The L Word premiered on Showtime more than 13 years ago, giving lesbian and bisexual women the first series solely dedicated to the specificities of their lives and relationships, as based on a group of queer women in Los Angeles. The show brought together friends, exes, and prospective lovers for regular viewing parties at local lesbian bars and private gatherings, making it appointment viewing every Sunday for all six seasons.
While on air, The L Word tackled storylines that had never before been seen on television, or at least not with the same kind of nuance that came from actual queer women writers and lesbian Executive Producer Ilene Chaiken at the helm. The show boasted the first regular trans character with Max, played by Daniela Sea, as well as depictions of several unexplored facets of the community, such as lesbians dating each other's exes—and sometimes even their exes—as well as privileges some queer women have from passing as straight, or even remaining closeted.
Conversations and characters of The L Word sparked real life discussions on topics not being addressed at length elsewhere, as social media had yet to take hold of the internet and Smartphones were still in the future. With few lesbians out in the media or pop culture, the characters on television were what the community had to cling to, and for so many women, they were as familiar as friends or, in some cases, family.
Since the show went off air in 2009, there's been a noticeable void in the TV landscape. Lesbian and bisexual characters pop up more frequently, but they are usually still only one in an ensemble show. (If they're lucky, they'll have a recurring love interest.) And despite Orange is the New Black featuring several Sapphically-inclined inmates, lesbians want to see themselves normalized in the real world, not just behind bars.
Last week, Showtime confirmed it was working on a reboot of The L Word with Chaiken, but seeking a new showrunner to create a world of new characters that could also co-exist with original favorites: Bette (Jennifer Beals), Alice (Leisha Hailey) and Shane (Kate Moennig). Fans went wild in celebration, proving how desperate queer women continue to be to see themselves accurately and poignantly reflected on television. Broadly spoke with some of those fanatics about their own feelings on The L Word, its legacy, and their hopes for the new sequel.
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Sarah Warn is the founder of the lesbian pop culture and entertainment site AfterEllen.com, which ran recaps of The L Word as well as interviews with the show's stars, writers, and directors throughout its time on air.
The landscape was—we were all dying of thirst in the desert for lesbian visibility. But it wasn't that The L Word singlehandedly changed that. It was sort of at the beginning of a wave... The early days before The L Word, it used to be about one-off lesbian episodes. What The L Word did do which was pivotal was it gave us a show entirely about lesbians, which was really unheard of. And it hasn't been done all that often since then, but it had never been done really before that. It also was much more frank about depicting lesbian sexuality and issues within the lesbian community. It did a whole bunch of things differently. It was important at the time.
The thing about the sequel now is it won't be as pivotal, because now, there are actual lesbians—lots of lesbian characters and lesbian subplots and lesbians are [not always tokens]. In general, we're a lot better integrated into television, and we're a lot more realistically portrayed... My guess is it will struggle a little bit more to get the same attention it got for the original, because now it's much more commonplace to have lesbian characters, and that's partly due to The L Word. But also times have changed, and evolutions, and we're just more integrated everywhere.
What's going to be interesting this time around is how streaming will change [how women watch the show]. I would expect it won't be the event viewing where people get together that it used to be, just because, again, lesbians are much more commonplace now. It's not such a rarity that you would invite everybody over to watch. I also think it's going to depend a little bit on how they handle the show. If they make it more reality TV-ish, I don't think it's gonna get a lot of traction. I do they think they need to stick to the—the thing about The L Word that was both good and bad was it took itself very seriously. I think they kind of have to stick to that.
I don't think [the show] did a great job of representing bisexual women. I'd like to see them integrate bisexual women naturally just how they are in real life—some people are lesbians, some people are straight, some people are bisexual. It doesn't have to be a big thing, but it also isn't something you should avoid or make fun of. At the time, the racial diversity was pretty good, because usually lesbians are—they had a lot of white women on the show—but they had Bette dealing with some biracial issues. They didn't always handle it perfectly, but at least they tried, and I appreciated that.
