This Sunday night, the world will finally get to see the first episode of The Real L Word, brought to us by executive producers Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz of Magical Elves (Top Chef, Project Runway, Last Comic Standing) and series creator Ilene Chaiken (The L Word). Though it falls under the often dicey category of "reality" programming, the involvement of Magical Elves creates an expectation of more substantive content than one might have for similar shows, such as The Real Housewives franchise. And the fact that it’s about a group of lesbians, not a group of wealthy heterosexual women, also suggests that this reality show might be a little different from the norm.
In fact, Lipsitz has stated:
We didn’t set out to make a show that has a political message but there are definitely issues that the gay community deals with that we tried to tackle in our show in terms of bringing up the issues of gay marriage and rights. I think that what’s important to us is that we set out to make an entertainment show but there is a little bit more depth to this series.
Warning: Minor spoilers
Having watched the first two episodes, I agree that those issues are indeed tackled and, by doing so, the show adds some much-needed "reality" to the genre. But ultimately, The Real L Word is about sex. If you haven’t figured that out from watching the preview clips, you’ll get the message in the opening moments of the premiere episode. There, we are introduced to each of the six stars by way of their confessions of their first sexual experiences with other women.
Meet Rose, who doesn’t remember the name of the first woman she bedded. Then there’s Nikki, who was the "aggressor" in her first sexual encounter with a woman. Jill compares her first sexual experience with a woman to her first sexual experience with a man. Tracy recalls going to a bar, doing a lot of shots and then going home and having sex with a woman who "knew what she was doing." Whitney recalls her first youthful lesbian experience, when she (age nine) lapped Fruity Pebbles and sour cream (she didn’t have any whipped cream) off the breasts of another girl (age 11). Finally, there’s Mikey, who awakened one morning feeling "super f—ing horny" and had sex with the friend in her bed. She brags, "Before I knew it, I was giving her an orgasm. I was literally eating p—y the first f—ing time I had sex with a woman. And it was awesome."
Chaiken has told us time and again that she is committed to telling our "stories," the bulk of which in The Real L Word appear to be sexual in nature. It’s a theme that runs through the first two episodes of the new Showtime reality series, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Premium cable television affords a level of sexual explicitness that wouldn’t be permitted on network or basic cable, so it’s safe to assume that the woman who brought us all of those fictionalized sex scenes on The L Word would stay the course even with (presumably) unscripted sex scenes as well.
More importantly, The Real L Word is a show about lesbians, but not exclusively for lesbians. How better to assure the interest of gay and straight audiences alike than to titillate with the allure of lesbian sex? One could also argue that regardless of whether or not lesbians and bi women are the target audience for the show, we’re going to enjoy watching the sexual scenarios just the same. When our sexuality isn’t being used as fodder for straight porn, lesbians and bisexual women tend to be desexualized in popular culture, so maybe it’s good for us to be represented as sexual beings for a change.
The show is also all about relationships. In the first two episodes, only Mikey, who owns a public relations and marketing firm, has any career "drama," screaming at the agents who send her inexperienced models for her big Fashion Week show. The rest of the women come across as full-time lovers, whose days (and nights) are largely spent planning weddings, processing their relationships, co-parenting kids, dodging ex-lovers and quickly snapping up new ones. Maybe in future episodes one of The Real L Word women will feel compelled to launch an ill-advised singing career (I vote for Rose) or start her own fashion line (I vote for Whitney), but I haven’t seen any hints of this yet.