of the great gay shows of the past several years have only made it through
five seasons. “Six Feet Under” succumbed after five years, and “Queer As
Folk,” which paved the way for explicit gay dramas to come, danced its last
dance after the half-decade mark.
Ilene Chaiken, the creator and head writer of Showtime’s “The L Word,” says
she’s shocked that her show has made it as far as those other gay
“I would never have dared to let myself think that anything I created [would
be on the air for five seasons],” she says. “I didn’t think that it
wouldn’t, but I didn’t presume it would get on the air, nonetheless last
Not only did it make it on the air, ‘The L Word’ became a sensation,
spawning fan celebrations galore, websites including the networking phenom
OurChart, a jewelry line inspired by the show, and yes, the fifth season,
which premieres Sunday, Jan. 6.
Previous seasons taught Chaiken some lessons to make the upcoming season the
best so far.
“I’ve learned to have fun and to keep my characters having fun and to let
the audience have fun with them,” she says. “I’ve learned to listen to the
audience as well. As it becomes a more interactive medium, I think it’s
really important to interact with them.”
Last season ended with a number of our favorite ladies in peril. Jenny (Mia
Kirshner) was adrift in the middle of the ocean after feeling treated poorly
during the movie adaptation of her book “Lez Girls,” a thinly veiled version
of the real lives of her lesbian friends and neighbors.
Helena (Rachel Shelly) was filling a bag full of loot from her rich
girlfriend’s safe and taking off for parts unknown. Tasha (Rose Rollins) was
about to be shipped off to Iraq with her squadron, just after reconciling
with Alice (Leisha Hailey).
Bette (Jennifer Beals) wasn’t in so much trouble after she won the heart of
deaf artist Jodi (Marlee Matlin) with some help from her ex Tina (Laurel
Holloman), who was pining for Bette even as she helped.
Notorious playgirl Shane (Katherine Moennig) was settling down with her
girlfriend Paige (Kristanna Loken), Phyllis (Cybill Shepherd) was settling
down with lawyer Joyce (Jane Lynch), Kit (Pam Grier) was recovering from a
relapse of her alcoholism, and Max (Daniela Sea) was heading off to San
Francisco to have “top surgery” to continue transitioning from female to
THE NEW SEASON resolves all of those plot threads — and if you don’t want
any spoilers, stop here.
Jenny washes up on shore to find a wealthy benefactor who wants to fund “Lez
Girls” and insists that she be the director. She becomes even more
insufferable, if that’s possible.
Chaiken says that the “Lez Girls” subplot is a major one in the new season.
“We get to tell a story about Hollywood and movie making,” she says, adding
that the details are taken from her and her writers’ own experiences with
show biz. “It’s not because we wanted to make an inside story about show
business, it’s something that happened to our characters and so we’ll go
along for the ride. It also allows us to look at the stories we’ve told from
another point of view and make fun of ourselves.”
Unlike Jenny, Chaiken says that her characters on the show aren’t taken from
“All of my characters are fictional,” she says. “There are moments when I
take inspiration from people I know, but I would never say who because it
Another major story this season revolves around Tasha’s military service.
Her deployment to Iraq is delayed as she undergoes an investigation that
charges her with “homosexual conduct” and could cause her ouster from the
“One of the true things about politics and current events is that they
really affect people, and it was clear that it was going to come into
Tasha’s life,” Chaiken says. “We didn’t say, ‘Lets do a Don’t Ask, Don’t
Tell story,’ but because she’s in a relationship with Alice, she’s going to
have these problems. Alice is no wallflower, she’s very much out there, and
she’s going to make Tasha’s life a little difficult.”
The story line also introduces Col. Gillian Davis, a prosecuting military
attorney who Chaiken describes as “very tough and hard bitten with a few
peccadilloes of her own.” Davis is played by Kelly McGillis, a major star in
the ‘80s with lead roles in “Witness,” “Top Gun” and “The Accused.” McGillis
is just the latest actress to revitalize her career with a turn on the show
Another surprising guest star this year is Clementine Ford who plays Molly
Kroll, Phyllis’ daughter. Ford is also Shepherd’s real-life daughter.
JUST WHEN EVERYONE was starting to get bored with homebody Shane, the
character gets back to her old tricks, becoming a bigger player than ever.
And this year, she’s the only player on the show.
“Papi never really gave Shane a run for her money,” Chaiken says about the
character from the fourth season, played by Janina Gavankar, who won’t
return this year. “We were just finished with that story. She was great to
have for season four, but we weren’t inclined to tell any more stories about
That said, Chaiken isn’t ready to bow out after five good seasons of the
“I don’t feel out of stories, I don’t feel that ‘The L Word’ is spent,” she
says. “I’m still interested in these characters and these stories and there
is not really another show out there telling these stories, so I’d like it
not to go away just yet.”
When Kelly McGillis guest stars on the fifth season of “The L Word”
she joins a long list of actresses who were famous in the past and used the
lesbian drama to give their careers a boost. Here are some others and the
roles that made them famous.
Jennifer Beals: Everyone remembers that Beals played a struggling
dancer in her 1983 debut “Flashdance,” but few remember that she played a
struggling alcoholic in the short lived ‘90s soap opera “2000 Malibu Road”
alongside a then-struggling Drew Barrymore.
Pam Grier: Before “The L Word,” Quentin Tarantino rescued Grier from
obscurity with his movie “Jackie Brown,” a role that harkened back to her
blaxploitation heyday in films like “Coffy,” “Foxy Brown” and “Black Mama,
Marlee Matlin: She won an Oscar for her first role in 1986’s
“Children of a Lesser God,” but she was soon starring in TV shows like
“Reasonable Doubts,” “The West Wing,” and even an episode of “Seinfeld.”
Cybill Shepherd: Her sitcom “Cybill” was a gay favorite, and her role
as a P.I. on “Moonlighting” made her an ‘80s icon, but she first won acclaim
for her debut as scheming high schooler Jacy in 1971’s “The Last Picture