tv review

The L Word Returns As the More Inclusive, Less Radical Generation Q

Showtime’s L Word revival series Generation Q features the return of Jennifer Beals as Bette, Leisha Hailey as Alice, and Katherine Moennig as Shane, amid a new generation of queer characters. Photo: Courtesy of Showtime

In some ways it’s probably a good thing that Showtime’s revival of The L Word, now called The L Word: Generation Q, doesn’t feel as radical as the original series. The L Word always had blind spots; its depiction of queer women in Los Angeles was always soapy and overblown. But in its original outing, the soapy over-the-topness was its own form of radicalism. It was a way to assert that every person has the right to sexual dramas so baroque that they require careful graph-keeping, that people from all sexual orientations should have the same chance to participate in arcane and tragic murder coverups, and that hilarious interruptions and horrible betrayals can happen during graphic sexual acts between same-sex couples too. While that representation was far from enough when the show first premiered in 2004, it was still something.

Maybe the fact that Generation Q, which premieres on Sunday, feels drained of that soapy radicalism says something counterintuitively good about the world. It is no longer daring in itself to tell a story about a group of queer characters, even with a cast like Generation Q’s, which includes more trans people and more people of color than the original L Word ever did. TV still hasn’t grown enough, of course, but in 2004, Generation Q’s opening scene would’ve come with a frisson of surprise at its directness. Two women (Rosanny Zayas as Sophie and Arienne Mandi as Dani, two new characters to the series) engage in joyful morning sex that ends with one of them groaning as she pulls her hand out from under the covers and finds her fingers covered with period blood. In the original series, a scene like this would’ve been a statement, something like, “We are unafraid to show these people loving each other while also both happening to have uteruses.” The scene makes the same statement now, but I suspect Generation Q’s audience will greet it with more of a shrug than a gasp.

Generation Q features the return of three of the original series’ main characters — Jennifer Beals as Bette, Leisha Hailey as Alice, and Katherine Moennig as Shane — and the first three episodes feel a little stretched as they work to pick up the pieces of what’s happened to them in the last ten years while also introducing the show’s new group of characters. But it’s more organic than it could be: Dani and Sophie are both integrated effectively into the daily work lives of Alice (now the host of a popular queer talk show) and Bette (running a long-shot campaign for mayor of Los Angeles). Finley (Jacqueline Toboni), another new character, moves in to one of Shane’s spare bedrooms. The world is designed to be fluid and cohesive.

You can feel the ridges between one generation and the next, though. In some ways, Generation Q embraces those separations. Bette, beleaguered by some political scandal, has been oddly incapable of seeing her own hypocrisy on a campaign issue, and her younger campaign managers roll their eyes in frustration. Micah (Leo Sheng), a young trans man, is much more thoughtfully integrated into the show than trans characters ever were in the original, but the original three are also an inheritance the revival can’t shake (and it doesn’t really want to). They are all wealthy women, and like it or not, the central narrative tension is pulled toward them and takes place against the backdrop of their relative economic comfort. The show’s world is more inclusive now, but in ways that can feel more about art direction (add some people of color!) than about a dramatically different worldview.

Nonetheless, the first three episodes of Generation Q are enjoyable and set several promising arcs in motion, and by promising I mostly mean, “There’s definitely going to be some drama coming up.” Generation Q’s main first impression, though, is that it feels like fun, soapy, twisty, regular TV. It’s a privilege that a show about queer characters can feel that way, that this show that started as a small revolution can now be just “regular TV.” It means the world has changed, that audiences have changed. But I suspect it also means that audiences will now be more aware of all the new visions of radicalism that Generation Q is not built to take on. The world has changed in ways that this group of sleek, well-heeled women may end up dodging, or worse, exemplifying. Or maybe not. Maybe not everything has to be a revolution. Maybe it’s enough to let these characters enjoy some time on a regular soapy TV show.

The L Word: A More Inclusive, Less Radical Generation Q