What [television]'s always done—and they still do—in ensemble shows with a single lesbian, she's almost always not white. Which I don't have a problem with—hey, that's great—but it's almost like they want to tick two boxes with one role—that's probably exactly what it is: "Hey, we can get a lesbian and a black woman, and make them the same person. Then we don't actually have to hire a lesbian and a black person and make them two different characters." That's what was nice about The L Word—it went beyond that. You had white women, Hispanic women, biracial women—it wasn't completely diverse, but it was, for the time, pretty diverse. As much as the Max storyline annoyed me, I think they should also get some credit for trying to tackle trans issues a decade before anybody else was. Even if they messed it up along the way, they at least tried.
I hope the series does well just because the more that we can prove that there's an audience for lesbian content and lesbian characters the better.
Liza Dye is a stand-up comic in Los Angeles who frequently makes jokes about "The L Word" in her sets.
When I talk with other women about the show, I just get so much animosity towards it still. It's always been really upsetting for me as someone who just loved it—it really changed my life. I get the resentment toward some of the things that happened in the show—for example Dana's death and maybe the way the trans characters were handled—but I'm always like, considering everything I've been through, a glass-half-full kind of person. I'm like "Guys, this was all we had. Stop complaining!" … I'm like, the good outweighs the bad with The L Word.
That poor woman [Ilene Chaiken] has apologized so many times—what is the problem? Why does everyone hate this woman so much? It was like Obama first got in office—everyone was so mad at him. They're like, "He's not doing enough" and then it took this dickhole to come along for everyone to love I'm and appreciate him. That's what's gonna happen. Some asshole's gonna come along and fuck shit up for lesbians in the media even worse than Ilene did and Ilene's gonna be the new Obama. "Oh my god, Ilene, we miss her! Come back!" She's gonna be the lesbian Obama because everyone has been dragging her.
I've never heard a comedian talk about The L Word on stage before. It's kind of this taboo thing—"Obviously I've watched it if I'm a gay woman but I'm not gonna admit it," you know? I think it's the greatest thing in the world. I watch it every day. I've been watching it every day since college.
Obviously [I want the reboot to have] more people of color; people want to see more women of different sizes. I guess everyone was like rich, thin and kind of looked white, with the exception of Tasha and Carmen and Papi. Just how the world looks, as close to it as they can get—because what TV show does? I think lesbians hold The L Word to this insanely high standard—if you put The L Word beside other TV shows, they did the best that they could have done at that time. It was the first lesbian television show. … I don't know of a perfect television show. It needed a lot of work and I'm sure they'll fix some things.
I would love to see it happen in Kristen Stewart-Land—Los Feliz, in my gayborhood of Los Feliz where Kristen Stewart is the President. I don't hang out in West Hollywood.
Marie Hudson, is the creator and producer of Take The L Podcast.
It's actually really weird that they're doing this reboot because it's bringing me back to that time to like, 2007, and looking at how different my life is versus then… I was thinking about how there hadn't been anything really like The L Word since it ended, and how even though the way they dealt with some things are kind of problematic, especially looking back now, it still is an important show and they still do get a lot of things right. Even watching Season 1 now—even though the flip phones and the fashion are really weird—they do get a lot of things right and it's so important to have those people represented on TV. Because I hadn't really seen anything else like it now on TV, I just thought it would be a good time to revisit it. I also kind of felt like maybe the reboot was going to happen, and I feel like a few other people felt that way too. My lesbian senses were tingling, and I felt maybe we were on the cusp of something happening, so I wanted to go back and start this before it kind of all kicked off again.
I'm really excited for it because I trust that Jennifer Beals wouldn't put her name on something she didn't fully believe in now, now that she's kind of like woke bae. She's going to make sure that it goes in the right direction. It's kind of shitty that it's come to this in the sense that there hasn't been a whole lot of other shows so they felt like they needed to come back—like it kind of says a lot about the progression of gay characters on TV and how it really hasn't got anywhere. But I am, as a selfish fan, happy they are coming back.
