If the first season of “The L Word: Generation Q” taught us anything, it’s that the producers, writers, and actors know how to adapt to an ever-changing world, while honoring what made us fall in love with the original show in the first place. Like the original “The L Word,” “Generation Q” gives us glitzy, sexy lesbian representation on TV. Following criticisms of a lack of diversity in the original, “Generation Q” features a more inclusive cast that more accurately represents our vast community. “Generation Q” season one kept its finger on the pulse of social issues, much like the original, casting an actual trans actor to portray a trans character, grappling with the opioid epidemic, and putting raw and sexy relationships between women of color at its forefront.
Going into the second season, we can expect “Generation Q” to continue taking on its own cultural significance. “I feel just so much better about the second season now than I did the first,” Marja Lewis-Ryan, executive producer and showrunner, tells GO. “It was really hard to take such an iconic show and turn it into something that was new, but also felt familiar.” While season one was “a tall order,” with season two “I really got to put my stamp on it and really make it my own and bring the cast along for this ride.”
Although the cast and crew have kept mum about the upcoming season, we’ve been treated to a few nuggets. It will feature guest stars Vanessa Williams as a reclusive artist Bette becomes obsessed with and lesbian icon Rosie O’Donnell as Carrie, Tina’s fiancé — and, it’s fair to say, Bette’s latest rival. Not a bad start if you’re looking to put your own stamp on an iconic original.
It’s also safe to assume that we’ll have some resolution to the Dani-Sophie-Finley love triangle, that there will be plenty of drama between Alice, Gigi, and Nat following their failed polyamorous relationship, and that Shane will get herself into new sexcapades because, new vision aside, this is still “The L Word” universe. Then there’s also that sexy kiss between Bette and Gigi we were teased with when the trailer for season 2 dropped back in June. (We are dying for more!)
Whatever else comes, season 2 will chart its own unique course in a post-Covid world that was unimaginable when season one aired two very long years ago. But there is at least one way that “Generation Q” cannot, nor should it, break out of the original “L Word” shadow: in its unwavering ability to tell our stories, on our terms.
From Iconic Beginnings
It’s no wonder Ryan found the first season of “Generation Q” to be a tall order. “The L Word” was a watershed moment for lesbian representation, featuring an ensemble of queer women characters with rich, full lives, developed story arcs and, of course, lots of unabashed and uninhibited sex. Expectations were high that the new inception would deliver the depth of character and storytelling of the original while at the same time course-correcting where “The L Word” missed with regards to persons of color, working class, and trans individuals. How would “Generation Q” adapt to an increasingly inclusive era of representation?
“The original show, for me, was all about seeing myself on screen for the first time, and I feel the reboot does the same,” says Stephanie Allynne, who plays Alice’s love interest, Nat, in the series. “It’s such a beacon of inclusion and visibility.”
The second season will continue to expand on the types of queer stories that are told, and the types of queer persons who are represented. One character we’ll be seeing more of this season is Sophie’s sister, Maribel, a disabled character played by actress Jillian Mercado. “I think that really leaning into Jillian’s social justice message and really taking our cues from her and being able to give her a storyline and really beef up on character is something I’m just so excited for,” says Ryan. “We talk to each other and can really figure out what’s next for representation inside of our community, and how does that community intersect with our community?” Says Mercado, being on the show “is pretty wonderful, and there are not many like it out there. The writing is beautiful, and the way that they intertwine the LGBTIQ+ community with just normalizing our experiences is done so [lovingly]. It has given me a beautiful perception that our stories can be heard and be told in a way where everyone can relate.”
Sepideh Moafi, “Generation Q’s” Gigi, also is grateful for the intersectional, multi-layered characters that Ryan is diving into. “We all know that there was (and still is) a lack of queer West Asian/North African representation in film and TV, so when I read the reboot of “The L Word,” I was thrilled to find a rich, complex Iranian woman in Gigi. It’s also rare to have characters speak Farsi (or Persian) on screen, so I knew this would be significant for the Persian community,” Moafi tells GO.
This level of in-depth storytelling pushes the boundaries on how we understand individual characters with regards to their sexual orientation and gender identity, beyond flat stereotypes and standardized assumptions. One bit of tea spilled in the trailer has trans character Micah, played by actor Leo Sheng, sleeping with a woman following his tumultuous relationship last season with José. It’s a part of Micah’s identity which Sheng is excited to explore.
