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Case Number 17641

Buy The L Word: The Complete Final Season at Amazon

The L Word: The Complete Final Season

Showtime Entertainment // 2009 // 438 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Jennifer Malkowski (Retired) // November 5th, 2009

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge Jennifer Malkowski sadly reports that this season's L-word is "lame."

Editor's Note

Our reviews of The L Word: The Complete Second Season (published November 2nd, 2005), The L Word: The Complete Third Season (published January 3rd, 2007), and The L Word: The Complete Fourth Season (published October 23rd, 2007) are also available.

The Charge

"Going down in history."

Opening Statement

Spoiler Alert! I can't talk about the dyke drama without, you know, talking about the dyke drama.

Breaking Showtime's record for its longest-running series, the sixth and final season of The L Word tries to send the show off with a bang. Unfortunately, the specific attempt is bafflingly misguided. Looks like somebody in the pre-season brainstorming session decided that the best ending for a fun, sexy show about romance and friendship among a tight-knit group of lesbians would be for a main character to be murdered. Apparently, this is "the way that we live"?

the l word

Facts of the Case

Season Six opens with one of the show's principle sets turned into a crime scene: star screenwriter / deceitful scumbag Jenny Schecter (Mia Kirshner, 24) is dead on a stretcher and the cops wanna know whodunnit. So do we, as these opening moments set up the season's arc as "Who killed Jenny?" before pulling us back three months earlier and spending the remaining episodes showing us what led up to this death. Meandering through this three-month period, we see Bette (Jennifer Beals, Flashdance) and Tina (Laurel Holloman, Angel) back together and hoping to adopt their second child. Alice (Leisha Hailey, All Over Me) and Tasha's (Rose Rollins, Something New) relationship isn't going as well, but is invigorated by a fun new friend. Shane (Katherine Moennig, Three Rivers) tries to win back Jenny's trust after last season's betrayal. Kit (Pam Grier, Foxy Brown) and Helena (Rachel Shelley, Ghost Whisperer) go into business together. And Max (Daniela Sea, Shortbus) accidentally becomes a pregnant man.

Season Six is a mere eight episodes, divided over three slim-case discs in this set:

Disc One

• "Long Night's Journey Into Day"
Kit's advice to Shane: "You need to fight for Jenny…fight for the friendship."
After a brief flash-forward to Jenny's murder three months in the future, we pick up where Season Five left off: with the fallout from Shane and Niki's escapade on that dangerous railing. Jenny kicks Shane out of their roommate situation and Shane spends the night wandering in on various dramas among her other friends: Bette and Tina take care of sick little Angelica and fight about cheating, and Alice and Tasha also fight about cheating and consider breaking up.
Sexy bits: Jenny and Nicki have make-up sex

• "Least Likely"
Max: "Sorry I kicked you in the balls."
Tom: "Sorry I knocked you up."
After letting Shane do menial jobs for her to win back her trust, Jenny eventually makes a confession of love. Alice and Tasha go to couples' counseling with the worst therapist ever, and Helena will probably need therapy when the woman who trapped her in a sexual harassment lawsuit, Dylan, comes back into her life. Bette runs into an old roommate/crush, Kelly Wentworth (Elizabeth Berkley, Showgirls), at an art gallery. Oh, and Max finds out that he's preggers.
Sexy bits: Bette and Tina have sex in their bedroom; Alice and Tasha do it in Alice's tiny car

• "LMFAO"
Jenny: "I'm happy we fucked."
Appropriately, the writers spend most of this episode letting us bask in the extended and often hilarious reactions of all the characters to Shane and Jenny's hook-up. In other news, Bette idiotically tries to fire Jodi and is herself promptly fired by Phyllis. Alice is also in danger of getting fired from The Look when she talks about hate crimes instead of fun gay gossip on the air. Plus, Helena and Kit have their grand re-opening of SheBar, now transformed into the HIT! club.
Sexy bits: Shane and Jenny fool around in bed

the l word

Disc Two

• "Leaving Los Angeles"
Jenny [suggesting a new girlfriend for Helena]: "Jodi!"
Alice: "What is this, recycling? Paper, plastic, lesbians?"
White Dylan is still prowling around, Alice and Tasha distract Helena by setting her up with their new friend Jamie. Pregnancy drama abounds elsewhere, as Max and Tom struggle with their bizarre scenario, and as Bette and Tina travel to Nevada to meet a woman who may let them adopt her baby.
Sexy bits: None

