Glamour & Lots of Sex

Showtime comes to New York to preview its new dyke series

Showtime’s message boards are practically dripping with anticipation.

Post: “Waiting patiently… OK, maybe not so patiently.”

Post: “I’m so excited for this show because of the actress who plays Jenny, Mia Kirshner. Is she really a lesbian? Does anyone know? She’s so beautiful. I LOVE her.”

Post: “Kate Moennig. Counting down the months/weeks/ days/ minutes till we get to see this beauty making love to another woman in a pool.”

Post: “Leisha [Hailey, who plays Alice] is the most adorable person on earth.”

Post: “Laurel [Holloman, playing Tina] is soo hot! Yummy! She’s the blonde right?”

Post: “I’m ordering Showtime JUST for this show.”

“The L Word” is coming, and ladies, my, we’re excited, aren’t we?

Hot threesomes. Long time monogamy. Bisexuality. Sex with a straight girl. Playing the field. Choosing the closet. There’s seemingly something for every gal on Showtime’s new vehicle, the first dramatic series to focus on the lives of a group of lesbians.

“The L Word” airs in January with a pilot directed by Rose Troche (“Go Fish,” “The Safety of Objects”), and from the buzz out there in dykedom, the word is, it’s about time.

The cable network agrees. Introducing the series to New York journalists at a luncheon last week at Blue Fin, Showtime’s CEO Matt Blank joked, “If you watch a lot of TV these days, it would appear no one is straight.” Noting “Will & Grace,” “Boy Meets Boy,” “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and Showtime’s own “Queer As Folk,” Blank added, “What’s wrong with this picture? What’s with all the guys?”

“The L Word,” he said, changes the picture.

In the mainstream eye, the new gay male stereotype has proven highly viewable. They’re cute, they’re smart, they’re funny, they’re sexy, and they’ve got great aesthetics. Lesbians, on the other hand, are too often seen as not cute, not funny, asexual, unfashionable, way too pious, totally uncool.

On “Sex in the City,” even Kim Catrell’s hot-to-trot Samantha was no match for the chilling effect of the lesbian relationship. Instead of getting it on like she wanted to, she found herself chronically in the bathtub, interminably scrubbing and processing with her love interest, Sonia Braga.

On the opener to this season’s “Saturday Night Live,” a spoof called “Queer Eye for the Straight Gal” featured Jack Black in dyke drag as the design doctor excited about the prospects of hardwood floors. When s/he says, “We should just rip this carpet up,” and straight gal Tina Fey responds, “You guys would know about ripping up carpet,” softball consultant Amy Poehler’s ill-humored response is, “Oh, that’s so degrading.” “SNL’s” Rachel Dratch, as the fashion savant in bolero tie and vest, foists three ratty flannel shirts on the straight gal. Wielding the client’s disposable razor, a drum-whacking, poetry-reciting Maya Rudolph advises, “Uh-uh, girl, save your money. Let your garden grow.”

There’s nothing wrong with going au naturel, but the skit is both funny and cruel. Given the dearth of lesbian images on television, dykes are reduced to laughable stereotypes. We’re the objects of disgust; we’re the brunt of mainstream jokes.

The crew behind “The L Word” means to fill in the void with some realness. The show is the “opportunity of a lifetime,” said Ilene Chaiken, the lesbian writer/producer who created “The L Word,” “to tell stories that are deeply meaningful to us: kind of bold, pretty unexpected, even moving from time to time.”

“It’s so cool to tell stories,” Chaiken added, “without homogenizing them.”

With only one male principal and one ostensibly straight female character, the show is certainly not heterosexual, but is it, as Chaiken asserted, heterogeneous? The series stars Jennifer Beals as Bette, the biracial lesbian director of a prominent Los Angeles arts institution. Laurel Holloman plays her long-term lover, Tina, and the two of them, hoping to start a family, are desperately seeking sperm. Pam Grier plays Kit, Bette’s half-sister, a musician and recovering alcoholic.

Their friends include Leisha Hailey’s bisexual magazine writer, Alice; Erin Daniels’ closeted tennis pro, Dana; Katherine Moennig’s hairdresser/ heartthrob, Shane; and Karina Lombard’s Marina, the owner of a popular and hip café who, with a terrific degree of success, comes onto Mia Kirshner’s fiction writer, Jenny, jeopardizing the straight girl’s relationship with her would-be fiancé, Tim, played by Eric Mabius.

