just about any website dedicated to discussing and dissecting The L Word
(already about a dozen sites and blogs are going strong in anticipation of
Sunday's 9 p.m. season-five Showtime premiere), and you'll find posters
debating whether power dyke Bette should dump famous artist Jodi and get
back together with movie producer Tina. And whether Tina should move on or
go back to Bette, who, after all, is her baby's other mother.
In 2004, when the groundbreaking series featuring mostly straight, mostly
feminine actresses playing lesbians began, there was plenty of criticism
from the lesbian community about the show's glam portrayals, which seemed to
sweep under the carpet the truth about Every lesbian.
Every lesbian, the argument went, doesn't look like Jennifer Beals (Bette).
Like anybody else, lesbians come in all shapes and sizes. Some, perhaps
still borrowing from the politics of the 1970s, consciously say no to
''Well, the truth is, I don't wear such fabulous clothes in my real life,''
says Laurel Holloman, who plays Tina and is married to a man. ``I can't walk
in the high heels that Tina walks in.''
Some lesbians griped that the actresses, who relentlessly get it on in
gorgeous pairs and trios, were cast to appeal to men. But heading into what
may be the skin-flashing melodrama's final season, nobody is clamoring for
middle-American authenticity anymore. Audiences have moved beyond politics
and now just beg for Bette and Tina to hook up again. And again. They want
their lipstick-on-lipstick love scenes, even if they're not into lipstick
''I feel like less of a chump now when I'm trying to convey the sexuality,''
Beals says. 'I used to think, `Oh my God, am I doing this right?' I figured
everybody was saying, 'This girl is so straight; there is no way she can
play a gay woman.' But after five seasons, I feel I have earned some
As the first television show to tell the story of out, urban lesbians, The L
Word has helped empower real gay women who had never before seen their lives
so positively reflected in the media. And it has helped pave the way for
more gay programming, including Exes & Ohs. A comedy series about a group of
lesbian friends who hang out in a Seattle coffee house, it was launched last
year by Logo, the gay and lesbian television network introduced by MTV
Networks in 2005. (Logo has not decided if it will renew the series but
later this year will air the first two seasons of The L Word, cleaned up to
meet basic cable standards.)
But for all its positives, The L Word has imposed a mainstream-friendly, if
unrealistic, lesbian image: super-feminine and stilettoed is popping up more
than it should in lesbian projects, some observers say.
HAS A LOOK
''Where has the butch gone in film? That has been the argument lately,''
says Carol Coombes, director of the Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. ``The
L Word has done so many positive things, but it has established a look. On
the show there was one character who started out butch, but then became a
[transsexual]. All the other characters are femme. Even when they're trying
to play butch, they're very glamorous, like Shane. Of course, there are
plenty of feminine lesbians in the world. But go to the New Moon [bar] in
Wilton Manors. There are plenty of women there in jeans and flannel shirts
drinking beer. The mullet is still around.''
The femme has always been overrepresented in films, says Jaime Babbit, a
lesbian film and television director whose credits include the 2007 indie
film Itty Bitty Titty Committee and a couple of episodes of The L Word,
including the new season's second episode.
''I think in general, even before there was The L Word, some lesbians were
more accepted. Men have the most power and the control of the purse strings,
which is why there have always been more femmes in movies,'' Babbit says.
``Itty Bitty Titty Committee was about punk-rock lesbians, which I think was
a nice antidote. If there were five or 10 TV shows about lesbians, poor
Ilene Chaiken [L Word creator and executive producer] wouldn't have to be
called on to represent all lesbians in the world.''
But Chaiken stands by her glamour girls.
``As a filmmaker, you have to present the image that tells your story. I
think The L Word is aspirational and positive -- and true, by the way. There
are gay women laced throughout our culture who are as successful and as
fabulous as the characters on The L Word.''
Whether or not the characters are too straight-looking or too rich, The L
Word has helped the lesbian community make strides toward self-acceptance
and greater political power, says Kate Kendell, executive director of the
San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights.
''It's been great to have a show that at least is in the ball park in terms
if how real lesbians live their lives,'' Kendell says. ``In five years, the
show has had enormous cultural significance. You just have to listen to
Latino and African-American leaders and how they bemoan the absence of
enough actors of color in TV and films. To be represented is to gain
Plus, is it really so wrong to have some sugar-coated, girl-on-girl fun on
TV? Even Kendell gets into the Bette and Tina fray. ``I think Bette and Tina
are bad for each other. I don't get the spark. I know there are people who
desperately want them to get back together. But I think they're a yawner as
a couple. I think Bette and Jodi [Marlee Matlin] seem better matched.''
So will it be JoBette or TiBette?
''Bette and Tina just have incredible chemistry together,'' admits Chaiken
who, since season one, has gotten endless flak for breaking up the one
couple on the show that seemed to have a happy, long-term relationship. ``We
knew we had to find ways for them to engage this season, whatever happens in
Chaiken can't help but tease, but she also doesn't want to spoil the season
for a zealous fan base that trolls various websites, including OurChart.com
(a sort of myspace.com for lesbians operated by Showtime, Chaiken and
several of the show's actresses) to beg for a TiBette reunion.
Even the actresses who play the roles have implored Chaiken to get them back
''Jennifer and I were so touched by all the little videos on youtube.com
that people make about Bette and Tina,'' Holloman says. 'I was like, `Come
on Ilene, they have to work it out.' But she's right. If we had no drama,
nobody would have wanted to watch us. It would have been us taking care of
our baby and eating popcorn in front of the TV. I think season five is a
perfect bookend to season one.''
So far, Showtime is not saying whether this season is the end. But, 'because
of the writers' strike, this could be the last year,'' Holloman says. ``My
guess is if we're lucky, we'll get another season,''
Says Chaiken: 'Putting the writers' strike aside, I would like to go another
season. And there's a good chance of that. It always depends on how the
Clearly, this year Showtime is banking on fans' tuning in for a TiBette fix.
It recently announced that Holloman and Beals will host tonight's premiere
on camera. But, Beals cautions, none of the hoopla, not even the cable and
Internet promos that offer a glimpse of TiBette in a liplock, confirms that
the couple will ride off into the sunset together.
''First, Bette and Tina would have to deal with everything that made them
fall apart,'' Beals says. ``But it is nice to see them together in their
friendship. They're less combative, more at ease with one another. You kind
of get a sense of what it must have been like for them before the storm.''