While the sultry lez girls of “The L Word” pumped drama into an all-night dance marathon Sunday evening, the Showtime series finally started wheezing from fatigue. After six years, it’s now in its last season, and Showtime execs should be cheered for doing what so many networks fail to accomplish. They have provided longtime “L Word” fans with an appropriate swan song.
Many shows lose the chance to bid loyal viewers goodbye, often getting cancelled without much notice, or just enough to clumsily assemble a last episode. In this instance, Showtime has given series creator Ilene Chaiken the opportunity to wrap things up in her own way. And fans have shown how appreciative they are, as the show saw a spike in ratings this season gaining nearly 45% from last year.
“L Word” is definitely not the first television series to put gay characters front and center, but it has kept the slowly growing tradition thriving. Television history proves that homosexual characters have had a spotty go of things over the years. “Dynasty” outed Steven Carrington as the reserved gay man in the soapy evening drama. Of course he couldn’t stay the true gay patriot forever, so writers forced the character to have a child with Sammy Jo Carrington.
“L.A. Law” broke ground in 1991 with the first female kissing scene on primetime. Then of course, came “Ellen.” The year was 1997, and record audiences tuned in to see Ellen DeGeneres’ character come out of the closet. Affiliates refused to air the episode, advertisers pulled commercials and audiences ran off. But the tide was slowly turning. A year later “Will & Grace” threw friendly gay characters into American households each week, and viewers paid attention for eight seasons.
Showtime, however, shattered the closet door on the portrayal of gay men on television with borderline porn, “Queer as Folk.” Five years gave this series time to explore controversies like gay-bashing, AIDS, gay priests and gay adoption. GLAAD recognized the cult hit for Outstanding Drama Series in its first year, and nominated it every following season.
And in 2004, Showtime continued to explore gay themes with “L Word.” Over its six seasons the show has often gracefully depicted lesbian relationships and all that goes into living “normal” lives in West Hollywood.
Over the last few years characters Bette and Tina, played by Jennifer Beals and Laurel Holloman, respectively, have dealt with adoptions and interracial children. Of course, in between such seriousness both had multiple affairs, with men and women.
“L Word” has not shied away from sexual affairs and multiple partners, often in fairly graphic detail. That is one of the many qualities of the show that kept viewers tuning. If the story lines became at all boring, which they sometimes did, then sex and nudity kept the attention.
Story lines like Dana (Erin Daniels) dying from cancer and Tasha (Rose Rollins) getting kicked out of the military for being gay struck many emotional chords.
And intentions seemed pure when Max (Daniela Sea), the pre-surgery transgender, surfaced in 2006. It is not often that such a controversial subject matter is dealt with at great lengths in popular culture. At least not in such a serious manner. Max’s progress and frustrations were pretty gritty as the seasons progressed. Then came the tabloid inspiration. Max, by this point sporting a beard and referring to himself as a man, turned up pregnant. Call it sleazy media fatigue, but I had no interest in seeing another pregnant-man drama unfold.
Despite such digressions, and the single disaster known as Jenny (Mia Kirshner), “L Word” has had more hits than misses. It has remained sexy and smart without giving up the fight to keep intolerance at bay and hopefully educate those willing to learn more about gays and lesbians.
Last July Showtime prexy Robert Greenblatt announced that Chaiken will spinoff the series. Leisha Hailey will reprise her role as Alice in what will initially be internet-only content. Showtime is embracing the online following it has built up with the show and then hopefully will transfer them back on-air should the pilot go forward.
“L Word” will make its final bow this Sunday, March 8, and with any hope, the spinoff will find a home on Showtime so this conversation can move forward. Intolerance continues to be an issue for gays and lesbians everywhere. Perhaps if more shows like this were to make it on the air, specifically network television, then less people would be inclined to vote for the Proposition 8’s of the world and stories like “Milk” would not have to be repeated.