We are in a theater looking at a stage and on that stage are three women:
Our moderator Kim Severson (we’ve been told she’s a lesbian and a New York Times food writer), Ilene Chaiken (the writer, executive producer and creator of Showtime’s hit series The L Word)– and Jennifer Beals, the actress from The L Word.
Beals, in a sharp black suit, is stunning. She’s humble, intelligent, well-spoken, honest and brave. She exudes a perfection so engaging that we sometimes felt a halo was about to spring from her ears. This halo would consequently emanate a soothing, healing radiant glow that would enlighten the audience and enable world peace.
Ilene, wearing adolescent-y wedge-heeled black boots, is nothing like Jennifer. She vacillates aggressively within a Venn Diagram of confidently stated hypocrisies. Her voice reminds you of a Mom who talks too loud when you’re trying to look cool.
Ilene is snappish yet intensely self-satisfied. She exudes a hubris so misapplied that we sometimes felt a trap door was about to open beneath her chair. [Simultaneously Beals would elevate to the brightest ring of angels around heaven]. In fact; her discomfort almost made me feel sad for her … but I knew this sadness could lead to endearment, and then I’d lose my edge/platform/ethics. So I stifled my sadness. [A technique I perfected during Dana’s waterfall scenes in Season Three.]
Kim Severson was on point from the get-go. Her first question: “What the hell?“
Chaiken consistently employs entry-level HR linguistic slights-of-hand to evade or redirect questions and conversations. However much of the audience seemed receptive to Chaiken, which confused me, and possibly made my blood boil occasionally. [Luckily we were drunkity drunk drunk!] But I respect Jennifer for the mature, careful relationship her and Ilene appear to have — it works. It’s good, I think.
The Entrance (from dear nycnicole)
Kim Severson was on point from the get-go. Her first question: “What the hell?”
Chaiken’s response was, as it’s always been; “Real life doesn’t have resolutions …”
I’d barely uttered “That’s why we watch TV,” under my breath before Severson said just that! Ilene clumsily pirouetted onward, dodging questions about her bad choices with Chaikenisms : “We’re here to tell good stories,” “Real life is unresolved,” “we have changed the world,” “We are the champions, my friend [Start EZ Girl Remix of Queen’s “We are the Champions“],” and “I wanna tell good stories and entertain people.” We also got a few: “If we didn’t incite controversy and spark conversation, then we wouldn’t have been on the air for six seasons.”
ZOMG! Deep breath.
Almost immediately Chaiken made her first move by mentioning the possibility of The L Word movie — she put it on the table like a music box, a thing she could shake and play if we ever got unruly. This worked, mostly — people were audibly energized the moment Ilene claimed to have the ability to bring us MORE L WORD. Beals said, as she has before, that she’d love to participate if it happens and if it will be about friendship and love. [Rumor has it that it probably won’t. Most of the actors don’t want to play their characters again — good riddance and so forth.]
Ilene’s repeated and near-obsessive mentions of this potential pipe dream were emblematic of Chaiken’s most apparent personality trait: neediness. She needs attention. Any kind of attention. She mentioned the movie to seal our attention and from that point on she felt confident sailing along her illusory river of words. She is the benevolent captain of a ship soaring aimlessly forward and though she keeps a few crewmen within shouting distance and will entertain a pirate for a minute or two, she’s pretty confident she’s got this shit on lockdown, and we will be in Tijiuana before nightfall. Her answers grew progressively obtuse while her pride seemed to puff up around her defensively, like a skunk spraying the air. She emoted Biblically. [Editor’s Note: All these quotes are approximate, I took notes but didn’t have a recorder. I’ll correct them in the future when I can get a transcript]
Kim: “Do you think lesbians eat their own? You took a lot of hits from the critics.”
IFC: “People will always have something to yell about, and that’s part of what we do as storytellers … you know, the Jenny character was Jewish, and then people got upset at me that I made the Jewish character crazy! There will always be something to ignite controversy and start conversations.”