The action takes place in L.A., and though none of the characters is an actress, they are all City-of-Angels beautiful, thin, terrifically coifed, and impeccably styled. With the exception of Kit, who’s straight, they’re all in their mid-20s to mid-30s. They drive excellent cars. They have, for the most part, glamorous careers. They live in lovely West Hollywood bungalows. Bette and Tina have a pool.

The cast, including Grier, Beals, and half-Lakota Karina Lombard, is racially diverse, and guest stars range all the way from Guinevere Turner to Snoop Dogg. Chaiken promises the show will be “fairly controversial” in dealing with issues of “race, religion, sex, identity,” but from the looks of things, it’s a bit like a certain bent of personals ad: no fats, no bulldaggers, no over-40s.

Given all the glamour, it remains to be seen whether any of the series’ controversies will revolve around class. In the trailer shown at the Blue Fin luncheon, there was one scene in which Kit is stopped by the cops. If she lands in the clink, as the rumor mill around the show suggests, then the writers might indeed introduce class issues.

Still, “The L Word” threatens to tip the balance so far away from the traditional lesbian stereotype that it might, in fact, forfeit its realness. The message boards are writhing with anxiety:

Post: “Okay, why is it everything [sic] Lesbian and/or Gay show seems to omit the Butch womyn? Where are the bull-dykes? What’s a femme to swoon over?”

Post: “Does it bother anyone else that there are no women on the show with short hair?”

Reply: “Yea and there are no chubby dykes either. no bookworm dykes. no softball dykes. no jaylo/gaylo dykes… gee i hope they won’t neglect the dog owner dykes.”

Reply: “Hey everyone… I was wondering the same thing… Where are the dykes that look like my friends and wife?”

When asked how she thinks the oh-so-Left Coast vibe of “The L Word” might play in the Midwest, Chaiken, acknowledging her Southern Californian subjectivity, said, “Who am I to presume to know what they’ll think of it?”

“But we’re telling real stories,” she added. “When people see the show and all the issues we touch on,” they will see “how different it is,” for example, from its more narrowly conceived boy counterpart, “Queer As Folk.”

Indeed, everyone involved with “The L Word,” from the network executives to the writers to the cast, has a sense of the historic importance of the series. Jennifer Beals couched her participation on the show in political terms.

“Imagine the love that you have with your partner not being accepted. I’m a biracial child. I saw the love between my mother and my father not accepted, so I already have a sense of otherness,” she told reporters. “I mean, I was illegal in some states.”

Beals’ casting raises an interesting question. What does it say about the cultural and political growth of American society when the girl icon of a generation that came of age in the 1970s is poised for potential icon status again, only this time playing a lesbian? The former “Flash Dance” star demurred from focusing on herself and pointed to the show’s ensemble structure, asserting, “If anyone becomes an icon on the show, that’s great because it brings awareness to the issues.”

Even as it appeals to mainstream beauty notions presumably to shore up an audience beyond lesbians, the show’s casting is, nevertheless, a credit to the producers’ savvy about dyke appeal. Leisha Haley, former band member of The Murmurs, is the only out lesbian with a job in front of the camera, playing the role of a bisexual (“Ironic, huh?” said Hailey), but several other cast members have already garnered on-screen lesbian cachet. Laurel Holloman starred in “The Incredible True Adventures of Two Girls in Love.” Katherine Moennig, dubbed an “androgynous masterpiece” by contributors to “The L Word” message boards, won acclaim among lesbian WB fans for her “Young Americans” role as the cross-dressing girl, Jake Pratt. And Mia Kirshner played bisexual roles in the films “Not Another Teen Movie,” “New Best Friend,” and on the television series “24.”

Whatever specific direction in which “The L Word” moves, the show’s stylish trailer makes one thing abundantly clear: there will be lots and lots of sex.

Lesbians who’ve waited in vain for “Queer As Folk’s” writers to, in the words of one message boarder, “spice up” the action between the show’s “very dull” token girl couple, Mel and Lindsay, can gorge themselves on “The L Word’s” abundant sister-on-sister softcore. Karina Lombard, quoting a friend, said that not just lesbians but all “women will watch this show and go ‘hmmmm…”

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