The biggest problem with Season Two can be summed up in one word: Mark. Introduced in the fourth episode, amateur filmmaker Mark (Eric Lively) moves in with Jenny and Shane and proceeds to begin secretly taping them–ostensibly to make a documentary, but it fairly quickly devolves into an amateur porn flick, as he secretly tapes his roommates in compromising positions. At one point, he even pays a girl to seduce Shane in her living room so he can capture it on film.
Showtime President Robert Greenblatt acknowledged to Entertainment Weekly in a recent interview that the network requested Chaiken add a straight man to the cast in Season Two, because “it would be good for the male audience to have a guy they could relate to…and the straight female audience to see somebody they find attractive on this show.” Creator Ilene Chaiken told Entertainment Weekly that she was fine with including a straight man, but drew the line at Showtime’s suggestion that Mark have an affair with one of the women. It would appear that Chaiken thought this storyline was less offensive than that. If it is, it’s not by much.
The hidden-camera storyline stretches over most of the season, and even though Mark gets his in the end, it doesn’t make up for viewers having to sit through episode after episode of a storyline that panders to voyeurism and reinforces the worst sort of stereotypes of straight men. I’m not offended easily, but even I found this storyline disturbing, so I’m guessing the reaction from the broader lesbian audience is going to make last season’s complaints about the cast being too pretty look like a walk in the park.
It’s also hard to understand how this helps Showtime achieve their goal of attracting more straight viewers, since offering up nonconsensual voyeurism and privacy violation as entertainment is no way to attract straight (or gay) women, and on a show where attractive women make out with each other on a regular basis, you don’t need another sex-oriented hook to attract straight men.
Adding a straight man to the cast is an interesting idea, and I agree with Chaiken’s statement to EW that “It would be absurd to say that a group of women don’t interact with men on a daily basis.” But there are many ways to include a straight man that doesn’t offend your core audience. How about incorporating Tina’s sperm donor Marcus into the show, or simply having the women adopt Mark, a straight male friend, into their group? Almost anything would be better than this storyline, which cheapens the show and ads a sleazy aspect that The L Word has so far managed to avoid.