I am not a lesbian. I am not even a lesbian trapped in a man’s body. When my wife dresses me, I may have incidental metrosexual tendencies, but clearly I am not The L Word‘s target demographic. And yet, for four and a half seasons I’ve been watching the sapphic Showtime soap about a clique of close-knit Los Angeles lesbians who hop from bed to bed with such alacrity that one of them actually keeps score on a wall-size chart in her apartment. I even watch the talky bits.
That’s the brilliance of The L Word. It combines earnest social commentary on contemporary gender-identification issues — this season there’s a plotline about a lesbian war hero getting booted out of the Army for sexual misconduct — with lots of hot chicks making out. Sure, it’s soft-core porn, but coated with a PC patina that makes it slightly less embarrassing when you get caught looking. It’s not often you run across erotica that works this hard to raise your, um, consciousness. It’s Red Shoe Diaries with a women’s-studies degree from Smith College.
Of course, once you strip away the sex and gender polemics, the R-rated melodrama can appear pretty, well, bare. It’s largely an endless loop of girl-meets-girl stories. Dramatic resonance and plot continuity apparently aren’t a high priority in the writers’ room. Characters are sometimes given new personalities (not to mention orientations) from one season to the next, story arcs are half constructed and left abandoned (what the heck happened to Papi, the Latina limo driver?), and cliff-hangers are elaborately set up only to be nonsensically resolved before the show’s end. I’m no Aaron Spelling, but they’re supposed to be left hanging, right? Otherwise they’re just…cliffs.
To be fair, this season the writing does show signs of improving. After a misguided attempt at abstinence, sinewy beautician Shane (Katherine Moennig) is once again carving a Warren Beatty-like swath through the bedrooms of Beverly Hills. And whiny author Jenny Schecter (Mia Kirshner) has been outfitted with a much more amusing way to be annoying: Ever since her book became a best-seller, she’s been a raging Hollywood diva. I still don’t care whether Bette and Tina (Jennifer Beals and Laurel Holloman) get back together — L.A.’s dullest couple have been dancing around a reconciliation for two seasons now — and waffling transsexual Max (Daniela Sea) really should make up his/her mind about what gender he/she would like to be. (In one recent episode, there was talk that the character was actually a gay man trapped in a pre-op body.) Still, I’ll keep watching. And not just for the reasons you think. B