The Real L Word DVD was released last week, and I graciously jumped on the grenade for the AfterEllen.com team and watched every episode and all of the features. I thought that I would have enough feelings to fill several blog posts, but really, I’ve got nothing. Well, almost nothing.
The show wasn’t bad like the train wreck that is Bad Girls Club or Rock of Love, where you’re constantly wondering if you are watching mental institution escapees run amok. The series was fragmented, lacked a trajectory and failed to keep my attention. Watching The Real L Word reminded me of slogging through organic chemistry in college. I knew that I had to learn the material to graduate, but I could never keep my eyes open in class. Then a week before final exams I panicked, locked myself into a room in the science library, and watched every videotaped lecture back to back, fueled by an unreasonable amount of caffeine and sugar. It took every ounce of my being to stay focused on the television screen.
Likewise, as a lesbian pop culture writer, ignoring the only reality series starring lesbians in the past year was unacceptable. As they say, if you can’t have the one you love, love the one you have, and The Real L Word was the only thing we had of its kind. I locked myself in my apartment over the weekend, blasted “Eye of the Tiger” to prepare for the marathon, and poured some Red Bull down my throat. Even with the Rocky fight song pumping up my adrenaline and vile acidic brew gnawing at my stomach, I still fell asleep, twice.
It isn’t the cast’s fault that the series was the reality series version of Kenny G, believe it or not. I learned this from watching the audition tapes. For example, on Showtime, Nikki and Jill came across like the lesbian version of sawdust. They were most likely cast to prove that lesbians can also be as “normal” as straight people – after their personalities were sliced away by the editors like a butcher slicing away all the yummy parts of a cut of meat, thereby making it inedible. When I want to indulge, I don’t want to be served a bland piece of extra lean meat; give me some fat, dammit! Reality television isn’t supposed to be healthy fare; it is supposed to be a guilty pleasure.
There was probably a socially conscious aspect to the editing of the preparation for their big expensive Stepford lesbian wedding, i.e. “Hey, lesbians can be as boring as straight people. We are not hedonists. See, we like pearls!” But the producers were trying too hard. I don’t know any straight people that boring. Boring is not normal. Stepford is not normal. Stepford is not even human. I kept hoping that it would be revealed that Nikki and Jill were actually robots created by Magical Elves. That would have been sort of cool.
In reality, though, Nikki and Jill are fun, bubbly and yes, engaging human beings. We see that from the audition tapes, which were included as extras on the DVD. The Nikki and Jill on the tapes are humorous, even compelling personalities. The series could have been vastly improved if these facets of their personalities were allowed to blossom on screen.
Speaking of the extras, virtually all of the extras are already available online. I was hoping for deleted scenes that could have made the castmembers more three dimensional or revealed more juicy tidbits, but there aren’t any. The Live Lounge Reunion is online, as are the auditions.
The biggest problem of the series, though, was the lack of cohesion. There were too many storylines and too many entourages to keep track of. Rose had her crew, Whitney had her crew and her harem, and so on and so forth. We already have our own extended group of lesbians to keep track of without having to bust out an Excel spreadsheet or Visio. Having to keep tabs on the sheer amount of lesbians rotating in and out on The Real L Word is just too much work. Less is more, I say.
Additionally, in most reality series, the cast members actually interact with each other. Think of each cast member in a reality series as a country. In world relations, countries engage in diplomacy, make alliances, spy on each other, and declare wars. Shows like Survivor incorporate the first three, and shows like Jersey Shore incorporate all of them.
The constant interaction between the cast members is one reason why Jersey Shore is so successful. The cast of Jersey Shore is not just a group of guidos and guidettes; they’re a group of guidos and guidettes who live together and are therefore constantly in each other’s faces. They fight, f–k, and call themselves family. Furthermore, their fiery personalities are allowed to spill onto the screen without restraint, and consequently, America cannot look away.
On The Real L Word, the producers have placed the characters in a world that would make Ron Paul proud. It is a world where each country is non-interventionist, bordering on isolationist. Whitney probably spoke to Tracy once, but then went back to regulate her own complex domestic policy. Wouldn’t it be great if the cast could actually get in each other’s business, become intertwined in each other’s lives, maybe flip a table over Teresa Giudice style? Even while the cast was at The Dinah, they were separate islands floating in a sea of ten thousand lesbians. No woman is an island – just look at Alice’s chart.
If I were producing The Real L Word, I’d start from scratch. I’d choose a cast of six to eight lesbians from diverse backgrounds and toss them into a house in the lesbian resort town Cherry Grove, Fire Island and watch the fireworks, meltdowns and unbridled lunacy. This is not because I am loyal to the New York City region – it is because houses in Cherry Grove are so tiny that everyone would be forced to sleep on one another by default. Furthermore, the booze is always flowing, and a new stream of girls is always arriving via ferry every weekend. “I-want-to-look-away-but-I-can’t” television would be guaranteed.
But of course, Real L Word: Cherry Grove isn’t going to happen, and I’m just a lowly blogger with a laptop, not a television producer or Showtime exec. What I hope for the second season, though, is that the characters will be allowed to develop, that the core cast will be forced to interact to form one or two central storylines, that the new cast members will be as ridiculous and captivating as Pauly D and The Situation.
Say what? As much as we would like lesbians to be portrayed positively, we are talking about the reality television world. In the real world, the likable, beautiful, intelligent, and normal people win. In the reality television world the loudest, most brazen, extreme personalities win. Everyone still remembers Puck from The Real World: San Francisco, but does anyone remember mild-mannered Jay Frank from The Real World: London? I don’t think so.
And, let’s be honest. In the last season of The Real L Word, do you remember Tracy and Stamie’s “day before Valentine’s day dinner,” or do you remember Whitney’s strap-on and Rose’s hotel romp with strippers? While the former ignited a moment of recognition for those with kids, the latter left everyone with bleeding eyes and a head full of expletives, but the latter was more memorable. Reality television has lost all sense of social consciousness and has become nothing but a Coney Island side show with unlimited access. So we want to prove that we can be just like straight people? Ditch the pregnant lesbian and coming out story slated for Season 2. Reality television lesbians can be just as ludicrous as reality television straight people. Time to bring in more freaks, and let the drama begin.
With that being said, let the flames begin.