Kim: “Wasn’t that character based on you?”
“When Ilene said the show wasn’t political,” Beals explained, deeply invested, “I thought — well, the personal is political … even thinking if there’s one girl in the middle of nowhere who can see herself reflected and … know that she’s beautiful. Giving someone the opportunity to be authentic is just wonderful.”
Jennifer got teary a lot.
This makes us love her more.
Jennifer was direct, unapologetic and readily emotive whether she was discussing her outrage over a woman assaulted in the woods where she goes running or thanking the fans for all their support.
Jennifer Beals is one of those heterosexual women we’re lucky to have so firmly and proudly on our side. “I see homophobia as a form of misogyny,” Jennifer said. “I see how all women are connected, gay and straight, because we are all repressed or repress ourselves in some way.”
Audience: “What happened to Marina?”
J-Beals: [laughing] “Why did Dana die? Why was Tina raped by her sister? I mean — what?!”
On the topic of Season Six and her issues with it, Beals admitted she was opposed to the “dark” plotline and that it was the first season where she and Ilene frequently butted heads. Beals explained that she’d get through these bad scenes by remembering, “I’m there — my job as an actress is to serve the story. So I really had to do my best to serve the story, and focus on doing that, but with the final season I just didn’t think it did these women justice. It should’ve celebrated these women’s lives instead. I would do the scenes and then go to my trailer and yell WHYYY???”
However in general she felt “heard” by the writing team and despite some “gross inconsistencies” that many actors on the show were challenged by from time to time, she felt Bette was a good strong character. Furthermore, Jennifer carries Bette Porter inside her always.
Jennifer and Ilene both said that they feel proud of the work they did that enabled other women to come online, meet each other and start to tell their own stories. They feel blessed to have made that happen.
Audience: “What did you think of Laurel’s speech at the Bravo A-List Awards?”
J-Beals: “I didn’t see it, I’m always the last one to see everything … what happened? [is filled in on Laurel saying TV is getting progressive if she can win an award for sitting on Jennifer’s face.] “Oh, she’s a witty gal, isn’t she.”
Beals discussed her hesitance when filming the first love scene for the pilot and her concern at the time that she would be revealed as an”ugly heterosexual person” who didn’t know what she was doing. Beals then explained how she got through the scene by focusing on the emotions as universal — that’s the real heart of it, after all.
I swear I heard women gasping breathlessly during this particular discussion. I may have said “OMG, I want to see someone orgasm in their pants right now.” I may have been really annoying to sit close to.
Kim: “Let’s talk about the clothes.”
J-Beals, in amazing funny voice: “That’s what I miss the most.”
Bette shared an anecdote about a recent shoot where the director promised not linger too long on her breasts during a scripted scan and she said “Honey, I’ve done The L Word. Linger wherever you want to linger.” After all, “sexuality is sexuality.”
Kim: “Who killed Jenny? I mean — did you even have an idea in your head?”
IFC: “Let’s go back to the last question.”
Ilene dodged political responsibility but gladly stepped up to say that she “changed the world.” Kim, scowling and nearly rolling her eyes, said: “Yeah, you did. You did.” At this point I was also slightly in love with Kim the moderator, I might start reading about food in The New York Times now.
The World According to Ilene:
Reason OurChart folded - CBS (who she loves dearly for letting her do the show) somehow ruined OurChart. Details remain foggy.
Why did Dana die – ‘Cause people die in real life.
Why did all these other characters disappear? - These are complicated decisions — business decisions — that you cannot understand.
Reason there are no new lesbian shows – Because of the economy. Because Ilene already made one and one is enough. Because Ilene happened to seize upon the grand moment and now we are in a cultural desert which makes her sad.
Why did you ___? - What’s that? A Bird? We tell stories! WHOOZIEWHATZIT! Hey! Look at the possible movie! It’s dancing! There will be lesbians! No plans, but look at the possibility! It glows, just like Jennifer’s face!
