When The L Word premiered in January 2004, two characters were situated as the leads: Bette Porter (Jennifer Beals), a hotshot museum director, and Jenny Schecter (Mia Kirshner), a young writer. Although Bette quickly became a well-liked character, Jenny didn’t fare nearly as well, despite Mia Kirshner’s obvious talents as an actress.
The producers and actors of The L Word were all aware of the negative reaction that Jenny got; in August 2004 Mia Kirshner admitted to London’s Times, “Jenny’s a very controversial character. I think the great thing about her is she’s so flawed.” But while Kirshner may have found Jenny’s flaws compelling, viewers were more likely to agree with the Boston Globe, which recently characterized Jenny as a “dreary, confused, introverted narcissist.”
Given the fact that series creator Ilene Chaiken is said to personally identify most with Bette and Jenny, it’s not surprising that in Season 2 there has been a well-orchestrated campaign to make Jenny a more popular character. This has occurred on several fronts: by redefining Jenny’s identity as a writer, by casting the well-liked Shane (Katherine Moennig) as Jenny’s new best friend, and by creating an overt coming-out storyline for Jenny. Whether or not these steps will result in a fanbase for Jenny has yet to be determined, but judging by the changing tone on internet message boards, it seems to be working so far.
From the very beginning of the series, Jenny Schecter has been portrayed as a moody artist and author of literary fiction—particularly in contrast to Alice (Leisha Hailey), a professional writer who works for the fictional LA Magazine. When Jenny arrives in L.A. she is writing a story titled “Thus Spoke Sarah Schuster,” an obvious reference to Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, one of the most well-known works of philosophy ever written.
After reading a somewhat unintelligible line from her manuscript (“Because Sarah Schuster came down, and now she reviles you, like you revile your own craving”) early in Season 1, Jenny’s boyfriend Tim (Eric Mabius) comments, “You scare me sometimes. I see you going right to that edge. And I think I’ve lost you. And then you come back with… [gestures to her manuscript] And I know why you have to disappear on me like that. I’m so fucking proud to have you in my life.”
In contrast, Alice’s work for LA Magazine often consists of Top Ten lists or articles about beauty treatments that her friends consistently ridicule. Alice’s writing is portrayed as silly and lacking in artistic merit, even though Alice herself never claims to be working on the Great American Novel. Nevertheless, this sets up a dynamic in which Jenny Schecter, a partly-employed unpublished writer of literary fiction of dubious quality, is situated as the “real” writer—someone who is constantly in emotional turmoil, loves fiercely and without moral boundaries, and turns out gut-wrenching prose about, well, her guts. In other words, Jenny Schecter, from day one, has been the perfect stereotype of the Tormented Artist.
This icon generates both yearning and revulsion; the Tormented Artist is someone who can create wonder and beauty through their work, but can also occasionally end up cutting off their left ear. In combination with a labyrinthine coming-out storyline in the first season that involved lying to Tim, who was widely perceived as honorable, it’s no wonder that Jenny didn’t generate a lot of fans.