to the drama, and there are beautiful scenes like when Bette cries underwater in a pool with a camera gazing up at her. Sequences such as Jenny's turn at a strip contest are jaw dropping. The clothes are glamorous, and often even the poor student character can be spotted wearing a blouse that retails for over three grand. The production team puts every cent of their budget where it belongs, on the screen. You won't find a better looking show on any other channel anytime soon.
Showtime gives The L Word: The Complete Second Season first class treatment on DVD. The transfers are very clean, and deliver close to what you would get in a high definition broadcast, with very few digital artifacts or edge enhancement. The sound mix is appropriately front and center with all the dialogue, while the music swirls around the room in all the speakers. The packaging is glamorous -- each disc is housed in its own standard-sized case with cast photos emblazoned on the cover.
All this may be a bit much to ever catch on outside of the lesbian community. Showtime and The L Word's creators seem to be fine with that status, and they do little to make it more mainstream. I've tried to convince people it's one of the best shows on television, but the whole approach to the show alienates them before they can discover the richness and depth. The L Word is a quantum leap from Queer as Folk in quality, but it's still not catchy enough to attract the masses. You may have guessed from my staff dossier that I am not a lesbian, and I admit having to run to my lesbian friends to have them explain some of the show to me. It does deal with universal themes, but sometimes The L Word feels like an impenetrable fortress against anyone with a "Y" chromosome.
The L Word: The Complete Second Season offers little insight in to the series. It appears to be loaded with extras, but this is not the case. Three members of the cast (the actresses who play Dana, Shane, and Alice) provide commentary for the lesbian cruise episode. They giggle and poke fun at some of the conventions of the show as if they were doing an all-girl version of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. It doesn't illuminate much, although it is great fun. On the series finale we get creator Ilene Chaiken and musical director EZ Girl giving a play by play of the show as if they were doing "The L Word for the visually impaired." This track also explains little. The rest of the features consist of spots recorded by Showtime to promote the show, and product promotions such as the "Win an Olivia Cruise Sweepstakes," which is aimed solely at the lesbian community. There's nothing here to help anyone understand the show, and it furthers the idea the show is made for one audience only.
The L Word: The Complete Second Season is 17 hours of excellent, daring television. If you're a gay girl, it's the only show you ever need to watch. For the rest of us, it's a pretty puzzle with one of the most talented casts ever assembled. Showtime presents the technical side of this DVD set flawlessly, with clear transfers and appropriate sound mixes, but fails to develop any extras that would let the outsiders feel welcome in this brave new world. But the fact this show exists is the real bonus feature. I've never been so dazzled by a group of women who could care less if men are around. You may find yourself curious about the sex at first, but in this second season you'll leave caring more about the characters. That's the real beauty of this kind of show. You may never understand it completely, but you'll respect the hell out of the world these women live and love in. Tortured love poems are the best, and these girls know how to write them.
Guilty of making me want to be a lesbian. The L Word: The Complete Second Season plain and simply rocked my world.
Review content copyright © 2005 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Showtime Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 700 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Cast Commentary on Land Ahoy
* Creator Commentary on Lacuna
* L Word Girls on Record
* Word Game
* Playing with the Girls: L Word Shorts
* "Some Kind of Wonderful" Music Video
* Win A Walk-On Role Sweepstakes
* Win an Olivia Cruise Sweepstakes
* Text Feature on the Fashion
* Text Feature on the MS. Foundation for Women
* Text Biographies
* Text Fan Mail Excerpts
* Official Site
* Bette and Tina Fansite
* The L Word Fansite