the l word: generation q

Talking The L Word Then and Now With Cameron Esposito, Our Generation Q Recapper

An exclusive photo of my interview with Cameron Esposito. Photo: Hilary B Gayle/SHOWTIME

The L Word’s forthcoming revival is proof that nothing ever truly dies, except Jenny Schecter in the sixth season of The L Word. On December 8, the paradigm-shifting early-2000s series will return to Showtime for another round of talking, laughing, loving, breathing, fighting, fucking, crying, drinking, riding, winning, losing, and cheating, because this is the way that we live, it’s the way that we live — and love! The L Word wasn’t perfect, but it was the first show of its kind, a chaotic-neutral sensation that helped a generation of queer women (this one included) come to terms with their sexuality via the inexplicably magnetic pull of Kate Moennig’s unbrushed hair. Which means that there’s a lot to look forward to, and a lot to fear, when it comes to the revival.

Jennifer Beals, Moennig, and Leisha Haley are all returning; from the trailer, it would appear they’ve only gotten more attractive and, thankfully, better dressed in the decade since we’ve seen them. Bette is now in the running to be the “first lesbian mayor of Los Angeles,” Alice is a talk-show host with a live-in girlfriend, and Shane is still professionally fucking every single woman within a 100-mile radius of her haircut. The rest of the cast is mysteriously absent; in their stead, the revival — titled Generation Q (see: a lot to fear) — centers on a handful of younger characters who say things like, “Time’s up, bitch!” And while creator Ilene Chaiken is back as an executive producer, she’s not at the helm anymore.

The whole thing could go any number of ways, so we’re lucky that, here at Vulture, we’ll have comedian Cameron Esposito acting as our guide. Esposito, a longtime L Word fan, will be recapping the series each week, giving us her singular take on the sex scenes, the unapologetic soapiness, and the Shane of it all. Before she gets started, I sat down with Esposito —whose memoir, Save Yourself, comes out in March of 2020 — to talk about L Words old and new, which cast member she most resembles, our feelings about Dana’s death, and who in the cast she would fuck/marry/kill.

Cameron Esposito at the L Word: Generation Q premiere. Photo: Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Tell me about the first time you saw The L Word.
This is actually why recaps specifically are important to me! The first time I saw The L Word was not as important as the first time I read about The L Word. The first season of L Word happened when I was still in college, and then the year after college, I lived where I worked — at a school, sort of like a Teach for America thing, but not branded. So I didn’t have premium cable. My first experience of The L Word, which was also my first queer community, were these recaps I used to read. I don’t think we should namecheck where they were, because now we know it’s a problem — I always just say they were written by Sarah Warn, and all of the recappers she got together. The recaps had comment sections, and we all had a sign-in name that said something about us. Everybody showed up again and again and knew each other. I was too scared to have an identity in this space, but I remember because of that, it just felt like The L Word, to me, was a series of short stories. [Laughs.]

Were you out in real life, at the time?
At my college [Boston College], it was really difficult to come out at the time. It wasn’t covered by the nondiscrimination policy. My first girlfriend and I used to take the train to Summerville, MA, and go to a coffee shop there called the Diesel Café. We’d walk in, look at the haircuts, order nothing, and leave. Like, that was my [queer community] experience.

When did you first actually get to see the show?
The first time I saw The L Word was, my second girlfriend downloaded episodes off of LimeWire. Ilene Chaiken has since personally given me a reprieve. I confessed to her, “I stole your show.” [Laughs.] And she was like, “I’m sure you’ve put your time into furthering the queer community so it’s okay.” I watched it in the top bunk of a bed with my girlfriend, which is also how I watched Queer As Folk. Then I moved to Chicago and they’d have viewing parties at this place called Tease. It no longer exists but it was one of the last lesbian bars in Chicago. And one year they gave out the premiere episode DVD, and that was the first time I had it at my house. One episode burned onto a promo DVD!

But my trajectory with this show — from reading recaps to seeing the comment section to taking the train to a café to attending an actual watch party to how I watched the last season, which was a watch party at a friend’s house — it sort of followed my journey of having a queer community to watch it with. I was on the outside looking in, then walking in and leaving, then having queer friends of my own.

Your journey was sort of aligned with the show’s journey.
Am I Jenny Schecter? One hundred percent.

Same. I’m an Alice rising, Jenny sun, and a Dana moon. Or maybe a Bette moon. What about you?
Oh my God. That’s so funny. First of all, I have to say, Dana is one of the most lovable characters in all of TV.

Justice for Dana.
Justice for Dana. For me, what Kate Moennig was doing on that show — I still don’t feel there’s been another character on TV that was in my gender spectrum, at all. The only people that really have been are men. There are a lot of men I look at and go, “Oh, we sort of have the same thing going on.” But women like me usually get filtered out before they get to TV. Now we see a little more butchness on TV, which is awesome — Lea DeLaria now finally getting her due after a long stand-up career, even Lena Waithe. But she’s too suave. The shy butch that Shane is — almost an effeminate butchness — that’s what I connect with. Like, a Benedict Cumberbatch type. I don’t know why he’s coming to mind. I’ve never said that before. [Laughs.] But it’s like, when I’m getting my makeup done by someone who doesn’t know me, I’m like, “David Bowie. I want men’s makeup.” But when men get their makeup done, by the way, they get “grooming.” That’s not what I want. I want men’s makeup! Bowie was always in a full face of makeup. I want cheekbones. I want eyebrows.

