This drama follows an ensemble cast of characters who represent multiple facets of the lesbian lifestyle, but enact very human dramas that anyone can relate to. At the centre is Jenny (Mia Kirshner, EXOTICA), who has moved to a hip L.A. neighborhood to be with her boyfriend, a swim coach named Tim (Eric Mabius). Immediately swept up in the lesbian community, Jenny begins to question the heterosexuality she has always taken for granted, while the lives and loves of those around her play themselves out in sometimes humorous, sometimes painful ways. This release includes the first three series of the show.
Series 1 - Four years after the American version of Queer as Folk made gay men the focus, it was time for a little turnabout with The L Word (bad title, great show). Centering around a tight-knit group of lesbians in Los Angeles, this drama was far removed from its working-class male counterpart in both style and content. While the men of QAF enjoyed a fabulous if melodramatic life on the middle-class streets of Pittsburgh, the women of The L Word lived it up in sunny California, with gorgeous houses, glamorous careers, and sexy wardrobes. Ironically, though, The L Word adhered more to the everyday drama of ensemble shows like thirtysomething than the soap opera antics of QAF, and the results were surprisingly heartfelt and effective, appropriately stylish but never over the top. There was plenty of room for titillation, but creator Ilene Chaiken fashioned from the start a show centered on characters and not just sex, aiming for the heart rather than... well, other places. The L Word focused primarily on committed couple Bette (Jennifer Beals) and Tina (Laurel Holloman), a former power-career duo who've decided to have a baby; however, artificial insemination and the changing dynamics of their relationship throw their previously happy existence off-kilter. Within their orbit are spunky journalist Alice (Leisha Hailey), sultry hairdresser Shane (Katherine Moenning), closeted pro tennis player Dana (Erin Daniels), and espresso bar owner Marina (Karina Lombard) who, in the show's most polarising storyline, bedded the seemingly straight Jenny (Mia Kirschner) and shook up her heterosexual world. Jenny's "am-I-straight-or-not?" kvetching frustrated both her fiancé (Eric Mabius) and many viewers, who were alternately irritated and intrigued by her inability to decide one way or the other. But Jenny's weakness was part of The L Word's strength: in exploring many sides of many issues, both domestic and political, it never came up with an easy answer for any of them, making the show all that more fascinating--and compulsively watchable.
Series 2 - Once a series has broken new ground, where does it go from there? Series Two offers more of the same smart, funny writing and fully realised characters, with some notable guest stars and experiments in narrative and music. This season, Jenny (Mia Kirshner) fully embraces her sexuality as her ex-husband/roomie (Eric Mabius) departs and voyeuristic documentary filmmaker Mark (Eric Lively) and woman-chaser Shane (Katherine Moennig) move in. Shane and Jenny struggle good-heartedly over the affections of new character Carmen (Sarah Shahi), who isn't given much to do plot-wise apart from occasionally spinning records and serving as one corner of the love triangle. Bette (Jennifer Beals) and Tina (Laurel Holloman) start the season on the rocks due to Bette's infidelity; the introduction of the one-dimensionally nasty Helena Peabody (Rachel Shelley) causes further friction between Bette and Tina while playing havoc with Bette's curatorial career. Meanwhile, Dana (Erin Daniels) and Alice (Leisha Hailey) go from being best friends to being a whole lot more, providing some of the most touching scenes of the season. Kit (Pam Grier) takes on The Planet, the seeming center of LA's lesbian universe, converting it into a nightclub where, conveniently, guest-starring bands can play. Strong points of the season include Bette and Kit confronting the death of their father (the superb Ossie Davis) and Shane's new job as a gopher for a high-powered Hollywood producer (the equally superb Camryn Manheim). Less strong are the distracting, neo-expressionistic passages meant to be glimpses into Jenny's creative mind and the interminable use of the series' theme song--re-interpreted in a number of genres--to the point of distraction. Mark's voyeurism, which crosses all sorts of boundaries as he installs hidden cameras around the house, is a brilliant way to challenge male viewers who may tune in just to TiVo their way to the sex scenes. That said, the arc of that particular story grows increasingly far-fetched as Mark somehow avoids criminal prosecution and instead endures the horrible fate of having Jenny refuse his offer of coffee and a muffin. Despite its flaws, The L Word is a show that deserves to be cheered on, not for its politics, but for the skillful way it conveys complex human entanglements with sensitivity.
Series 3 - The third season of The L Word is all about transitions. The season opens with Alice Pieszecki (Leisha Hailey) coping with her between-seasons break-up with Dana Fairbanks (Erin Daniels), who is herself headed for an even heavier series of transitions. Kit Porter (Pam Grier) both falls in love with a younger man and discovers she is going through menopause. Shane (Katherine Moennig), who spent much of the first two seasons of the show hopping from bed to bed, finds herself more or less committed and the second season's resident villain, Helena Peabody (Rachel Shelley), becomes embroiled in a sexual harassment case that leaves her ultimately looking like the victim. As with previous seasons, The L Word gets all hot and bothered with various seductions filmed to sometimes jarring music on the soundtrack, but it's the day-to-day foibles and celebrations of Los Angeles's lesbian community that keep the show interesting. Newcomer Moira/Max (Daniela Sea) begins the process of gender reassignment, making for some curious situations with potential employers. Bette (Jennifer Beals) and Tina (Laurel Holloman) begin to drift apart when Tina lands a big movie studio job and starts feeling attracted to men, leading to a custody battle over their baby daughter. Where The L Word starts getting preachy and obvious is in the opening flashback sequences. When these vignettes refer to current characters of the show, they make sense; when they depict situations meant to underline how queer identity has evolved over the years, they seem politically overloaded. The L Word works intelligently through its characters' concerns without having to resort to such direct appeals for tolerance. Its strength isn't in making lesbian culture appear more mainstream, but in making us care and identify with these women's struggles, regardless of our sexual orientation.