Magazine article The New Yorker

L.A. Love; on Television

Magazine article The New Yorker

L.A. Love; on Television

Article excerpt

"The L Word," the perhaps overpublicized new Sunday-night Showtime series about a group of lesbians who live in Los Angeles, is groundbreaking not because it shows naked women. For that, you can go to an art museum or buy a magazine or turn on your computer (a Google search for "naked men" yields about six hundred thousand results; "naked women" yields more than a million). And it's not because the show depicts women having sex with each other. Any Showtime subscriber who is up after midnight has probably already seen a fair amount of girl-on-girl action, as it's called in the biz. But the late-night Showtime (and Cinemax and HBO) sex is motivated only by a paycheck, and the performers have a hard time even mimicking the expressions of ecstasy. Their job is simply to be on display for their male co-stars, who sit watching from the sidelines, and for the men who sit watching from the comfort of home or hotel rooms. What's different about the sex in "The L Word" is that it isn't staged for the benefit of a viewer: these sisters are doin' it for themselves; they'd be having sex whether anyone was watching or not. And there's a lot of it--so much that it's often predictable and sometimes unintentionally funny. Every time two characters' eyes meet, you think, Here we go again. Even the women in "Sex and the City," whose sexuality sometimes seems cartoonish, occasionally go home alone after a date, but although the women in "The L Word" do have their neuroses and their character flaws, nothing gets in the way of their libidos. This should keep a lot of men glued to the set, assuming they make it past the first lines of dialogue in the first episode: a woman comes into her bathroom and looks at the white plastic stick her partner is holding and says, "You're ovulating," to which her partner replies, "I'm ovulating."

These two women, Tina and Bette (Laurel Holloman and Jennifer Beals), are longtime partners who want to have a baby. They live next door to Tim (Eric Mabius), a former Olympic swimmer and now a university coach, and his newly arrived girlfriend, Jenny (Mia Kirshner), a young fiction writer who has just graduated from college. With the exception of Kit, Bette's older half sister, played by Pam Grier, all the main characters are young, though it's not clear exactly what their ages are--they all have the same low-body-fat, ageless-TV-actor glow, and they could be anywhere from their twenties to their late thirties. (There is one token pale and scrawny character who wears a lot of black and looks like Joan Jett.) Shortly after Jenny arrives, she sees two women having sex in her next-door neighbors' pool, and, fascinated, watches them through the fence. When she tells Tim about it later, they both get turned on, but for Jenny it's the beginning of an unwitting and uncomfortable discovery--that she is sexually drawn to women. After only one real conversation with Marina (Karina Lombard), the sultry, seductive owner of the neighborhood cafe where all the characters happen to hang out, Jenny, at a party Tina and Bette are having to recruit a sperm donor, lets Marina kiss her. "The L Word," which was created by Ilene Chaiken (who pitched it to Showtime years ago but got a green light only after "Queer as Folk" proved a success), allows Jenny a genuinely complex response to the kiss, and Kirshner is up to the task. Jenny's face when she's with Marina is filled with both fear and joy, and yet it's clear that her feelings for Tim are undiminished--she really loves him, and she can't imagine her future without him. …

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