Showtime’s sequel to the iconic LGBTQ+ series feels refreshing, if frustratingly centrist at times.
To put all fan anxieties at ease: the sex is still hot, y’all! The male gaze is still in exile, and Shane is still Shane. It’s business as usual in Showtime’s The L Word: Generation Q. Now ten years since Showtime’s The L Word ended its historic six-season run in 2009, the series returns for eight more episodes. This is less of a reboot as it is a revisiting of the previous six chapters.
Showrunner Ilene Chaiken returns with stars (turned executive producers) Jennifer Beals, Leisha Hailey, and Katherine Moenning reprising their roles. Yet, it’s the addition of new cast members and new writers that offer up refreshing perspectives on queer life at the dawn of the 2020s — and which will hopefully help steer the series away from the trap of cable network centrism it seems to be circling.
What have the gals been up to in the last ten years? Well, Bette Porter (Beals) is now a Los Angeles mayoral candidate and a single parent to Angelica (the fiercely intelligent Jordan Hull), who’s now in grade school. They grow up so fast! But Bette’s past still haunts her. Our dear Alice (Hailey) is now a successful talk show host with a complicated home life as a new step-mom. Perhaps the only one who can get a free pass for not changing is model and hairdresser Shane (Moening). Why should she change for anyone? Or has she changed but won’t let it show? Classic Shane.
Right away, it’s refreshing in the moment to see these old characters back in action. Beals, Hailey, and Moening all clearly love their characters and slip into them with ease and the wisdom of living with them for an entire decade. They’ve given Hailey in particular so much more comedic material, and the new show (like the old one) shines when they let her play.
But as fun as our old friends are to watch, they haven’t changed much, nor are they likely to. It both helps and hurts the show that these characters feel static. The new season feels familiar like meeting up with old friends, but they are friends who haven’t gone through any personal growth in the last ten years. That’s frustrating after watching them go through six seasons of So. Much. Drama.
A certain logic seems to have been sacrificed in order to preserve the continuity of the series. One would expect that some amount of personal growth and change would have happened in the last ten years, but the same character flaws (like Alice’s neuroses or Bette’s inability to keep it together) are still present and still working against them. In an 8-episode series, I wouldn’t expect much development from these characters, unless you think infidelity is character building. (There will be plenty more of that: this is still a cable melodrama, after all.)
The most exciting elements of the reprise are the new additions to the cast, specifically Jacqueline Toboni, Rosanny Zayas, and Leo Sheng. The characters they play feel familiar and written from honest and informed places, though I fear they will have to do the heavy lifting of the show’s political urgency and relevancy.
I wouldn’t expect much development from these characters, unless you think infidelity is character building.
As Sarah Finley, Shane’s roommate who works as an executive assistant, Tobani is one to watch. She’s spunky, broke, and unapologetically gender-fucking; she grabs every scene she’s in with her vulnerability and quick-witted delivery. She’s got an idiosyncratic exuberance that’s infectious and endearing so we really root for her when she has a crisis of (literal) faith involving a pastor she falls in love with. I’m sure there will be watch parties with several Finleys in attendance.
Zayas has perhaps one of the toughest roles, having to shoulder a lot of the show’s intersectional discourse as Sophie Suarez, a Queer Afro-Latinx person who’s a producer on Alice’s show. But Zayas plays Sophie with such humanism that saves the script from tokenization. Her story, at the end of the three episodes made available for review, seems destined to fall into some trodden heteronormative plot traps. But, I trust Zayas to bring a performance that may spin those traps in new ways. She has an immense talent and I hope the writers allow it to shine in its own right.
Diverse representation has always been a philosophical tent pole for The L Word, and Leo Shang’s Micah Lee, an adjunct professor and Finley’s good friend, is a strong re-commitment to that ideal. Though the original series also featured a trans masc character, its handling of their transition was far from stellar. Shang, who has been very open about their own transition, has created a genuine character that only someone with that lived experience could create. They address difficult moments of trans living, like coming out to romantic interests or navigating public spaces, with the honesty and sensitivity that comes from having actually been through it themselves. Knowing that a trans character is being played by a capable and conscious performer, who has lived through some of the same experiences as their character, does away with most of the uneasiness or apprehension one might have with The L Word’s second go at trans discourse.
However, the most startling element to The L Word: Generation Q is the ten years that have passed in between these two chapters of the story – a decade of cultural and political advancement that the show grapples to keep up with. In 2004, queer representation was rare and sloppy and The L Word was both an exception and an example. Now, queer representation has become somewhat de rigueur, so The L Word: Generation Q will have to work to keep its representation genuine. That means leaning into the socio-economic struggles of queer people. Though it could get by on the novelty of representation in the early 2000s, the show will now need to be more careful if it is to be the “woke melodrama” is it aspires to be. That means not letting the trappings of relationship intrigue get in the way of a larger message.
There is some political urgency in the opening episodes of the series. Bette’s mayoral platform is built around issues of homeless and queer youth advocacy, which disproportionately go hand-in-hand. But the main returning characters are still far too bourgeois for there to be any believable struggle to overcome, as evidenced by a huge red flag sent up in the uncritical (and, it seems, poorly timed) invocation of Kamala Harris. (That ain’t it, Showtime.)
If the show remains in the dead center of the political spectrum, it risks not saying anything of note about being queer today. The hope for the show’s success lies in the Generational aspect of the LGBTQ+ experience: Chaiken and crew should embrace this and have the characters form symbiotic relationships that help each other learn and grow, rather than just fomenting bitchy drama amongst them. Positive relationships can be interesting! At its best, The L Word: Generation Q could mentor new queers watching themselves on television, teach them history, and open an inter-generational dialogue about how queerness has changed, what it means today, and what it will be in the years to come.
The L Word: Generation Q airs Sundays on Showtime.