• "Litmus Test"
Tina: [to her former boss] "Shut your pie hole, Aaron!"
Alice gets pissed at Jenny for stealing her screenplay idea, and then she gets pissed at Shane for not being pissed at Jenny. Despite these tensions, the gang bands together to carry out an elaborate test, determining whether Dylan's intentions with Helena are pure.
Sexy bits: Helena and Dylan have sex at Helena's apartment

• "Lactose Intolerant"
Alice: [on a sculpture at Bette's gallery] "Wow, looks like a giant cat threw up, huh?"
Max isn't thrilled about being a pregnant man or about his boyfriend running out on him, and attending the baby shower Jenny throws for him doesn't help. Bette's gallery opening is proves to be a better event, but more gender trouble occurs when the HIT! club's drag queen DJ HIT!s on KIT! at the show.
Sexy bits: Alice and Tasha, all sweaty on the couch; plus, Shane and Niki make out at Shane's new photography studio, and Jamie gets naked in Alice's shower

Disc Three

• "Last Couple Standing"
Tasha: [giving Alice a pep talk] "Everybody out there, they're here for you. Jamie and I are gonna do this crazy-ass dance for you. I'm in a turquoise onesie for you, okay? So pull it together!"
The HIT! club hosts an all-night charity dance-off to benefit the LGBT center Jamie runs, and everybody's eager to compete. But lots of crazy drama brews between dance numbers: Jenny threatens to tell Tina that Bette's been cheating, Alice suspects that Jamie and Tasha have developed feelings for each other, Tina announces that she's been offered a dream job in New York, Jodi shows up, and Jenny reacts unpredictably to the realization that Shane is having sex with Niki.
Sexy bits: Shane and Niki in a bathroom stall

• "Last Word"
Bette: "I am happy to be getting out of this little hotbed of lesbian inter-fucking-connectedness."
As Bette and Tina prepare to move to New York, their friends gather at their newly remodeled house for a party, returning us to the night of Jenny's murder that started the season. To bulk up some motives for killing Jenny, Shane finds out that Jenny hid a crucial letter to her from Molly months before, Tina finds out that Jenny stole the Lez Girls film negative, and Bette finds out that Jenny is intensifying her threats to tell Tina that Bette's been cheating. Jenny indeed dies, but the series finale ends without actually disclosing who killed her.
Sexy bits: Dylan and Helena and, oddly, a knife; Bette goes down on Tina near a bunch of candles

The Evidence

Watching this final season of The L Word for me, and probably for a lot of queer women, was a little bit like witnessing one of those tragic moments that sometimes happens in Olympic marathons. Say you're from one of those obscure countries that doesn't get a lot of positive attention in the global press—let's call it Borovnia. And then one year your little nation lucks out and sends a really promising marathon runner off to the Olympics. Suddenly your country's in the spotlight, and you're back home cheering and watching the race on TV. Everything is going well for the first 20 miles or so and you're elated—nobody expects this runner to win, but you and the other folks watching back home in Borovnia will be satisfied if she can just finish strong. Then a mile or two from the finish line, she starts to look real shaky. You cross your fingers, you hold your breath, but it's no good. She stumbles, she falls in the home stretch, and everybody in Borovnia feels kind of cruddy.

As it turns out, The L Word was that marathon runner for the U.S.'s lesbian community. Getting a show about lesbians on the air back in 2004 was a real triumph, and many of us tuned in and watched its progress intently for six seasons (pretty near marathon length for a Showtime series!). It was clear from the beginning that it wasn't going to get any gold medals; it was never as well-written as shows like Six Feet Under, The Wire, or Mad Men, even though its core group of actresses was truly stellar. But The L Word was an unquestionable success, and it chugged along at a fully respectable level of quality for five seasons, despite the occasional misstep. Queer women and their friends gathered in bars and living rooms across the country and the show really contributed to the community it represented. But then in that sixth season home stretch it started to look real shaky. If there is a television-writing equivalent of a runner falling on the ground and failing to cross the finish line, The L Word writers did it in this final season.

