It's hard to overstate how important The L Word was when it first aired on Showtime in 2004. Following in the successful footsteps of early LGBT-centric TV shows like Will & Grace and Queer As Folk, The L Word broke ground as being the first and only show about queer women, for queer women. So when news of an L Word reboot landed earlier this week, it set social media abuzz, with many thrilled to see the beloved TV show return for a whole new era.
The show ended in 2009 after running for six seasons; a series of terrible storylines, character deaths, and bad representation saw its audience numbers dwindle, and the latter seasons just could not capture the magic of Seasons 1-3. In its heyday, the show was sexy, progressive, dramatic, and stood out for more than just its provocative sex scenes. Eight years later, Ilene Chaiken's groundbreaking show has the perfect opportunity to build on the foundation it constructed in those early years, and bring the (frankly pretty dated by today's standards) #TV show into 2017. This will be the key to its success, and here's what needs to change.
Diversity On Screen... And In The Writers Room
For many queer women, #TheLWord was our first time seeing normal gay women living normal gay lives. We were introduced to lothario Shane (Kate Moennig), bisexual gossip Alice (Leisha Hailey), Subaru-driving, tennis-playing Dana (Erin Daniels), power suit-wearing Bette (Jennifer Beals), her Planet-owning sister Kit (Pam Grier), and the insane Jenny Schecter (Mia Kirshner). While these characters were, for all intents and purposes, refreshing in 2004, they are certainly not what most queer women look like in 2017.
While the cast wasn't entirely dominated by white women, it wasn't exactly a smorgasbord of representation. Attractive, wealthy, thin women of privilege living and loving in LA worked well as a premise for a show that had never been done before — I mean, there's only so far you can rock the boat — but let's be real, no freelance hairdresser and struggling writer I know can afford a large house (with a pool) in West Hollywood. I feel like the only character we ever actually saw ever go to work was Bette, the rest spend their days at the Planet analyzing Shane's sex life. If the show wants to appeal to queer women in 2017, it needs to overhaul its cast and show a variety of socio-economic backgrounds, and the best way to do that is by shaking up its writing team.
Moennig, Beals, and Hailey have all signed on to be part of the new season, but only to act as a bridge to a new group of women. They are all on board to produce too, with Chaiken acting as executive producer. To give Chaiken her dues, she has worked on some very high profile television since The L Word came off the air, acting as EP on The Handmaid's Tale and Empire. As a result, I am sure she is very aware of how much the televisual landscape has changed in the last 13 years.
Some prominent writers have already shown their interest in getting involved in the revival through Twitter, including Roxane Gay, who would be able to bring first-hand experience of being a fat QPOC to the show — exactly the kind of representation lacked in its first six seasons.
Other prominent lesbians such as Carmen Esposito and Rhea Butcher have also expressed excitement, as well as trans actor Jen Richards.
Not only would it be great to see more diversity on screen and in the writers room, but it would be great for the show to encompass a entirely queer production crew, which would offer work and diversity to all aspects of the predominantly male industry. But one can only dream.
Continue To Be Groundbreaking Without Stereotyping
Of course I haven't forgotten that The L Word was one huge melodrama, so I don't expect it to be an exact representation of real life. However, I do expect it to be in tune with the current social and political climate of the LGBT community. We know The L Word has the guts to take on topical issues; one of the best examples was military officer Tasha, who was struggling with the army's former Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy and PTSD. The storyline was handled respectfully, and effectively represented the reality of soldiers battling against discrimination laws. Jodi (played by deaf actress Marlee Matlin) was a progressive and positive example of disability onscreen too.
While The L Word made some great strides in some forms of representation, it failed in others. Daniella Sea's Max — the only transgender character on the show — was a cringeworthy caricature. Times have changed, and so has the language of sexuality and gender, and the reboot will need be on the pulse if it has any hope of emulating its former success.
If there was ever a perfect time to bring back The L Word, it's now, and Jennifer Beals agrees. In an insightful interview with Entertainment Weekly, the Flashdance actress revealed that a reboot was born out of a need for this kind of show that has not existed since it first aired:
"The election happened. I remember I was in South Dakota watching the returns come in and I texted Ilene and I said, “We need to do something.” She said, “Let’s get together and talk about it.” So we were spitballing about what to do and I said our skillset is storytelling and I think we need to tell stories and certainly in an atmosphere of increasing hatred towards the LGBT community and frankly anyone who’s categorized as “other,” stories exploring the complexities of friendship and love are all that more crucial. Representation of everything. You can’t go backward. I would love to see the show continue to mine its original themes of friendship and love and community and additionally I’d like it to go a little further and challenge heteronormalcy."
Right now, things aren't going so great for LGBT folk both on and off screen. While there have been record numbers of LGBT characters in TV and film in the last few years, this success has been marred by clueless writing and the dreaded Bury Your Gays trope. The L Word was sadly an early victim of this trope when it killed off fan-favorite Dana in Season 3. Exceptions exist in shows like Orange if the New Black, but it feels like queer women have been relegated to the science fiction genre in the last few years. In the real world, the bathroom bill is still heavily debated, and LGBT rights are under constant threat in Trump's America. While it's not Ilene Chaiken's job to right all these wrongs, her show does have the power to offer a little solidarity and hope to those who need it — which is what good representation on TV is all about.
Leave Old Storylines Behind
Season 6 never happened. Let's just get that out there. The last season of The L Word was such a train wreck that I actually didn't make it past Episode 2. When the cast reunited for Entertainment Weekly earlier this year, Kate Moennig was adamant that Season 6 would be forgotten, and I honestly believe this is the right course of action. Jenny Schecter was the character everyone loved to hate, and Season 6 saw her end up facedown in a swimming pool. If Season 6 never happened, Jenny would be back, and maybe her and Shane would never hook up, and that would be best for everyone.
Having said this, it would be great to see where the original core cast are now — however brief these cameos may be. What's Bette and Tina's (Laurel Holloman) now-teenage daughter up to, and are they still living in New York? Has Shane settled down? Does Alice have a job? Has The Planet survived gentrification? What's Carmen (Sarah Shahi) up to these days, and is she still the best character?
Effectively, the brand new, shiny, rebooted 2k17 edition of The L Word needs to be a whole new show. It needs to learn from the mistakes it made in 2008, and reinvent itself into something representative of the world we live in now. However, the show as it was will always have a very special place in the hearts of queer women the world over. It was witty, touching, sexy, and nothing like it has existed before or since. But dear sweet Jesus, let the revival have a new theme song.
So, who did kill Jenny Schecter? Let us know in the comments, because I honestly have no idea.