Where will you be Sunday night, January 7th?
Me, I’ll be camped out on my sofa, a bowl of salty snacks on my left, sweet ones on my right, and a glass of nice Spanish red in hand, and no one—not even Mabel the Cat—will be permitted a peep until the end credits have rolled. Of course I’m talking about the season premiere of The L Word.
Season three was a rough one. Dana’s dead. Carmen and Shane are kaput. Ditto for Jenny and Max. Last we saw, Bette was kidnapping her own baby, whilst Tina whimpered in the warm embrace of the world’s wussiest man. Helena decided to be nice for a change and promptly got screwed (both literally and figuratively) for her change of heart. Alice went mental, then finally got sane just in time for Dana to contract cancer and die. (Nooooo!!!!) Alice and Lara dealt with Dana’s demise by doing it and Kit was shocked to discover a bun in her nearly menopausal oven.
This coming season, big names Cybill Shepard and Marlee Matlin join the cast, along with several up-and-coming actors: Janina Gavankari, Rose Rollins and Kristanna Loken (who has been spotted around town on the arm of Michelle Rodriguez, prompting her to reveal her bisexuality in a recent Advocate article).
Matlin’s character is a fiery artist type who piques Bette’s interest; and Shepard plays a married woman who discovers mid-life that she has a taste for the ladies. “I’ve heard from a lot of women who came out later in life,” explained L Word creatitrix Ilene Chaiken in a recent phone interview. “I know a lot of women who’ve led lives as purportedly straight, raised families, and suddenly came to grips with the fact that they might be gay.”
Unfortunately for Sarah Shahi fans, Carmen bids adios, only popping up in a few episodes—while Janina Gavankari comes on the scene as Papi, whom Chaiken claims is “as much of a player as Shane… We just loved the idea of putting forward someone who might’ve slept with more people than Shane.” Um, yeah, we like that idea too!
Speaking of hotties, Marina also resurfaces for a couple of episodes. I inquire as to whether extreme fan outrage at Marina’s departure persuaded them to lure Karina Lombard back into the fold. “Yes and no,” was the diplomatic answer. “We’re engaged in the dialogue with fans, and we absolutely consider the fans to be the owners of the show—we know we have a passionate audience.” But, she continues, “We never tell a story based on what the audience wants.” Well, obviously, or they would’ve killed Jenny, not Dana!
I asked Chaiken if an actor’s sexuality ever plays a role in her casting decisions. “The only thing that’s important to me is that we cast an actor who can embody the character and who passionately wants to tell these stories,” she says firmly. “Obviously, I’m not going to cast an actor who’s homophobic, but an actor’s sexual orientation is irrelevant.” Which makes a certain amount of sense considering many gay actors still feel that they can’t be open about who they’re sleeping with.
One of only two out lesbian cast members from last season, Daniela Sea, plays Max/Moira, Jenny’s transitioning love interest. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given her androgynous appearance, Sea has some practice passing as a gent. “All my life, people would always think I was a boy,” she reveals. I can practically hear her shrug over the phone. Sea’s dad came out when she was a child, so she never really felt any stigma about being gay. “I’ve been going to gay marches since I was young…but can I really say I would never be in love with someone because they were a man?” she asks. “Historically, I’ve been with women…I don’t know if I’d ever be with a guy who was born a guy.”
Leisha Hailey, the show’s other out-and-proud lesbian chose not to be part of this story. Kate Moennig’s been seen in lesbian bars all over New York, but will neither confirm nor quell rumors that she’s gay. But luckily, season four introduces Terminator 3’s Kristanna Loken—thus bringing the grand total of actual out girls in the world’s most popular lesbian drama up to a disappointing three.
Unlike other widely popular dramas that inspire addiction and a devoted following, The L Word seems to attract fans (myself included) that are a tad more fanatical in their obsession. The show’s message boards are full of heartbreaking accounts written by young women who watch the show in secret, desperately afraid they’ll be pegged as gay if their friends and family know they’re watching. In some cases the characters on the show are the only lesbians they know.
When asked about the closet issue, Chaiken briefly commented: “I hope for those people that the things that make them feel that it’s necessary for them to be in the closet fall away. I’m sure they’ll have a better life.”
Other viewers cite the show as something that inspired them to come out. I ask Chaiken if this responsibility ever weighs heavy on her. “It absolutely makes me feel proud,” she says. “Privileged more than anything else.”
Followers of The L Word are also noticeably more opinionated than the typical TV show fan; almost a different breed altogether. Each plot twist and character flaw is dissected, discussed, and often taken personally by the show’s devoted disciples. There are the Jenny-haters (more on me—I mean, them—later), Shane-lovers, and the hardcore TiBette faction. One thing all the divergent points of view seem to converge upon is a deep dislike for the show’s theme song.
