Note: Please do not read this if you are under 18 years of age or uncomfortable with explicit sexuality and language.
Like most viewers, I began watching "The L Word" for what promised to be some hot girl-on-girl action, and in this respect, it does not disappoint. Where it does frequently disappoint is in the writing and acting, though I imagine the latter deficiency is at least partly the result of bad direction. Oh, and the music sucks. But unlike "Queer as Folk," which I started watching for the hot boy-on-boy action but stopped watching because it's just run-of-the-mill bad TV, "The L Word" soars to addictively watchable bad-TV highs. Every episode delivers at least one jaw-dropping moment, something so wrong-headed that I literally scream in delighted horror.
One of the show's many and varied offenses is Jenny Schecter, who can also be construed as its lead character (though the cast is an ensemble).
Every episode delivers at least one jaw-dropping moment, something so wrong-headed that I literally scream in delighted horror.An aspiring fiction writer, she is prone to writerly reveries that send me lunging for the remote control. Thanks to TiVo, I can and do fast-forward past these painfully pretentious interludes. "And please give Jenny (Mia Kirshner) an extreme Zoloft makeover," begged an Entertainment Weekly scribe in a piece entitled "Damsels in Distress: How to Put Sizzle Back in the L Word." "Anything to end her pig-snout-infested dream sequences!" (April 29 & May 6, 2005)
While we're quoting EW, I must also credit the writer of note for remarking, "We get it: Pregnant women can be hot. But one more scene with someone drooling over Tina's (Laurel Holloman) belly, and we'll lose it." Of course, when you have an actually pregnant actress playing a pregnant character – if that bump is a prosthetic, my hat is off to the makeup team – you must make the most of it. Still, I find these numerous, lengthy scenes of Hugely Pregnant Tina gettin' busy at best fetishistic and at worst downright icky. Her character surely needed help – even in her newly developed position as a power do-gooder, she remains a lifeless dishrag whose few dramatic moments are an embarrassment for all concerned – but this ain't helping.
That having been said, most of the jaw-droppers belong to Jenny. Kirshner, a delicate beauty with enormous blue Keane eyes, appears to be a truly wretched actress. To be sure, she is regularly saddled with execrable dialogue, and again, I believe she is poorly directed, but she is indubitably "The L Word's" most stalwart cringe-inducer. In a recent writing-class scene, presided over by Sandra Bernhard's clichéd, feared 'n' revered writing teacher, Charlotte Birch, Jenny's comment on another student's writing includes the pronouncement, "Men can't handle the fact that these women can have this amazing, fucking, beautiful, mind-blowing orgasm without a fucking cock." Kirshner delivers it like an apple-cheeked Valley cheerleader doing her best in the high-school musical; her body language screams, "Hey everybody – let's put on a show!" I'm no expert, but I can tell you with confidence that this was not a good choice of line readings.
Another thing about Jenny that rankles: She's supposed to be a Jew. And despite the fact that Kirshner herself may be a Jewess (I don't know about her, but I can assure you that I am), Jenny couldn't be more waspy, especially this season, with her faux-Chanel trappings. I reiterate, there is nothing remotely Jewy about this character. But that didn't stop the show's writers from trotting out her Zaida and grandma – what? Not Bubbe? – in a recent episode, in which Jenny videotapes herself gazing at an array of pictures of her family, sepia-toned Superjews of Yore who look nothing like her. A cantor intoning in the background, she says to her grandmother via tape: "I wanted to ask you questions about your experience in Auschwitz. I wanted to know if when you arrived in Auschwitz, did they separate you from your daughter? I wanted to know if you remember the name of the unterscharfuhrer who took your arm and branded you with that tattoo. Do you remember his eyes? Do you remember if he used a steel plate or did he use a needle?" Jenny uses her immersion in this family-history project as an excuse not to go on the lesbian cruise she's scheduled to embark on with her friends, but then decides, what the heck, I guess I'll go, after they refuse to cruise without her. I required assistance getting my jaw back into place after that doozy.
