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The Film


View Count: 1
Last Viewed:2005.04.26
First/Last Reviewed:2005.05.01/2006.04.20

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ldh's review

I have recently been working on a series of reviews of TV series on DVD. I started with 24, where you can find the introduction to all those reviews, and i have continued with Lost, The Batman TV Series, Nip And Tuck, Rescue Me, Desperate Housewives, and here, The L Word.

The first time i ever rented a TV series on DVD was back in April 2005. My local video store started to carry the box sets, and i finally made the plunge with The L Word. I had heard a lot about that series, how good the cast was, and of course, how the series was about lesbians (a favorite subject for many men or course), and featured some explicit material true to form of the cable TV series these days. Granted, i certainly approached this series very much in that line of thought, expecting some cheap exploitative entertainment with good production value, and i got that. But i also got something unexpected: warm and intelligent characters, with complex emotions, and fairly political and controversial material.

The series follows the lives and loves of a small, close-knit group of 6 lesbians living in Los Angeles as well as their friends and family members who either support or loath them. Bette (Jennifer Beals) is a successful museum director who is into edgy provocative Art that raises the anger of the fundamentalist religious right. She has a long time partner, Tina (Laurel Holloman), with whom she is trying to have a baby through a variety of methods, and a mother (Pam Grier) who is a struggling recovering alcoholic. Dana (Erin Daniels) is a tennis pro on the rise, about to get a big advertising contract, if only she can remain in the closet. Alice (Leisha Hailey) is confused about her sexuality and flip-flops between being a full-on lesbian, going out with a man-lesbian, or going 100% straight. Shane (Katherine Moennig) is an ultra cool free-willed rebel young woman with great charisma who seems to be able to get anything she wants. Finally, Marina (Karina Lombard) is a suave, worldly, highly educated owner of a coffee shop. One day, the young Jenny (Mia Kirshner), a promising writer fresh out of college, moves in with her boyfriend and soon to be fiance right next door from Bette and Tina and quickly befriends them. She also quickly catches the fancy of Marina who will stop at nothing to seduce the young, and confused, ingenue.

The show is structured along several main dramatic lines. Bette has to fight the religious right while defending her position, and artistic choices, as the museum director. Bette and Tina go through the complex process of finding a donor, and going through such issues as whether Dana should quit her job once the baby is born, or what race should the donor be (Tina is white while Bette is black). Shane goes through life from one job to the next, and one adventure to the next. Dana is an awkward feeling geek, stuck between acknowledging her sexuality publicly, and the fear of being let down by the media if she does. And finally, Jenny, truly with Bette the central character of the show, goes through a major emotional change as she struggles between the enormously attractive Marina who relentlessly pursues her, and her fiance to be who she seems to genuinely love. Amidst all of that, the show doesn't shy from making many political statements with various vignettes which accompany each episode.

This is a strange show for me because i was swinging back and forth between feeling like i was watching a lesbian show purely for the titillation and exploitative nature of it, and moments of true brilliance in the incisiveness of the writing, the warmth of the characters, and the overall engaging story lines. Sometimes, i felt that the numerous sex scenes where there just to keep the average male viewer glued to the screen. I understand how sexuality is portrayed at the center of those characters' lives, but i felt that the characters were so rich in many other ways that could have provided more dramatic material without necessarily feeling cheap. Additionally, the show sometimes dips too easily in simplistic political comments where Right is bad and Left is good, whereas some other times, it makes really interesting social comments. My understanding is that the show was created, produced and written by gay women, and so it supposedly gives a truer flavor to the show. I can't really judge whether that's true, but all i can say is that i have personally not seen lesbians portrayed in a richer, more diverse and complex way before. That in itself is interesting. The only thing that truly bothered me is that all those characters seem to go through life without really being in control, or knowing what they want. This is something that annoys me as i have very little patience for indecisive people, or people who flip-flop all the time. Except for Shane, Marina or Tina who know what they want and work at getting it, everyone else seems to be mostly just following the flow of things, without much conviction one way or another. Again, it's part of the characters, but sometimes, it does get annoying. Most interesting is how Bette's character is so strong in public and in her professional life, yet doesn't seem to be able to hold her private life together, especially towards the end of the first season. Yes, there are many people like that in real life, but on the show, it's polarized in such a way as to make it less believable to me.

To pull a show like this off, you need a first-rate cast, and mostly here, you won t be disappointed. Jennifer Beals, recently seen in Roger Dodger, is wonderful. She is very sexy, emotionally strong while remaining vulnerable, and fits the role perfectly. Mia Kirshner, whom i had first seen in Exotica over a decade ago, and who appeared recently in the first few episodes of the first season of 24, is also quite good as the sexually confused young woman. She plays the role of the na´ve ingenue with a dark edge very well. The rest of the cast is also great, with a special mention for Karina Lombard who is simply fantastic with her vamp charms. I have a crush on her, but Shhh! Don't tell anyone.

Overall, this is a series that i found myself conflicted over. On the one hand, the characters are complex, richly pulled together to form a detailed tapestry of life in LA. It's nice to see a show about women. I really loved to watch all those intimate moments where the characters just talk about what they like, or what bothers them. It's done very naturally always. Seeing them struggle with life on a daily basis is something that you cannot but associate yourself with. The themes and character ring true and honest, and what more can you ask from a show. The cast is great, and the shows are generally very well put together. On the other hand, i couldn't help but feel somewhat voyeuristic at times, with the many fairly raunchy sex scenes. Sometimes, they did feel gratuitous and exploitative and i wished the writers could focus more, just a little bit more, on the other things going on around. It's nice to have a show that frankly depicts sex, but when it takes over as the main thread of many storylines, i feel it takes away from the characters, and takes the easy way over exploring other more complicated areas. Overall, i did enjoy it a lot though, and i am looking forward to watching Season 2 when is comes on DVD.

- Laurent Hasson