the l word (season two)

2005

Created by: Ilene Chaiken

Unlike season one which tried and succeeded to poke fun at itself when it was richly deserved, season two was the year in which Ilene Chaiken decided to let us all know how much life truly does suck. While glimmers of the old, clever humour appeared early in the season (Alice’s foray into knitting for example) the action descended rapidly into melodrama, which was handled with various degrees of success.

Overall the season sometimes seemed to come across as melancholic, bitchy, amateurish and just a tad boring. Breaking the show down into parts, it’s easy to see what was good, and where the wheels sometimes fell off.

1. Tina and the spoiled, rich bitch
Bette is right, Helena is the scourge of the Universe. She’s also a weird lady with a strange pregnancy fetish. She needs to go and take her supremely distasteful personality with her.

Helena inspired excellent conflict between Bette and Tina and she leveled the playing field between them so that they could pick up the pieces and go on. Tina had to have an affair equal to or more important than Bette’s affair with Candace in order to rise above her perennial doormat status. But now that Bette and Tina seem to have worked things out, Helena seems like a one-trick pony. I’ve heard she’s coming back next season, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why.

2. Bette, Tina and the Parent Trap
Bette started off the year a bit shaky. Her mental breakdown came across as not so much a depressive state as an absurdly long bad mood. Jennifer Beals held it together with dignity however, and suffered valiantly through the bad writing. When it finally happened, Bette’s awakening to Tina’s needs was not just powerful, it was sweet and blessed relief.

Kudos to Laurel Hollomon for her bravery through what must have been an extremely difficult shoot. Despite being heavily pregnant (for about 18 months it seemed – what is it with the show’s timeline?) she spent more time naked than any other member of the cast, and she looked absolutely beautiful.

Just for the record, the sex scene between Bette and Tina was easily the best of the second series, and the final, emotional scene that introduced baby Angelica to the cast was nothing short of beautiful.

3. Suicidal Marina and the mysterious husband
They needed an out for Marina. For the first episode they came up with the mildly amusing game of “how did Marina try to off herself?”, but the whole thing was pretty tasteless, especially in light of the large, fanatical following Karina Lombard has. Then they introduced the Ricardo Montalban impersonator to convince us that Marina was married as well? To a wealthy man with a confused European accent?

The entire storyline was not only an insult to our intelligence, it was inconsistent with the facts of the show so far. Spare us more of this tripe, please.

4. Tonya. Sure she was annoying, but she deserved better
Oh no. Oh no no no. It was far worse than I thought it would be, and I expected it to be pretty bad. I mean where could they go? They had Tonya run off with Melissa Rivers. I was throwing things at the TV in despair. So much time ruining Dana’s character just to throw away the punchline.

5. Dana, Alice, the dildo and the Love Boat
When they coupled up the comic relief the writing gradually became spectacularly awful. Dana and Alice were driven to the farcical edge and beyond, making a mockery of what had the potential to be a sexy love story.

It started out great; secret rendezvous in bathrooms and awesome sex in handcuffs while they were supposed to be preparing wedding shower baskets. Alice’s speech to Dana at the wedding shower was just heartbreaking. When given the good material, every one of these actresses has the ability to simply shine.

So how did we go from there to Captain Stubing and Julie in just a few short episodes? Erin Daniels deserves so much more than being the actress who pulls funny faces. What happened to Dana and her tender, funny, sexual exploration? The first dildo scene was OK, but it all spiraled seriously out of control. This was not the same character who angsted over female ejaculation last season. She’s gone from goofy geek to buffoon who is defined by whichever character she’s screwing. It isn’t humorous, it’s imbecilic.

6. The return of the soup chef
OK. The soup chef kissing bitch-Gabby? Give me a heart attack! But that storm blew over and now maybe there’s some hope ahead in the flirtation between Dana and Lara. That was a relationship in which Dana was encouraged to just be herself. In the brief scenes shared between the two of them it was nice to see that shy, goofy grin again.

Lauren Lee Smith is still hot.

7. Video killed the radio star
I know that’s kind of the whole point, but Alice’s radio show really sucks.

Poor Alice. Poor Leisha Hailey! Alice rarely manages to rise above the situations in which she’s placed, and the clothes that they make her wear. (Hello 70’s! Who needs a dyke on a bike for transportation, why didn’t they just give her roller skates at Pride and be done with it?)

Now she’s becoming the jealous girlfriend, everything she says she hates. As Alice sinks further and further into her psychosis, the changes in her behaviour have not been subtle. I’m almost scared to see where this storyline might go.

8. Kit, The Planet, Ivan and the T.O.E man
Kit owns The Planet. Who didn't see THAT coming? But that's cool, it fits well.

Hands up if you think Benjamin kissed like a wet fish, was yet another uncomfortable example of the fact that everyone cheats on this show, and didn’t have half the chemistry with Kit that Ivan had? Yeah, I think we’re all on the same page here.