I hope that if they have any trans representation that they deal with it in a way that doesn't sort of make that person the butt of the joke, which I think is what happened in the original series. I think that they will deal with race in a better way as well. I loved Pam Grier in the original series, but she did kind of fall into that trope of being the person who has to save everyone else, and they kind of gave her those stereotypical lines for her to say—she wasn't really written as a full character, so I hope that they deal with that better. Again, I think Jennifer Beals now will be more in control, or will have a firmer grip on representing people the right way.
I saw someone tweeted: "Would it kill us to put a butch lesbian on TV who isn't in prison?" I do hope that they deal with that. I personally would love to see—people I'm dying to at least make cameos are Keke Palmer. I would love to see Keke Palmer. Maybe she is [Bette and Tina's daughter] Angelika, who knows? I would love for them to put in actual queer women and actors in the reboot.
Lily Marotta and Minnie Bennett have been hosting L Word Trivia nights in New York City since 2015, most recently at Henrietta Hudson.
Lily: [Watching The L Word] became my Sunday night ritual with my friend Steven—we watched it and the episode would repeat the hour after and we would just watch it again. Since the premiere date, I've been there. I remember it was really hard when I went to college because I didn't have Showtime so, fifth season, I had to wait for the DVDs to come out. That was a hard time for me.
Minnie: I was working at a video store and I was deeply in the closet; very athletic—kind of like a Dana moment for me. And my friends kept telling me to watch The L Word, not hinting at why I should, but just telling me to watch it and I was terrified. So I took it home one day in secret—I was watching it in secret for two or three years until Dana died and then I had to come out. Then I started collecting all the DVDs and self-ripping the DVDs from my Netflix that I was receiving in college.
Lily: It still did feel like—you didn't want your parents to see you watching it. Obviously it had a lot of sex scenes, but it did feel illicit.
Minnie: [We met through mutual friends] and would hang out and always talk about The L Word. I was watching it again and doing the really annoying thing where I was talking over the lines …. and quizzing myself watching them. … The thirst continues for lesbian content, so when we announced L Word trivia, people were like "Duh!"
Lily: It's so fun doing the skits because especially now looking back—there are so many ridiculous moments so it's just so fun to act them out and then come up with new kind of crazy questions. .. Some of the questions are so hard, like "how many shots of espresso does Shane take in her latte?"
Minnie: Some of the names are so good. Tim's Tears was my favorite.
Lily: My Lover Cindy is always good. … The last L Word trivia was our hugest one—I would say we needed a bigger space but that's because we got Betty to perform the theme song so it was very standing room only. We didn't even have enough sheets for trivia.
Minnie: I feel like we had a little over 100 people.
Lily: It's very social, and several couples have started because of it too, which is great.
Minnie: The prizes are always related to the show. We give away, like, cow balls or the famous paint splattered button up Shane was wearing. Jenny's coffee cup that she held while playing basketball. Really important stuff.
Lily: We had this couple that won once—they were visiting from Oklahoma and came to Henrietta's because they hear that it's the gay bar and they won, so that was kind of fun.
Lily: I feel like I haven't stopped screaming since the rumors started [about the reboot] two weeks ago. Shane and Alice are definitely gonna be together now.
Minnie: We're also starting an L Word podcast called same sex, different city based on the original L Word campaign.
Kelly Rakowski, is the creator and curator of the successful lesbian history-focused Instagram account h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y, and a dedicated fan of L Word trivia.
Somehow I heard of The L Word trivia and I got super involved… The trivia is the most fun ever; they recreate and reenact scenes from The L Word and it's hilarious. It's been going on for maybe two years, with L Word trivia every few months. I started to go as a player —it was super small and then what happened was I kept going… and eventually, we just all became friends because we kept going so often and I was so devoted and passionate about winning. You win, like, a shot of tequila or something.
[The questions are] so specific. "What kind of cookies does Lara make Dana?" And it was like "lavender-infused lemon." You have to say it exactly—it's really difficult. So then I started posting when they were doing the night on h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y, and it blew up—it got really crazy and they started doing it at Henrietta Hudson, and now it's really hard for me to win because there people that are even more obsessed. These girls are so fucking obsessed with it—it's beautiful.
