“The L Word: Generation Q” is a delightful balance of old and new—and better than ever

The first time I saw the original The L Word, I was twenty years old, in love with a woman from my rugby team, and adamantly proclaiming my straightness. In my mind, because of my background and evangelical Christian upbringing, to be not straight was to be asking for punishment, begging to be sent to hell. A war lived inside my heart, where part of myself wanted to be free and the other part wanted to be loved.

So, when Bette Porter and her messy friends showed me that life could be filled with sex, glamour, fun, freedom, and yes, love even if you’re queer—the series seemed to say especially if you’re queer—The L Word began chipping away at my internalized queerphobia, suggesting that the war inside me wasn’t mine to fight.

Flash forward twelve years. I’m no longer closeted, no longer terrified, no longer at war with myself. When I heard about the return of the series in a new incarnation, I wasn’t sure I needed these characters and their stories any more, particularly after the sh*tshow (I believe that’s the technical term) that was the final few seasons of the original.

The L Word had so many issues. The representations of trans folks were bad. The reliance on a certain kind of hyper-femme, narrowly defined queerness alienated a lot of viewers. The whiteness of the series—in lens as much as in casting—felt oppressive. And, wow, the fat shaming. Sweet Hera, the fat shaming.

While the series was massively important to me when I was a fledgling queer, as I discovered who I was, I found that those harmful aspects made it that much harder for me to see myself represented amongst the lipstick lesbians laughing, loving, f*cking, fighting in West Hollywood.

And that’s exactly where The L Word: Generation Q defied my expectations. It turns out not only did I miss the characters from the original series, but also I desperately needed to see the new faces who bring a broader lens on what it means to be queer today.

Generation Q manages to balance familiar characters with new ones, pushing both into surprising new territory. From Bette’s mayoral bid to Micah’s dating experiences as a trans man, the new series is a mature, sophisticated take on the original—and that’s worth celebrating.

Maybe seeing characters I knew over a decade ago shouldn’t be comforting, but it is. To see Alice using her opinions to change public perception and to see her (finally) in a healthy relationship, to see Shane heartbroken but recovering through community and new opportunities, to see Bette step up and face the hatred and discrimination that keeps our communities gridlocked in suffering, is akin to seeing an old friend who was a messy ass grow into a thriving badass. That is to say, you love them either way, but it feels good to know we don’t always have to be who we once were.

And the new characters expand the notion of what it means to be queer even further. Micah is a professor dating and dealing with the way cis men exoticize him as a gay, trans, Chinese-American man. (Notably, Micah is played by trans actor Leo Sheng.) Finley is a white, messy, drunken production assistant on Alice’s new talk show, a sort of vulnerable re-imagining of what Shane had once been. Sophie, a Black Latinx woman, is a producer on Alice’s show and is in a relationship with Dani, a Latinx Persian woman who leaves her job working for her father’s company to join Bette’s campaign.

There are also a host of other characters, some of whom have familiar faces and many of whom are played by queer and trans actors. Sense8’s Jamie Clayton plays Tess, a no-nonsense bartender who goes into business with Shane. The Good Doctor’s Sophie Giannamore plays Jordi, a rebellious teen who just so happens to be Bette’s daughter Angie’s BFF slash major crush. Comedian Fortune Feimster plays Heather, a comedian who helps warm up audiences for the Alice talk show. 

We may not be using “the chart” anymore, but even without that visual aid, we can tell things are going to get tricky for our intrepid heroes whose intersecting relationships are bound to result in drama, drama, drama. Time to grab the popcorn.

While there’s a lot to admire about the series, the decision to take Bette into a mayoral campaign in Los Angeles might end up being the most impactful. By making her storyline inherently political, it allows Generation Q to explore and interrogate the matters that impact queer people who are not rich, thin, white, and powerful. Bette’s campaign tackles the opioid epidemic, homelessness, public education, and how discrimination against vulnerable communities exacerbates these issues. And, when a man accuses Bette of having an affair with his wife, it’s hard not to see the parallels to Congresswoman Katie Hill who was recently forced to resign for being a sexual human being and a bisexual woman in office.

It’s a brave new face for a series that often felt so far removed from reality that it was hard to relate to characters’ everyday concerns.

And, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. From what I’ve seen in early screeners, I can tell you that Generation Q is boldly tackling the spectrum of queerness, including parenting, divorce, spiritual and religious lives, cross-class relationships, alcohol abuse, casual sex, transphobia, commitment, and more. 

If I had to boil it down to one thing that makes the reboot different from the original, I’d say that Generation Q takes seriously the feminist adage that the personal is political—and the series is better for it.

Do we need a new The L Word? Despite my reservations, I certainly do.

The L Word Generation Q airs on Sunday nights on Showtime.

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