Back in ancient times, between Seasons 2 and 3 of The L Word, I began this blog, and for some time tracked the parenting storylines in the series. Now, with news of a reboot, I have some thoughts and questions.
First, more positive representation of queer people on television is always a good thing. And except for the always annoying and much maligned Jenny Schecter, I’d be happy to become reacquainted with any of the characters. Despite their flaws, they demonstrated strength, friendship, and caring, and those qualities are rare in this world.
Second, the show, while not about parenting per se, included a fair number of parenting-related storylines, including:
- Bette and Tina trying to get Tina pregnant
- Bette and Tina trying to adopt
- Bette and Tina searching for a nursery school for Angelica
- Shane acting as guardian for her half-brother Shay
- Phyllis trying to control her grown daughter Molly
- Max’s pregnancy
- Kit and her estranged son
- Dana’s struggle to come out to her parents
- Peggy Peabody cutting off Helena’s money in order to teach her a lesson
- Helena’s infrequent visits with her absent children
In an informal and unscientific poll I did in 2009, Mombian readers said their favorite parenting storyline was the one about Shane and Shay. (The old poll plugin I used is no longer working, so don’t try it.) I can’t disagree. While Bette and Tina getting pregnant was probably closest to my own experience (minus our reciprocal IVF; plus a more stylish lifestyle), I found Shane’s brush with parenting more nuanced and interesting. Tina and Bette gave us yet another rendition of the “wacky antics in search of sperm” trope (only to have their “competitive diversity in preschool admissions” storyline co-opted by Modern Family).
And yet…. Do we really need a reboot when there are so many new stories of LGBTQ people left to tell? Stars Jennifer Beals (Bette), Kate Moennig (Shane) and Leisha Hailey (Alice), will both executive produce and act on the show, “helping to connect to what is said to be a new ensemble of women,” according to the Hollywood Reporter. Even if most of the series is focused on new characters, though, I can’t imagine the setting will be much different from the ritzy West Hollywood that gave the original its aesthetic. Does it do more harm than good to focus once again on well-off LGBTQ lives, when the reality for many of us is far from that? Or do we appreciate the escapism, even if it gives the rest of the world a skewed impression?
When the show’s final season was announced in 2008, I did another poll (again, not functional now because of the old plugin), asking readers what they thought. One option I gave was “All right, as long as they replace it with a show about a suburban lesbian family and their five kids.” Four-and-a-half years later, Freeform’s The Fosters was announced, which was exactly that. (I claim no credit for this, nor am I available to pick lottery numbers for you.)
The Fosters, however, much as I like it, is primarily a show from the teen perspective, despite the lovely and resonant scenes between moms Lena (Sheri Saum) and Stef (Teri Polo). That’s fine—I certainly don’t begrudge today’s teens an LGBTQ-inclusive show that speaks to them, especially younger teens. And I know the producers (including Joanna Johnson, a lesbian mom herself) are aware that some viewers watch it for the moms, so they throw in enough Stef-Lena scenes to keep us interested. Sometimes, however, the surfeit of teen drama can be too much, and I want more exploration of the moms’ perspectives, friendships, and hobbies.
I’m not sure The L Word reboot will give us that. I’d bet there will be a parenting storyline or two, both because of Bette and Shane’s previous storylines, and because it’s getting harder to talk about LGBTQ communities in general without parenting being in the mix. It won’t be a show primarily about parenting, however—nor should it be, for we should not burden queer women with the pressure to be parents, even though it is an option many of us now choose.
Regardless, I can’t help being a little excited to reacquaint myself with the “talking, laughing, loving, breathing” women of The L Word. Although LGBTQ representation on television has come far, with LGBTQ people on many an ensemble show, it’s been a long time since queer women have had a show that really feels fully ours, one that brings us together at friends’ houses or in bars to watch every week, and then to dissect the next day over coffee or online. I hope the reboot reflects not only the evolution of the characters, but also of the LGBTQ community—our legal and social progress, our greater understanding of transgender and genderqueer people, our slowly growing acknowledgement of diversity across race, ethnicity, religion, (dis)ability, socioeconomic class, and more. One show can’t be all things to all people, of course (which is why we need even more LGBTQ-inclusive programming), but The L Word was a lot to a lot of us. Let’s hope it is again.