JENNIFER BEALS AND ILENE CHAIKEN PONDER “LIFE AFTER THE L WORD“
Editor’s Note: This is an account of the L Word-themed session of The New York Times discussion series Times Talk on April 20 in New York City by writer and AfterEllen.com reader Amelia Manderscheid.
A six-year fantasy of mine came true on Monday night when Ilene Chaiken had to answer to her audience at a New York Times Talk in New York City. Having Jennifer Beals there to confirm why every lesbian I know is in love with her made the event unforgettable and most likely is why it sold out (she’s just as radiantly beautiful in person in case you were wondering).
The moderator was Kim Severson, a staff writer for the Dining section of The New York Times.
I am 99 percent confident she was chosen because she is an out lesbian, but I knew she was going to be an excellent fans’ representative when she began the talk by asking “What the hell?!” in response to the ending of the sixth season.
On cue, Chaiken replied with her standard fare about how bittersweet it was to say goodbye to The L Word and that since she was upset, she wanted everyone else to suffer, too. In terms of who killed Jenny, all she would say was that “life has no resolutions,” to which Severson replied “that’s why we watch TV!”
Learning of the “whodunit” plan for the sixth season, Beals said she begged Ilene, “Please, please don’t do that.” Beals had hoped that the ending would celebrate the achievements of The L Word and the friendships and relationships in the show, which I’m sure every fan agrees with. “I just didn’t think it did these women justice. It should have celebrated these women’s lives instead.”
We watched a promo video of The L Word for the sixth season to “warm us up” for the discussion. While the clip played on stage, Beals jokingly went all Psycho-shower-scene on Chaiken when the “who killed Jenny” voice-over came on. (I was happy to see they can joke with each other, which proved to be the first of several demonstrations of mutual respect over the course of the panel.)
Te panel moved on to the future. Since The Farm did not get picked up by Showtime, Chaiken confirmed that the development of the show will not continue. She expressed her continued interest in making an L Word movie, and promised that she would come back from the dark side to make the happy ending we hoped for if we gave her one more chance. One fan exclaimed interest in a wedding, which I’m sure all of the Bette and Tina fans would enjoy in lieu of Jenny’s funeral.
To my excitement, Beals and Chaiken also announced that they are working together on a project that is along the same “thematic sense” (i.e. lesbian) of The L Word. They promised more information would be available soon.
Kim Severson then directed the conversation to why Jennifer Beals was interested in The L Word in the first place and the show’s numerous guest appearances. Beals noted that many roles for women in Hollywood are one-dimensional, and that the lives of the characters women can play generally revolve around men.
Chaiken agreed that The L Word’s complex roles brought many actresses to the show. When they were preparing to do press after the filming of the first season, Beals said she did not initially realize it was the first lesbian TV show. She believes that “homophobia is a form of misogyny” and passionately talked about how, by portraying a lesbian, she realized that all women share a connected experience.
Chaiken wouldn’t cop to trying to "change the world," when prompted by Severson, but Beals was more forthright about the show’s impact, stating that “the personal is political.” She grew emotional when she spoke of how she frequently thought of an isolated young woman in a small-town who had no sense of a lesbian community, but could see a part of herself reflected on The L Word, saying, “Giving someone the opportunity to be authentic is just wonderful.”
Severson slyly asked Chaiken the question on everyone’s mind: how much input did she receive from fellow producers and the cast? Chaiken said that she thought she was not a control freak, and that often the final product was much better with collaboration. Beals agreed, “that’s not my experience of you — other than the sixth season!”
It was heartening to see Beals stand up for her convictions and appear so unscripted.
After about an hour of discussion led by Severson, the panel opened up to audience questions. My favorite response came when one of the few men in attendance asked why the character of Marina ended after the first season. Beals blurted out, “Why did Dana die? Why was Tina raped by her sister? I mean, what?!”
I asked the last question of the night about the development of Bette’s character over the six seasons. Beals criticized Chaiken’s decision to make Bette a perpetual cheater, but appreciated the fact that the character finally learned to balance family and work over the course of the series.
Severson closed the talk by asking about the future of lesbian television, and if The L Word would get green-lighted today. Chaiken believed that it absolutely would not — primarily because it had just been done, but noted that she had hoped to “pass the baton,” and was “deeply saddened by the cultural desert” of lesbians on television.
Even though many fans debate the ending of The L Word, I doubt any of us would disagree with Chaiken’s summary of the lack of lesbian representation.
— by Amelia Manderscheid