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:: T H E  R E T U R N  O F  'L E Z  G I R L S' ::
Southern Voice

‘The L Word’ returns for fifth season and shows no signs of stopping

Some 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 milestones.

“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 five years.”

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 male.

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 real life.

“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 becomes confusing.”

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 Army.

“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 (see sidebar).

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 her.”

That said, Chaiken isn’t ready to bow out after five good seasons of the show.

“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, White 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 Show.”


The L Word Online has been designed by Oz and Slicey.  Unique images designed by Oz.  Site maintained by Oz & Slicey.  This website is intended to be fun and informative, and was created with respect to show appreciation for the women and men involved in the creation of TV's first real lesbian drama.  This site is not endorsed, sponsored, or affiliated with Showtime Networks Inc., the television series "The L Word," or any person involved in the making of the show.  No copyright infringement is intended.  Images and other borrowed content are copyright their respective owners.  Credit is given where due.  All original content is the sole property of  the creators of The L Word Online copyright October 2003.