What the hell is going on with the Interrogation Tapes: Ilene “wanted to address telling stories and answering questions and [they] didn’t have enough time to tell all those stories” during the show’s run. [!!!]
Who Killed Jenny? Ilene deflects. Someone in the audience yells “Ilene Chaiken!”
Is Writing Collaborative? Yes, but The Chaiken is solitary. But as the seasons have rolled on, more and more people have come to her with objections and “more often than not the other ideas were better than mine.”
For the last half hour the audience could ask questions, but most of the people who stepped up to the mic wanted to talk about their feelings and then ask questions, which was cute but also time-consuming. Except for the lovely rep from Tibette.com who got right to the point, that’s how you do it ladies. I wrote “OMG TIBETTE.COM HAS SENT A REPRESENTATIVE” in all caps in my notebook.
From my notebook, before the show: “We’re very wet and on the train. I hope this train is gong to Lezzie-Town. Alex is drinking sakè from a water bottle. There is rain in our hair. I hope something crazy happens, like a catfight. I’m going into this now how I went into the show — emotionally prepared for spot-on drama & comedy but knowing deep down inside how unlikely it is that the show will affect me with all I am ready to bare. This sake is turning the roof of my mouth into styrofoam. Hi-ho, High-Ho, it’s off to Ilene we go.”
Someone asked about the Interrogation tapes and if they could go on indefinitely. That would be like me asking if the dance marathon dance-off could go on indefinitely, except the opposite of that. I was confused, and a little bit scared. No one understood the question. Beals hadn’t seen hers.
Every time Jennifer spoke, the room hummed with positive energy. Jennifer is putting together a photography book to get some money into charity causes. She is so perfect. She is up there with Rachel Maddow in the Realm of Perfect Humans.
Jennifer Beals: “I did a triathlon –”
[audience explodes into applause]
Kim: “And one time, she had breakfast!”[to Jennifer:] “They adore you!”
Ultimately, I can say that this show did one thing right: it assembled a marvelous cast who breathed life into occasionally fantastic and often mediocre material and it told women’s stories. Beals noted that prior to TLW, she’d never seen so many multi-dimensional female characters who weren’t written as romantic or otherwise complements to a more complicated male. She said: “Love is very important but it’s not the only story — well, perhaps it is the only story, because everything we do is for a kind of love — love for work, love for family … but the love between a woman and her man is not the only story for a woman to tell.”
And The L Word told women’s stories no better or worse than most TV shows out there. As a show for women, it did an exceptional thing. As a show for lesbian women — not so much. We feel there’ve been so many talented people waiting so long to have a voice — and so many other women ready to be a part of that unveiling — that there could’ve been more — something better.
Afterward, Alex and I discussed how we both felt anxiety when Ilene was vaguely (during the OurChart convo) suggesting that something else like OC would be in the works at some point. I don’t think she meant it, she says a lot of strange things. I think we need new storytellers now and clearly there are brilliant artists out there ready to bring those words and dreams to life.
So we’ll plod on valiantly here with making our collective collaborative dreams come true — focusing on the business end, a major redesign and charting the expanses of our aspirations — and hopefully we’ll do so full of conviction and sunshine. Because we know that there are so many bright women who are open to their stories being told — and ready for it! We know that the beauty, in patches, still shines through the vacant lot that housed the set where Jenny moved in with her boyfriend, Tina was ovulating, Dana didn’t want her fans to know she was a gay lady and Shane liked Lacey a lot, but she liked a lot of people.
We like all of you. We liked that show [sometimes], but we like a lot of things. We like a lot of things a lot more than we liked that show.
So … let’s do it! The future is as bright as Jennifer Beals’ personality. Trust me.
Late Add! Click here to see our before-the-show thoughts ON VIDEO: pre-ilene