Let's get to the nitty-gritty of this season, which I've summed up into three categories, which progress from my most merciful comments to my most vitriolic:

The Good

• Couple Cuteness
Years of working together has added an ease and familiarity to the natural chemistry that already existed between many of these actresses, and the sixth season's best accomplishment is the way it capitalizes on those bonds. There are couple interactions here that are infectiously adorable, sure to please all but the most bitter, hardened couple-haters. Joyce's surprise proposal to Phyllis at her office gets Cybill Shepherd to blurt out: "Joyce, what are you doing? You can't just pop out from behind a plant buck naked!" and then the two jump up and down like giddy schoolgirls. Alice tries to convince Tasha that she's not a frivolous person by making serious-face, which is predictably endearing—as is the scene where they make a pros and cons list on whether they should stay together. But it's the show's longest-running couple, Bette and Tina, who are the most unexpectedly delightful. I've never cared all that much about their on-again, off-again drama, but back together for good, this time they share a well-worn and comfortable rapport with lots of gentle teasing. A highlight is their hardcore drive to beat Alice's team at the dance competition. Bette, at her alpha female best, warns Tina: "They've got wigs and spandex. This is no fucking joke. We have no idea what they're capable of." I also loved the scene in which they decide who will sit with each group of their feuding friends by playing rock, paper, scissors:

Bette: "Why do I always lose?!?"
Tina: "Because you're always rock."
Bette: "Is that what it is? Have fun with the martyrs."
Tina: "Have fun with the cheaters."

the l word

• The Funny Stuff
Though less funny than the riotous fourth season, Season Six still offered some hilarious moments. "LMFAO" lives up to its title with the inspired sequence of people finding out that Shane and Jenny hooked up. As Alice texts the gossip to all her friends, we see Helena fall off her treadmill, Bette interrupt a business meeting with a cackle, and finally Kit looking puzzled and pondering, "Why is my phone buzzing?…A what?!? A text message?" The self-awareness of this episode is great, with many of the characters looking as repulsed on-screen as many of the fans did off-screen when this controversial couple formed:

the l word

There are also some nice little in-jokes, like Alice's comment that Helena's children seem to have disappeared, and the sly reference to Leisha Hailey's much-broadcast yogurt commercials in "LMFAO."

The Bad

• A Drought of Good Sex Scenes
Over the years, The L Word has brought us a number of fantastic sex scenes, but this year's crop is rather puny. Other than the premiere's scene between Jenny and Niki, nothing really stands out. Actually, the bafflingly dull six-minute sex scene between Helena and Dylan in "Litmus Test" stands out, but not in a good way. Particularly infuriating are two major missed opportunities. While Jenny and Shane getting together was not a favorite plot among fans, there are few who would deny that these Kirshner and Moennig are damn sexy. I would think the #1 reason to write a storyline about these two getting together would be to show them having a bunch of crazy naked sex. Apparently not, since we really don't get even one substantial sex scene between them. The problem is similar but even more galling with Alice, Tasha, and Jamie. These characters seem to go through the emotional consequences that often follow threesomes, but the threesome never happens! We get all of the aftermath with none of the, well, math! Considering, again, that these actresses are all exceptionally gorgeous, this crime is much more upsetting than Jenny's murder.

the l word

• Shenny
As mentioned above, fans were skeptical that this pairing was a good idea, and I doubt anyone was convinced by the storyline's execution. We basically spend the bulk of the season yelling at the TV, "When is Shane going to dump Jenny?!?!" (along with, "When are they going to have sex?!?!") and then we're deprived of even the pleasure of a break-up in the end. The writers spend lots of time setting up the big showdown, but when Shane finally finds the love letter from Molly that Jenny hid in the attic we don't even see the confrontation between them. The writers skip this scene, presumably to preserve Shane as a suspect in the mystery of Jenny's murder.

The Ugly

• An Utter Lack of Character Consistency
This lack has always been a problem in The L Word: recall Helena's personality transplant between the second and third season, for example. But here it kicks into overdrive as people behave completely out of character over and over again. Bette attempts to fire Jodi, apparently unaware that this could be construed as sexual harassment (she's not that stupid). Max violently assaults Tom and repeatedly calls him a faggot (he's not a bigot, even if he's angry). Jenny tells Max how beautiful and womanly "she" has become (Jenny was the most supportive of and understanding about Max's transition). And Bette utters the line "check yourself before you wreck yourself." Huh?

• Max Gets Preggers
This ripped-from-the-headlines storyline about a pregnant man was, pardon my pun, ill-conceived and poorly delivered. It's nice that the writers decided to give Max some kind of actual plot this season, but his lines (and Sea's delivery of them) are just as whiny and off-putting as ever, and the ridiculous make-up job on his beard makes it extra-hard to take him seriously. There's no resolution to this pregnancy plot at all, as the series ends with Max two months away from delivering the baby and unsure about whether he wants to keep it. And speaking of no resolution…

