2008 Year in Review: Television


The fifth season of that other
lesbian show on cable television, The
L Word
, enjoyed a return to its roots in 2008. The series found some of the depth, humor and
camaraderie among its characters that defined the show when it originally
premiered on Showtime in 2004.

The comedy was largely supplied by the addition of
over-the-top rival bar-owner Dawn Denbo (played by Elizabeth Keener) and by the
transformation of formerly under-employed nebbish writer Jenny Schechter
(played by Mia Kirshner) to hot shot director on the big
Hollywood feature film version of her article, Lez Girls.

ascent to power-mad dictator status included an All About Eve-inspired subplot that gave long-time Jenny-hating
viewers the opportunity to watch her plummet from grace at the hands of crafty
underling Adele (played by Malaya Rivera Drew).

Despite the comedy, however, some of the issues that have
dogged the show in seasons past, such as the depiction of bisexual characters and women of color, continued to be topics of discussion in 2008 as well.

In its five year existence, The L Word has had a conflicted relationship with its bisexual
characters. In the first season of the show, both Alice Pieszecki (played by Leisha Hailey) and Jenny Schechter
(Kirshner) identified as bisexual, and in the third season of the
show Tina Kennard (Laurel Holloman) left her long-term relationship with Bette
to date a man, but refused to specifically identify as bisexual when pressed by
her friends.

By season five,
however Jenny, Alice and Tina are dating women exclusively and none of them are
even talking about identifying as bisexual.

This L Word trend, quite the opposite of what we are currently
seeing on network television, prompted AfterEllen.com contributing writer
Nicole Kristal to remark that
L Word viewers have been trained to forget the show used to
depict bisexuality with more realism and less stereotype. It’s just that some
of us — the ones who stomach the biphobic remarks in hope that someday we’ll be
represented fairly once again — remember. And that’s why we foolishly keep
tuning in.”

In terms of depicting women of color, the controversial
character Papi, prominent in the fourth season of the show and widely
criticized for both embodying negative stereotypes about Latinas and for being played by a non-Latina actress (Janina Gavankar is of mixed Indian and Dutch descent), disappeared
from the cast without explanation in 2008.

Rose Rollins’s depiction of Army National Guard office Tasha
Williams, one of the few lesbian of color characters on television, continued
to be full of depth and passion.

Tasha Williams (Rose Rollins)

Rollins enjoyed increased screen time in a
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” storyline in season five that culminated in her
discharge from the military. That particular plot development
increases the opportunity to further develop the character of Tasha on the
show, as her storyline has, up to this point, has been mostly limited to her
being a closeted member of the military.

The L Word’s
scheduled season six in 2009 will be limited to only eight episodes, and early
spoilers suggest that they will revolve around the murder of one of the main
on the series.

After that, the future of
the series has yet to be determined.

Creator Ilene Chaiken is currently developing an L Word spin-off pilot for Showtime,
centered on the Alice Pieszecki character, and reportedly set in a women’s prison.

Alice Pieszecki (Leisha Hailey)

Regardless of how
the spin-off might fare, with the announcement of a final (if abbreviated)
season, The L Word has a rare opportunity to right past wrongs (where in
the world is Carmen de la Pico Morales?) and address some of the criticism
about how race, gender and sexual orientation have been depicted on the show
over the last five years.

But if nothing else, we can all
look forward to the guest appearance of Lucy Lawless in the final season of the show. Chaiken may not ultimately deliver the peace,
love and understanding that some L Word viewers may be seeking as the series draws to a close, but it’s hard to find
fault with the decision to invite Xena to join the cast of the most
infamous lesbian program in the history of television.

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