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The L Word Generation Q
Still from The L Wordvia Showtime

Welcome back The L Word, a queerer TV show that owes its fans so much

The L Word: Generation Q is finally on our screens, with a refreshed take on identities, relationship dynamics, and the people who loved it the first time around

Last night, in weather that dropped into the low single digits, I went out in cuffed high-waisted mom jeans (ankles exposed) and a corduroy jacket. That is to say: I am a proud, unrepentant bisexual. I am also, however masochistically, a fan of The L Word, Ilene Chaiken’s series about the lives and loves of a group of lesbians in Los Angeles. Despite what I’d say is a complex relationship with the early 00s show, I was elated to learn that The L Word would be rebooted and returning, premiering in the US this week as its new iteration, The L Word: Generation Q.

Despite flying under the radar for culture at large, The L Word in its original form was formative for queer women. Its often unsympathetic characters (hi Jenny) and unsatisfying ending left many devoted fans frustrated, but the television revolution it sparked can’t be disputed. Though a dramatised soap opera that often fell short of reality, it was groundbreaking for on-screen lesbians, giving them space to be messy, multi-dimensional characters. But, while The L Word was rightfully a cult phenomenon, it also failed to do right by the other identities it attempted to represent.

There’s little need to rehash the mistakes that The L Word made in its original run: its creators and stars are well aware by now. When rewatching the first season recently, its biphobia and transphobia are particularly jarring. I find myself grimacing as Alice is called a “dirty bisexual” and told she was somehow wrong for enjoying sex with men and women. Eventually, her bisexual identity is all but erased. The L Word isn’t entirely to blame – 2004 was a different world. Bisexual women on TV were portrayed as dirty, indecisive cheats who made their minds up one way or another eventually, i.e., Marissa Cooper on The O.C. and Buffy’s Willow. For the trans community though, the show both erased and exploited them. Max, a trans man, and the transmasculine character Ivan followed offensive and reductive storylines, with the wider ensemble spouting exclusionary rhetoric.

The L Word: Generation Q takes place in a new era, with refreshed understandings of identities, pronouns, and dynamics. It features a new generation of younger, more diverse crowd – Sophie (Rosanny Zayas), Dani (Erienne Mandi), Micah (Leo Sheng) – the first trans character on the show who is trans in real-life, after active casting searches by the network – and Finley (Jacqueline Toboni). It also brings back a few staple veteran cast members, namely heartbreaker Shane (Katherine Moennig), Alice (Leisha Hailey), and Bette (Jennifer Beals). The first episode immediately reflects the changes that have been happening off screen. We open on two women having sex; not unusual for The L Word, sure. But we quite swiftly get a graphic reveal: it’s not just any sex, it’s period sex.

Of course, there was every risk that Generation Q could get so bogged down in proving that it’s “good” that it forgot to be good. So far, aside from a slightly on-the-nose “time’s up” reference and a “Me Too” storyline, nothing is too aggressively current. Neither is it weighed down by nostalgia, even as Alice jokes on her talk show that, “that hiatus was really long, it felt like it was a decade or something”. There are some callbacks for the fans, but time has moved on. Alice has her own talk show. Bette is balancing campaigning to become Mayor of LA with parenting her daughter. Shane is (still) hot and rich and – big reveal – has a wife (but is, as always, not entirely faithful). The world has changed, and Generation Q’s honest, candid exploration of identity and relationship dynamics is working to reflect that. 

“It’s not yet clear how Generation Q will handle bi or pansexuality, but in the decade it’s been off the air, plenty of other shows have moved to fill the gap in terms of representation”

Our introduction to the new generation is promising, and our reacquaintance with our old cast stirs up a familiarity for women I love, no matter how much they hurt me. Watching Alice with her new family and fancy job felt like reuniting with an old friend. Seeing that Bette has made a move into politics makes sense. Watching Shane step off a plane, hot as hell, garnered queer girl screams across the world. References to the original series show that Generation Q isn’t entirely burying its past, but acknowledging its mistakes and moving forward.

It’s not yet clear how Generation Q will handle bi or pansexuality, but in the decade it’s been off the air, plenty of other shows have moved to fill the gap in terms of representation. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend gave us not one, but three out and proud bisexual characters, and a musical number to boot. Broad City’s casual, funny, warm representation of bi women is exemplary. The list, now, is endless: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Good Place, Orphan Black, Jane the Virgin...TV in the late 2010s comes close to representing the reality of bisexuality out in the wild – it is everywhere. You cannot move for bis.

Regardless of its flaws, The L Word means a lot to queer women young and old, with the infuriating, messy women that made it what it is. It was the first time many of us saw women fucking other women on-screen, and some of us were able to forgive the show for this alone as it took pops at our identity. It meant as much to me as to anyone: I took quizzes that told me I was Alice! I too killed Jenny Schecter! I swooned over Shane! I mourned Dana until my heart broke! I sang along to every word of that ridiculous, anime-style intro! I forgave it for its shortcomings because it represented some small part of who I felt I was becoming. In a time of immense confusion, it provided some representation and a view into a life outside of the narrow confines of heteronormativity. I understand it as a kitschy timepiece trying its best but ultimately struggling to do everyone justice. Still, I am happy that the next generation might get to enjoy The L Word, or at least Generation Q, as something that reflects the way they actually exist: the way they live (and love).