I should reserve some of my invective for the show's guest stars (the exception being Ossie Davis, slumming as Bette and Kit's father in one of his last roles). The most serious offender is Camryn Manheim, the appearance of whom feels to EW like a stunt. I'd like to say to the producers of "The L Word" what our mothers said to us when we were young and reckless: "If you ever pull a stunt like that again ... " But that would be disingenuous because Manheim's presence provides some of the show's best worst moments. She's Veronica Bloom, a larger-than-life film executive in a deeply unflattering Roman-senator hairdo who improbably plucks hairdresser Shane from the set (after Shane calms the intransigent starlet) to groom her as her assistant. "You have potential. You stick with me, kid," she later says – really – "and I'll help you realize it." This is proceeded by one of the show's most priceless exchanges:
Veronica: "Why shouldn't I become a lesbian?"
Shane: "Because women are intense. They're a lot of work. They can suck you dry."
Poor Shane, or I should say, poor Katherine Moennig. She is the strongest actress in the cast, unquestionably the most butch and, to these eyes, by far the hottest (check the Net for "I'd turn gay for Shane" T-shirts). She works wonders with this material, particularly in light of how one-dimensionally her character has been written. Truth is, Shane is one of the few positive reasons to watch "The L Word."
There are others. I can't fault the program for casting straight-looking chicks as the lead lesbians. (Leisha Hailey, who plays Alice, is, reportedly, the only actual lesbian.) When our heroines head out into the real world, including the aforementioned cruise, it's pretty easy to spot the real lesbians, cast as extras. When a TV writer friend recently defended "The L Word," I informed her curtly that she was blinded by the glare of gorgeous women, sets and photography, and I stand by that. But what a seductive glare it is.
Furthermore, you can't beat the show for titillation. Early in a recent episode, Jenny leaves the shower to sit on the toilet. Carmen follows and sits on Jenny's lap, facing her.
I find these numerous, lengthy scenes of Hugely Pregnant Tina gettin' busy at best fetishistic and at worst downright icky.She tells Jenny to spread her legs and the two pee together. Not on each other, just together. Now that's quality programming. The same episode finds a sex-toy saleswoman informing Alice and Dana: "Here's a good way to think about it: An inch in diameter is two fingers inside of you. An inch and a half is three fingers inside of you. The silicon ones are easiest to sterilize, so you can share." Good to know.
And there is the occasional sweet, genuine moment, like when Bette unwraps the lovely glass mobile she's purchased to hang over the crib of the baby Tina will soon deliver, a child whose life she feared she would have no role in.
But back to the nonsense. In addition to Shane's preposterous "discovery" by Veronica Bloom is the unmotivated behavior of Burr Connor, the '80s action star whose biography writing teacher Charlotte wants Jenny to ghostwrite (if only someone would hand me that gig). He goes from firing Jenny in one episode because he doesn't like her lesbianism, to rehiring her, tenderly comforting her when she can't hide her tedious romantic dysfunction, and confessing that he's gay in the next. I'm so sure.
At one point during that mini-drama, Jenny says, "I'm such a fucking idiot. It was so obvious that all this was gonna happen." Burr responds: "It happens, Jenny. It doesn't make you an idiot," at which point my fiancé walks into the room and adds, "Everything else does." See, it's not just me.
Then there's this line, spoken by Phoebe Sparkle, thinly veiled sexpert Annie Sprinkle. On the lesbian cruise, after spotting Dana and Alice dressed as "The Love Boat's" Captain Steubing and Cruise Director Julie – a cute idea, I guess, but woefully unsexy in practice – she tells one of the ship's (male) officers: "These girls are completely in their power, free to go wherever their libido takes them." I, meanwhile, am free to roll my eyes and shudder.
And yet I watch. I watch and I complain. I watch, I complain, and I look forward to the next episode. And when Showtime finally has the good sense to divest itself of "The L Word," I know I'll miss it.