“I think many writers, specifically cis writers, assume that all trans men want to achieve a certain level of masculinity, which is often implicitly tied to straightness,” Sheng tells GO. “For some trans men, they are straight and masculine. That’s a real experience that deserves to be shown. At the same time, I don’t think we’ve gotten to see many stories of the in-between and beyond, stories of trans men who are expressly queer, both in who they love and how they express themselves.”
While the second season will broaden the angle on the types of queer stories that are told, the season’s theme will be decidedly universal, timeless, and all-too relatable, a theme which Ryan says is exemplified more by a feeling than by an idea. “It was trying to recreate that feeling that you feel when you’re just about to fall in love, that inhale,” she says. “That’s the feeling I’m chasing. Every character really gets to experience that in their own way.”
“Regardless of how society has changed in the last 17 years,” Kate Moennig, who plays Shane, tells GO, “what hasn’t changed is the primal desire to be seen and to love and be loved.”
Filming in a Pandemic
Perhaps the most pressing challenge to the second season was also universal: how — and even if — to film in a pandemic?
“Generation Q” was one of the first shows to go back into production, which resumed under a strict set of guidelines to keep the cast and crew safe. Cast members frequently posted pictures of themselves to Instagram, clad in masks and standing on designated marks six feet apart while they waited between scenes.
Despite the safety measures, there was still some doubt that filming a TV series was safe — or even relevant — during a global pandemic. “It seemed like the world was already going through so much. Was working on a TV show the way to help the world transition into what was coming next?” Rosanny Zayas, who portrays Sophie, tells GO. “But we kept pushing forward and started to realize we were all different now and had a new sense of purpose. A different connection to the world that helped us become better storytellers.”
For Moafi, adapting to the Covid restrictions on set did take some time. Protocols included testing five times per week, meetings and table readings held over Zoom, and a strict masks-on policy while the cast was off camera. Production even had to be halted a few times due to Covid-positive cases. “At first, it was strange, but we eventually got used to it,” Moafi says. “Nonetheless, the quality of our work was never compromised, and I’m glad that our production took strict measures to ensure the safety of every single person on the show.”
“We were constantly tested. And then if we had a sex scene, everyone would get rapid testing. And so by the time you were doing that, we felt very safe. I’d have to say it was odd, but it was cool,” Leisha Hailey, who plays beloved character Alice, tells GO.
“I think we were all reminded of how lucky we are to do what we do,” says Finley actor Jacqueline Toboni. “You’d think with masks and staying six feet apart it would be an isolating experience, but on the contrary, I think it brought us all a lot closer. There was a sense of teamwork. To get this done, we all had to take care of ourselves and each other.”
When season one ended almost two long years ago, our characters were left in some very fragile places. Alice forgave Nat for her two-way with Gigi, but will they really last as a couple? Will Sophie choose Finley or Dani, if either? Will Tina’s return to L.A. ruin Bette’s chances of ever moving on from their relationship?
Perhaps the biggest teaser we were gifted in the off-season was the casting of O’Donnell as Carrie, Tina’s often-spoken-of but never-yet-seen fiancé. Even Ryan found herself a little star-struck working with a legend. “I don’t think I’d be here without her. She was the first time I ever saw myself on television,” Ryan says, adding, “So to have her on the show is just such a dream.”
Working with O’Donnell might have been a dream, but Carrie’s arrival is certainly bad news for anyone else holding out hope for a Bette/Tina reunion (not that relationship fidelity stops anyone from pursuing their, er, passions in “The L Word” universe). Are Bette and Tina both in a place where platonic coexistence is possible?
“Bette and Tina have a long, profound history together,” Jennifer Beals, who plays Bette, tells GO. “Their shared love of Angie definitely keeps them together, trying for better or for worse to work on their differences.” However, Beals does think that while Bette still loves Tina, “I don’t think she holds on to any conscious hope that they could ever be together again and tries to move on. But if nothing else, Bette is a dreamer.”
For Jordan Hull, who plays their daughter Angie — and who appears this season as a regular — the relationship between her on-screen moms is both “beautiful and lovely, as well as complicated and chaotic.” As a result, Hull says that Angie, “came out of that with a quiet, grounded presence about her. She was an anchor in a lot of ways.” This season, Hull tells GO, we’ll see her character grow more into other qualities that she “[loves] most about Angie” and which “come from her moms: her resilience, her intelligence, and her kindness.”