“Atrocious,” and a “misfire,” are just two fans’ descriptions of the song, so wasn’t I chuffed to read in the online rumor mill that the show’s producers had decided to nix it in favor of a tune more palatable. I excitedly asked the show’s co-executive producer and composer, BETTY’s Elizabeth Ziff about the change. “We’re not changing the theme song,” she said flatly. “I don’t know where you heard that.” Oops!
Aside from the theme, there will be some great music showing up this season. “Goldfrapp are big fans of the show,” says Ziff. They’ll be on episode 11. They perform at the Planet.”
I asked Ziff if they’ve ever had trouble getting permission from bands to play their songs on a show that’s still fairly controversial to so many. “Very rarely do we have trouble,” she told me. “It’s so hard to get music played anywhere, so people are excited to [be featured on The L Word].”
Ziff confides that she finds a lot of musicians through her MySpace page (ezgirlmusic). “I listen to everything everyone sends me on MySpace,” says Ziff. “I found one woman—her name is de la Cruz—on MySpace. She’s a dyke rapper out of Compton.”
Diversity is important to Ziff, who goes out of her way to reflect this in the show’s soundtrack. “I bust my ass to represent,” she says. “This year I used Josh Clip, who’s female to male trans—it’s the first song—he does a duet with himself as a woman.” Toshi Reagon also makes an appearance, as do the Ditty Bops. “They’re two girls and they’re lovers—the music they do is sort of old-timey cartoon music,” she says of the latter.
Daniela Sea is also a musician and plays in a band with her girlfriend Bitch, who coincidentally made an appearance last season. I ask Daniela a stupid question, but being a jealous person, one I always wonder about: how does Bitch feel about watching Daniela make out with other women? “The cool thing about my girlfriend is that she’s a professional performer and an actor,” Sea answers. “It’s not that I don’t feel anything when I’m doing these makeout scenes, but it’s like you’re channeling.”
I ask Sea what the future holds for Max, now that he is living as a guy (having fully made the F-to-M transformation), and done with Jenny. “I can’t give many details,” Sea demurs. I point out that Chaiken has already told me that Max gets a new paramour, but the actress won’t take the bait. “The cool thing about next season is that we get to see him start coming into his own, in a deeper way,” she says. “He becomes more of a complex character…as characters develop, they start to become more challenging.”
Facing complex challenges is nothing new for Sea, who has had a far more interesting life off the screen than on. I ask her about her years spent traveling the world with only a backpack and living as a man in India for a stint. It seems so far removed from the manufactured world of television and all the baggage that comes with it. “Weirdly enough, it doesn’t feel like my life was bohemian and that this part is out of synch,” she replies. “It feels like this is a different adventure, this whole world of TV… and strangely that it fits in the story.”
The Max/Moira storyline is probably the most compelling and controversial of the series. The scene from season three where Moira meets the rest of the group for dinner at an upscale restaurant is particularly memorable. In a surprising move, most of the characters came off as classist jerks. The scene was cringe-inducing for all the right reasons. “For me, playing the part of someone that the world sees as a guy—and who has that kind of outsider feeling—like when all the people were being mean to Moira…I can relate to that,” she says, thoughtfully. “I think everyone can.”
Chaiken agrees. “It’s really important for us to be able to talk about class. And we were eager to take the chance to [discuss] that some of our characters are imperfect.”
Speaking of imperfect, no character is more reviled on the show than Jenny. The hatred is so heated that fans have taken to the internet with a blog (ihatejenny.blogspot.com), and in threads devoted to loathing her on every L Word message board. Some of the show’s cyber fans spend significant portions of their day writing and posting plot scenarios where Jenny dies an extremely painful and protracted death.
I ask Chaiken about a statement she made during the show’s inception. She said that Bette and Jenny were the two characters she felt most reflected her. Bette, fine, but Jenny? “That was an older interview,” she laughs. “Before there were actors cast, those two characters were much more a part of me.”
Okay, but doesn’t the amount of loathing the character inspires make her feel kind of bad? “I love the audience reaction to Jenny,” Chaiken insists. “I love that she provokes such outrage and intrigue. It definitely amuses me.”
One thing The L Word has in common with most every other television show is that the characters onscreen are unrealistically attractive. Each of the actresses is more stunning than the next. Who among us hasn’t imagined being the filling in a Shane/Carmen Sandwich? I imagine working with all these beautiful women must be a rather tantalizing experience, so I put aside all my serious questions and get down to the one I’ve been wondering about: Which of the characters would you most like to date, I ask Chaiken.
For the first time during our interview, Chaiken sounds a little flustered. “I couldn’t possibly answer that. It’s much too close to home; they’re all my children.”
Judy McGuire is the author of the upcoming book, How NOT to Date and writes a sex and love advice column for the Seattle Weekly (seattleweekly.com). You can find more of her wit and wisdom at dategirl.net.