You want to look like Leo in Romeo + Juliet.
Yes! Exactly!

That’s my sexuality. Shane and Leo are the same.
[Laughs.] They are the same. That’s so true. And that’s such an important movie. That era Leo is Shane.

And I don’t think we’ve really seen — we see this hard butchness, which I love, but isn’t necessarily how I operate. When that character would be onscreen and sort of lean away from women that they were hitting on — even body-language wise, we haven’t seen anything like it.

She’s awkward.
Yes! Shane is like, a problem. That’s the whole point of that character. We don’t talk about that enough. She’s awkward.

Which character, if you had to pick, would you have sex with?
That’s tough, only because I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of these women. But … Paige. 

Paige?! Wow. You don’t get a lot of Paige love.
Yes. I know, you don’t. But like, a fully made family? That scene where they’re doing the ’50s house shit — I grew up in the fucking suburbs. I grew up Catholic. You can have a zillion motorcycle jackets and be queer as fuck, but there’s some part of you that has that same fantasy. Even if then you smash it. Another answer is obviously Carmen. She’s incredibly sexy.

I agree, Carmen is great. I’ll amend to say it’s between Shane and Carmen.
I can’t believe that it’s an “or” between those two. That says a lot about your flexibility.

Thank you. Who else is in your L Word astrology chart, outside of Shane and Jenny?
I’m the sort of lesbian that doesn’t understand what this is, charts-wise. But I have to say Alice, who was somebody who didn’t even exist until Leisha Hailey came in to audition for Shane. That’s from the source! I’ve actually talked to so many people involved in the show. For instance, I know that Bette and Tina’s pool was on a soundstage.

No! You just crushed me.
I’m really sorry to tell you that. Isn’t that tough? When I found that out, I was at a big dinner, and it’s really tough to try and keep it together around that many other people and not go around and ask every single one, “Did you know? Did you know?”

But anyway. So many of these characters are characters we hadn’t seen before. Alice had some weird seasons. First season Alice — who’s ever been that person? I think there’s some Alice [in me], but I look at Shane, and I’m like, “Yeah, that’s it. That’s me.” But that’s also a strange thing to claim because she’s the sex symbol of the show. Like, “I’m the star of the show.”

I’ll also say, I feel like as much as there are legitimate things to dissect in this show and to hope are improved upon, I want to talk about how fun it is and how sexy it is and how dramatic it is and also the performances that people are giving. It’s fucking fun. It’s still something that I care about. But we should still have those conversations about the things that are wrong. All TV shows require a second look.

How do you think it’s aged? When was the last time you saw it?
I tried to watch a bunch of episodes recently, and it was hard, actually. I think part of that is the pace of TV, the way things look. We really can’t go back to a pre-HD experience and have that look right anymore. It’s like when the new Gilmore Girls was rereleased, it was like, “This is so fucking weird. You can tell this isn’t a real town and it’s just shot on a soundstage.” And then I went back and watched the original, and I was like, “Oh. This is how it always was.” I had just been like, “Yeah, that’s a coffee shop!” I think the way we’ve altered TV to use practical locations or try to dress everything so it looks so hyper-practical — that’s the other thing about The L Word. They’d be in Santa Monica and then go visit somebody on the East Side. [Laughs.] 

And the original was filmed in Canada!
Right, and it’s all supposed to take place in West Hollywood, which is not the epicenter of my gay L.A. life. I’ve very rarely gone there. But yeah, since watching The L Word, I’ve changed, but if you haven’t seen it, that might not be true for you. If you go back and watch it now to prep for the first season, you might have that magical experience.

I recently rewatched the entire thing.
What’d you think?

It’s weird for me too, but mostly because when I first watched it I wasn’t out as bi, and it felt more salacious to me than it is when I watch it now. But all of the problems are more glaring on this second go-around, for sure. Though I still loved it.
So, the problems were actually glaring to me at the time. It was like, “Wait, why is Alice not bisexual anymore? Why are they treating Max like this?” I couldn’t get it at the time. It didn’t feel true to my experience. But I think the sexiness [holds up]. I have a friend who’s just coming out, and is our human age, and was talking about beginning to watch The L Word. I was like, “It’s gonna blow your mind.” There still hasn’t been anything that’s touched that show in terms of budget, longevity, star power, and cultural impact. And also, just the sheer amount of sex! And the fact that the sex looks good because it was made by bi and queer women.

What are your feelings on season six? Are you an apologist? A truther — do you want to pretend it didn’t happen, like Ilene once said she might do?
[Laughs.] I feel like season six did happen. In my understanding, it did happen. Also, I get why trying to end that show with a tone and genre shift would make sense. Because so much else had already been accomplished. And also, we just had the end of Game of Thrones. So few TV shows have a truly satisfying ending. Maybe The Sopranos. 