Angie isn’t the only character who will grow more into her better traits this season. When we last saw Shane, her on-again, off-again relationship with estranged wife, Quiara, seemed finally off for good after Quiara walked out. Instead of going after her, or the next beauty to come along, the longtime Lothario rebounded with a new type of long-term relationship when she took in a stray dog. For Moennig, “letting Quiara walk away was a healthy decision” and a “significant milestone for [Shane]. Moving forward, she finally knows what she doesn’t want, which allows her to go after what makes her heart genuinely happy.”
So is there anything about Shane’s story arc this season that surprises Moennig? “I always appreciate a story that takes time to unfold,” she says. “That’s all I can say.”
Speaking of waiting … It looks like we’ll have to wait until the season premiere on August 8, or August 6 for lucky Showtime subscribers, to see just who Sophie was sprinting through the LAX terminal toward. Although Zayas can’t tell us who Sophie ultimately ends up choosing — or if she chooses anyone — she does share what was likely going through her character’s mind at the time. “I’d say Sophie was thinking a million things,” Zayas says. “Was she making the right decision going back and forth between choosing Dani and Finley?”
Getting into Sophie’s head required Zayas to keep herself on her toes, both figuratively and literally. “As the actor, I constantly kept thinking of special moments between my character and the other: when they would make me cry or laugh; moments that were connected. That’s how I kept myself on my toes for the running parts of it. And also doing some serious jumping jacks between takes!”
With more Maribel in season two, the Finley/Dani conflict won’t be the only dilemma Sophie is likely to face this season. “[Maribel is] such an asshole to her sister!” Ryan says. “Me, Jillian, and Rosanny, we’re all from Brooklyn, and we all sort of relate to each other in that way. We’re just very loud Brooklynites, and so I love writing those family scenes. That’s some of my favorite stuff.”
While writing for Sophie in season two was “really fun” for Ryan, her favorite character to write for is Finley, who follows a narrative trajectory that is similar to Ryan’s own. What does this mean for Finley as the show goes into the second season?
“I’m honored to play this character,” Toboni says. “It has been nice to explore a character that is still figuring it out. Finley is really trying to become a full person, and we get to see her try to find out what she wants and who she is — especially in the second season. She has to face the good, bad, and the ugly in order to get there.”
Also still figuring things out is Nat who, at the end of last season, publicly declared her love for Alice on air, for all the viewers of Alice’s show to see. However — and as to be expected on “The L Word: Generation Q” — Nat’s relationship woes might not be over quite yet. “I think she wants love, to love and to be the best partner she can be, but she has been hurt and can’t quite pull herself out of that pain,” Allynne tells GO. “She always seems to dive head first into the flames. I think Nat’s sex life is a real reflection of her internal self. She appears together and rational but is deeply confused, exploratory and wild at heart. I love how highly sexual Nat is; it’s my favorite thing about her. It’s so unassuming because she does not lead with sex externally. She has absolutely no game and yet seems to get a lot of action.”
Like Nat, Alice is still figuring things out, too. “Well, I can tell you that she’s definitely still searching,” Hailey tells GO. “I think she’s a very, very open and experimental person with her sexuality. I really think she needs someone to make her laugh in order to keep her interested. And that’s what Dana used to do.”
Clearly, we have a lot to look forward to going into the second season — so much so that it’s kind of hard to pick just one character, and one arc, to be excited about. “I’m so excited to see how all of the stories are going to be unraveled,” says Mercado. “Season two is quite an amazing one. The writers on the show really kicked it up several notches.”
“I’m most excited for fans to witness the different character worlds interact in season two,” says Moafi. “There is a lot of drama, and I’m excited for fans to see all the many unexpected events and relationships.” (Bette and Gigi?!?)
For Ryan, however, the most exciting elements about the upcoming season aren’t the myriad romances and plot twists, nor the family dramas. The real excitement in season two is how “Generation Q” can chart its own course as an extension of the original series but with its own unique vision. “What I’m so excited about is for everyone to see the show that I meant to make,” she says. “I really got to lean into my own artistic prowess and make something that I’m just so proud of, and I really stand behind.”
That and — teaser alert! — Alice’s new relationship. “That’s all I’ll say about that.”