There's nothing else available, so we focus completely on the one morsel that was given. It's cheesy and maybe not the best show ever, but it is the best show ever… I guess initially whenever I hear of a reboot, I don't think it's ever gonna be the same thing, so you kind of have to let go of that. But also there's potential for it to be changed in a really interesting way because there are so many more things that they can focus on. Hopefully it won't be so lipsticky fashion and be more in tune with what real lesbians are like. Or just more open to trans community and maybe have, like, butches.
But I think it'd be really fun if they hire the right writers to make it almost completely different but then carry some of the elements that everyone loves... I think we all love that it's soapy, cheesy, over the top. I don't want it to change so much that you lose what it was, too. I saw on Twitter Roxane Gay wants to write for it and I think if they get interesting writers—and I love Lena [Waithe] from Master of None, but I think she's working on something else.
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It's fucked up [that there hasn't been another lesbian-focused show], and that's what I'm the most upset about. I know so many talented people that are writers—why aren't we just doing this? I think it's the most untapped subculture or, I don't know, community. Lesbian stories—there's so much drama there. People don't understand. There's so much inspiration for any kind of movie or show. There could be so many.
I'm sure there will be watch parties, which will be fun. Maybe it's a good way to utilize Henrietta Hudson or lesbian bars that are dying. Maybe it's a good way to bring people together again into spaces like that.
Yezmin Villarreal is a journalist and the creator of a zine called "Dyke Queen."
At the time, I didn't have much exposure to other queer women, so [The L Word] was my real time looking at it… I guess once I moved to Los Angeles, that really was the first time I came into a community of mostly queer women, and obviously, no, it was not like [The L Word] at all. For one, they had The Planet, which we don't have. That experience might be a thing once [queer cafe] Hi Cuties opens up. In some ways, the thing to me about being a lesbian in L.A. is I feel like I have a certain bubble around my social life in a sense that—obviously at work and stuff like that I'm interacting with all kinds of people—but I think when it comes to my social life, most of my friends are gay, so in that sense, that's one cool thing about The L Word: you see different depictions of queer women. There's not necessarily one depiction, although it is true that most of the women on The L Word are white women, so it's not a true intersectional or multicultural view of lesbians. But the thing I love about it it's a big group of lesbian friends, and a big community and that's what I always wanted to have.
We're in Los Angeles, you know—there are so many immigrant communities here. I think it's definitely time to add more women of color and more intersectional characters. But on top of that, too, I was joking with my friends about how they should replace Kate Moennig with Kristen Stewart. She's definitely going through her Shane phase, I think.
"I think it's definitely time to add more women of color and more intersectional characters."
I'm really curious about the casting. The other thing, too, I'm excited about is I know—I feel like I'm seeing a lot on Twitter, a lot of women talking about how there's a lot of opportunity as far as whoever they pick for showrunner or as writers for the sequel, and that's one thing that has been exciting is I feel I've been seeing a lot of queer women writers who I think would really be amazing as additions to this sequel. Because I really do think kind of adapting it to what it's like to be a lesbian in LA now in 2017, it's gonna be different. So much has changed since The L Word. At that time, there was nothing—there wasn't really anything else, nothing as big or that had such a large impact, and I feel like so many people now are living more openly. Not that marriage equality normalized everything—I mean Pulse just happened—but I think there's a big opportunity there to really reflect a different experience of what it's like to be a lesbian now...
The other thing that would be interesting for them to discuss is the fact that in LA, there's not any lesbian bar at all, and so I think the thing I see with queer women is here is we have to kind of create our own alternative community to come together, and sure, you have dance nights or club nights, but I feel in that kind of space, it's kind of hard to make connections with other people... I feel like I see a lot more community popping up informally. Queer women have to fill in these cultural gaps because we don't have these public spaces that exist for us. In L.A., I feel like gay men have so many options and we don't.