• "Who Killed Jenny?"
I'm still waiting for my answer. Writing whole storyline and its "ending" is the most boneheaded decision that the The L Word people have ever made—even dumber than their decision to kill Dana in the third season. The most obvious problem is the pointless ambiguity of the ending. We don't find out who killed Jenny, and I can't conceive of why anyone on staff imagined fans would think this was a cool ending for the show. Even if they somehow missed the lesson of The Sopranos that fans want an actual finale in a series finale, why on earth would they structure the whole season's narrative and marketing around the expectation of finding out "who killed Jenny"? One answer might be that Ilene Chaiken hoped to continue the story by spinning The L Word off into a prison drama, with Alice being (wrongly?) imprisoned for Jenny's murder. But if that's the case, Chaiken got some comeuppance: The Farm's pilot flopped and, as far as I know, the project is dead. It seems to me a real disservice to fans to give the series they loved a terrible non-ending just in the hopes that you can wring another project out of it.

But another problem is that the murder mystery ending seems wholly inappropriate to the tone of the series. As Jennifer Beals says, "The L Word, at its core, was a series about community." What kind of statement about community does it make to have a central member of this group of friends murdered and the other members apparently band together to cover up the killer's identity? Chaiken and co. clearly want this to be a sexy and provocative ending, but it comes off as callous. Maybe if they'd gone all the way in making Jenny a moustache-twirling villain, we could have purely delighted in her death; but Kirshner, bless her, was just too good at finding those little moments of sympathy and redemption. Plus, the characters we know and love are all viscerally upset by this turn of fate, and that's where we leave them forever. What a downer.

Lastly, the finale itself is just ludicrously scripted from start to finish. We viewers must be real idiots if we need four not-so-subtle references to the broken railing on Bette and Tina's balcony before Jenny is apparently pushed off it. And Alice is right when she asks the police investigator (Lucy Lawless, Xena: Warrior Princess) during her interrogation, "What does this have to do with who killed Jenny? I don't understand all these questions." The interrogation scenes are lazily written excuses for various characters to articulate their feelings and are absurdly distant from real police procedure. And who knows what to make of the outlandish wind-machine glamor shots that close the episode?

I've run out of synonyms for "ridiculous." That should be all the indication you need of the season's quality.

Showtime's presentation of these disappointing episodes in The L Word: The Complete Final Season probably falls under "the bad" rather than "the ugly." But the image looks ugly enough with so many compression artifacts dancing around the frame. Visuals are redeemed somewhat by the show's varied and well-designed sets and fun costumes. Audio is adequate at pumping in the many snippets of music, and dialogue is less muddy than in previous sets (though I still think a DVD that features a deaf character and actress should really include subtitles!). Extras are disappointing, but no more so than usual with L Word DVDs. There are no commentaries, no deleted scenes, and no making-of featurettes. But there is a 25-minute documentary focusing mostly on an older generation of lesbians (interesting, but not very closely tied to the series) and 25 minutes of footage from a charity event that Chaiken and several cast members attended in New York (presented with an incorrect aspect ratio). A highlight there is an emotional speech that Jennifer Beals gives about her experience on The L Word on the eve of the 2008 presidential election. She comes off as just as poised, elegant, and passionate as the character she plays. We also gets some photos from the set (the vast majority of which show the actresses getting their make-up done, for some reason), a few promos for products and causes, and extra features you can access through the internet. These include an excerpt from Marlee Matlin's (who plays Jodi) memoir and access to episodes of The United States of Tara and The Tudors.

Closing Statement

About the series she headlined, Jennifer Beals concludes, "No matter where the storylines went, we always managed to have fun." Despite my above-articulated rage about how it ended, I can pretty much say the same for my viewing experience with The L Word. For six seasons, it was a reason to get together with friends and laugh (with it or at it), a spark for conversations about queer issues, a source of hot lesbian sex scenes, and an impetus for big raucous crowds of ladies to gather at dyke bars on Sunday nights. In fact, my partner and I bonded over L Word mini-marathons as a prelude to dating, so I owe the series a certain debt.

The L Word made great strides for lesbian visibility in the mainstream media, and even a craptacular final season can't strip it of that achievement. All the same, I'd advise anyone who hasn't get seen this sixth season to skip it and pretend the show ended at five!

The Verdict

As an individual season, this one's guilty. As guilty as Jenny Schecter and whoever killed her combined.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 75
Audio: 85
Extras: 35
Acting: 95
Story: 65
Judgment: 73

Perp Profile

Studio: Showtime Entertainment
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 438 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Drama
• Gay
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Documentary
• Featurette
• Memoir Excerpt
• Photo Gallery
• Bios
• Bonus Episodes

Accomplices

• IMDb
• Official Site
• The Planet Podcast








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