Ivan had a great first couple of episodes (his reaction to being caught naked was both powerful and complex) then the powers that be decided to turn him into an arsehole. Pity that. The character, and Kelly Lynch, deserved a better end. So indicative of this season, a good start followed by a stupid resolution.

And yet again we’re left with that odd feeling that Pam Grier is being wasted, though the brief moment as Bette and Kit shared grief after Melvin died was poetry. Pity about the memorial service.

9. Mark and his pseudo-documentary
How many ways can I say ick? Useful as a means of bringing Jenny and Shane closer together, but there must have been a million storylines that could have achieved that. Mark was so obviously the character the network said the show had to have.

Instead of a credible storyline they went with the classic male gaze approach with the cameras. Let’s explain lesbianism to the masses. Deconstruction of the subject, the lens within the lens. I’d yawn, but I’m too busy trying not to vomit.

Jenny was right, it isn’t a woman’s job to help a man grow, and it shouldn't be the role of The L Word to enlighten straight men about lesbian sex.

10. Hey Ms DJ, put a record on
Carmen was the woman Jenny needed. Carmen was also right though, Jenny was too lost in her own darkness to really understand love. It didn’t stop Jenny from believing herself heartbroken.

Carmen used Jenny to get to Shane. It wasn’t pretty, but it was understandable. The Carmen-Jenny storyline explored lust and weakness and fear, as well as some odd sexual practices (yes, I’m referring to the toilet scene and the slapping) that probably served to open a few people’s minds. It was also, at times, the sweetest relationship on the show. I liked Sarah Shahi’s portrayal, and Carmen was an excellent addition to the cast, for more reasons than just racial diversity.

If only we could erase that whole cruise ship storyline, we’d be set.

11. Shane and Jenny
The two most emotionally screwed up characters decide to cohabit, with interesting results. While I don’t necessarily agree with Jenny’s victim politics, her character was just such a huge improvement from last season that it was difficult to believe it was the same Jenny.

The early, annoying dramatisations of Jenny’s writing did eventually lead to an interesting visual exploration of her mental state. Now struggling through scattered memories of childhood abuse, Jenny has sunk into a deep depression and expresses her rage towards the world and herself through stripping and cutting, a condition all too common in women with self esteem issues.

Shane spent the first half of the season in a drugged haze. Now that it seems Shane and Carmen have worked things out, Shane is Jenny's lifeline. She's complicated when she needs to be, and so simple when it is called for. I’m liking the character (and Kate Moennig) more and more.

Shane and Jenny have an odd little connection, pleasantly unsullied by any implication of sexual desire.

12. Music, haunted houses and band members who can’t act
Oh good grief, save us all from EZgirl. How did Bettty get this gig? Who is sleeping with who? Every one of us knows a girl band that plays at our local pub who plays better music. Producers, call me, I’ll send you a mix tape.

The theme song is childish and doesn’t improve when given a Spanish twist and chucked in as background music. Some of the pop music was fine (Jane Siberry’s “Love is Everything” was a highlight), but the incidental music composed for the show was just awful.

To top it all off, the members of Betty were given lines. Requiring them to act. They failed miserably.The lesbian cruise and the feminism 101 discussion at Melvin’s funeral were the low moments of the second series.

Also, someone needs to tell Jenny and Shane that their house is haunted. When people start having sex the walls start whispering their names. Every now and then the ghost escapes and haunts Bette’s place next door. It’s creepy, off-putting and just plain amateur hour.

13. Guestbians
What would I do if Camryn Manheim agreed to appear in my lesbian television show? My god, the options are endless. I certainly wouldn’t have her scream through four misguided guest appearances as a one-dimensional bitch. Ariana Huffington was wooden and pointless. Sandra Bernhard did her best but she just can’t help being herself. Lauren Lee Smith and Guinevere Turner were oddly paired up and then they weren’t. Kelly Lynch had a good couple of episodes then Ivan was downright abused. Of the new guest stars only Leigh Ostin the cute sculptor seemed well cast, simply because she was an unknown.

The stunt casting was so blatant this season I was breathlessly grateful to see Holland Taylor appear in the finale. At least she gave the guestbians back some dignity.

Conclusion?
Dark and depressing does not always mean deep. The show felt schizophrenic, oscillating wildly between serious heartache and over-the-top farce. The actors were isolated when they work best as an ensemble. The characters seemed to change personalities from one episode to the next. How can we believe this world when it doesn’t adhere to any kind of internal logic and consistency?

The bright spots, the scenes I loved and believed, came so infrequently I was shocked when they happened. You could call season one a great beginning, but season two was nothing short of wasted opportunity.

My favourite character from season two? Shane hands down. Kate Moennig found nuances in her character I bet the writers never even intended.

Go to SEASON THREE

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