So you think Jenny’s definitely dead?
I think Jenny’s dead. Yeah.

But did you see Mia Kirshner tweet that she wasn’t dead?
[Laughs for a long time.] I don’t know! I’ll just say this: I’ve read the pilot. That’s as far as I’ve gotten. Have you seen screeners?

That’s all I’ll say. Ilene has talked about wanting to eliminate the sixth season. But doing it is a whole different thing.

Or maybe it was just in Jenny’s head all along.
That would be consistent with the rest of the show. When we’re constantly at a carnival, in Jenny’s mind. With manatees and pig people.

Would you prefer that Jenny be dead?
Yes. Yes.

Who do you think killed her?
That’s such a good question that I’ve never spent time on. I think it was — what’s her name, Jessie?

Jenny’s movie-star girlfriend? Yeah. [We were wrong, it’s Niki; Jenny’s alter ego in the film she makes about her life is named Jessie.]
Look, being a movie star is a lot of pressure. I also love the idea of bringing Xena: Warrior Princess in to wrap the whole thing up. The thing that was nice about that show is that the celebrity guest stars were queer celebrities. Tegan and Sara did an episode. It’s fun.

I think Tina killed her.
Tina?! That makes sense.

I don’t like Tina. She’s whiny and rude. And low-key racist.
I too think that Tina got, um … a very tough role to fulfill. Very tough. And Bette should have been with the early-season carpenter. Let’s go there! She was great. Tina is rude. She doesn’t have a ton of likable characteristics. [Laughs.]

Can we do some fuck-marry-kills?
Yes, of course.

Shane, Bette, Helena?
Okay. Marry Bette. You’ll be set for life. She’s gonna work and I can just relax. I’m so high-strung. You know when Shane is on that cruise ship trying to fuck that author, but they’re like, magnets that are too similar to attract? I think that’s what would happen with me and Shane. So I have to kill Shane. Which is the saddest. But then I’d take her place.

And fuck Helena?
Yeah! Plus I’ve met her and she’s very nice.

Tina, Jenny, Max?
Kill Tina. Fuck Jenny, for sure! That’s gonna be very fun. And marry Max. Max is a sweetheart.

Kit, Papi, Alice?
This is really good. Okay, I don’t know if I agree with this, but I think it’s the truth. I think it’s fuck Alice, marry Papi, and kill Kit.

Wow. I think you’re right, though. Because Kit isn’t gay.
Number one, Kit’s not gay. Also, Kit’s like, she’s dealing with so much. She’s doing the best she can, there’s Angus. I just can’t.

Dana, Marina, Ilene Chaiken?
[Laughs loudly.] Um. Obviously marry Ilene. Fuck Dana for sure. So fun. Marina … she’s gotta go.

Did you ever ask Ilene why she killed Dana?
I think she did answer that for me. I had her on my podcast and we talked about that. I can’t remember exactly what she said — just that it was her biggest regret.

Okay, last one. Lara, Dana’s mom, Dana’s dad?
Obviously, fuck Dana’s mom. She has the dalliance as a youth. Kill Dana’s dad. And Marry Lara 100 days out of 100 days.

Hm, Lara doesn’t do it for me.
Are you serious? Agree to disagree.

She’s too uptight.
I’m uptight! Lara and I together, we’ll get everything done. She’s so cute. with her little hat.

Who’s your least favorite character on the show?
Dana’s fiancée. What’s her name? Tonya. They say it weird — “Taaahnya.” She’s incredibly hard to deal with. The instructions were clearly like, “Make this person an annoying human.” And she crushed it. It’s quite a performance.

Do you remember how in every single episode, everywhere they go, everyone is gay? They’ll meet a random woman, and she’s gay, hot, single, and DTF. Who was your favorite example of that?
When Shane and Jenny live together and they have that roommate who’s taping them — I hate that subplot. It’s disgusting and invasive. But I love the random hot UPS delivery woman, who then Shane is having sex with. A really fun one. Another fun one? Ariana Huffington. When Shane is weirdly doing Ariana’s hair and there’s something between them that’s weird? [Laughs.] It’s so weird!

Favorite bad fashion? For me it’s Paige’s low jeans, which are actually below her vagina.
First of all, I do recall that. But there’s nothing beyond the front vest Kate Moennig is wearing in the pilot. That full-leather outfit. There’s never been anything like that. It’s in a class all of its own.

What are your concerns and hopes about the revival?
My hope is that it will speak to the current moment and be as fun and relevant and culturally important as the first one. And my concern is that it won’t be, and that for some reason, people will write off the whole thing. I think whatever it will be, it doesn’t necessarily disparage the original product. There are issues in the original one, but it’s also amazing and it changed my life. Whatever happens with the next season, the first is always gonna be what it was.

If you were hired to write on the revival, what would you have done?Written myself on the show with a large speaking role that encompasses multiple seasons and includes a lot of graphic, on-camera sex.

Look for Cameron Esposito’s recaps of The L Word: Generation Q on Vulture starting this Sunday night.

Talking The L Word Then and Now With Cameron Esposito