When Showtime confirmed that the long awaited reboot to The L Word — something that had been talked about since the summer of 2017 — was finally, definitely, happening, we anticipated another season of talking, laughing, loving, breathing, fighting, fucking, crying and drinking. In the months that followed, we learned that the L Word reboot wouldn’t just be about clinging to nostalgia, it would be about building on our memories with a new generation that that was “a little browner and a little less cis.”
While The L Word: Generation Q is definitely a little browner — it featured 12 new queer characters of color in its first season — media conversations surrounding the show have largely remained driven by white points of view, so we set out to change that. Members of the Speakeasy — Autostraddle’s collective of queer writers of color — got together to talk about the Gen Q’s first season, enjoy each other’s company, gossip about Bette Porter, and ask hard questions about where the show has succeeded (or sometimes, fallen down) at separating itself from the original series’ legacy.
OK! What’s your L Word origin story?
Kayla: Like many, I first watched The L Word in secret. The first few episodes I saw were in middle school at my friend’s house, because she had a cool older sister and parents who paid for premium cable. I don’t have a ton of memories about watching that first time — I’m sure my brain was overloaded with complicated GAY feelings! I didn’t watch the show in full until later, in college, after it had already hit Netflix. I didn’t watch on Netflix though, because what if my parents saw my queue and had questions! So I rented DVDs from my college’s media library, and I think the only person who knew I was watching was my roommate… plus my thousands of followers on tumblr who were privy to my daily musings on how hot Helena is and also how the basketball episode is absolutely ICONIC. I gradually became known as someone who introduced people to the show for the first time, bringing my iPad to social gatherings and forcing even the heterosexuals to watch.
Shelli: I actually saw The Real L Word first. I had a roommate for a bit when I moved to a new neighborhood in Chicago and she had already seen the original. I was deeply obsessed with the reality show, but hadn’t seen the original. I think she had the box set if I remember correctly, and eventually we popped one in and watched a few episodes – I was not impressed. I liked the reality aspect of TRLW better. I actually watched the entirety of the series last summer and that is when I started falling for it. Helena & Dana in particular made my bits tingle something crucial.
Christina: I stumbled upon The L Word in high school, the way you used to discover TV in the early aughts — my parents weren’t home and I was flipping through the channels. I saw two women making out and I was… interested, to say the least! I didn’t know anyone who watched it, and I wasn’t out at the time, so for a long time it was just this show I watched sometimes when I was home alone. It wasn’t until I rewatched on Netflix in college that I was like “Ohhhhh right right because of being a homosexual, that is why I liked this so much!”
Dani Janae: When I was like 12-ish, I would stay up late while everyone else in the house was sleeping. I’d probably have a drink (yes I know this is sad, but life got better) and scroll through all the channels I wasn’t allowed to watch during the day with my family. One night I came across a scene of two women fucking in like an arm chair or something? My whole world just flipped. I was out of the closet to myself and some friends by then, but seeing that was like “okay yeah i’m GAY gay.”
Later on in life, I was hanging out with some girl I knew from high school that was also a lesbian. We were chilling on her bed when she brought up The L Word and asked if I’d seen it. I said no, so she put it on for me. There was the same scene from when I was 12! The one where Dana and Alice have sex for the first time. I quietly kept that detail to myself and just enjoyed the flashback to baby Dani sliding off the couch while watching two women fuck for the first time.
Bailey: It was the scene just before Alice and Dana finally hookup for me, too! I was a teenager and home alone (I think my mum had gone to an Al Green concert) – I remember having “last channel” programmed in case anyone came home. I watched Dana and Alice hookup to CeCe Penistons Finally and immediately bought Season One the next day.
Jehan: I happened upon The L Word some time in high school, so around 2003-ish, once I cracked the one passcode my parents used for absolutely everything and broke into the blocked “risqué” channels. I watched an episode or two but was actually kind of disappointed because I thought it would be more scandalous than a bunch of people sitting around The Planet all day. I couldn’t identify with the whiteness, the thinness, the incredible LA-ness of it all, so I wandered off in search of more melanated, more queer pastures.
Recently, about a year ago, I binged the series on Netflix with some (moderate to heavy) live annotating from my partner and became a faithful reluctant fan. It still has all the problems I recognized back in high school, but I appreciate what the show has done and meant for queer folks, and I just wish I’d been participating while it was on the air.
Al(aina): What’s wild is that I feel like I didn’t see it all until after it was off (I was 13 when it started), but I also have a very vivid memory of watching the final season live?? So I really have no clue. I definitely, obviously, watched it again in college with my first serious person, like all good lesbians do. I would be lying if I didn’t say that OG The L Word was what turned me off of living in LA.
Protect Angie at all costs! I’d go into battle for that kid.
Now that you’ve seen Gen Q, what did you enjoy about the series? What do you feel the show got right?
Dani Janae: I think the show has heard the criticism from the first run and put lots of effort into righting past wrongs. We’ve seen lots more POC, better trans representation, and less blatant biphobia. It has struck a balance between giving us the lives of old characters (Shane, Alice, Bette) and letting new additions have full lives both along side and separate from them. I really really love Angie. She’s like the coolest teen in the world. I love that she’s figuring out her sexuality and there isn’t some big drama over it. She just gets to be.
Carmen: Protect Angie Porter-Kennard at all costs! I’d go into battle for that kid.
Bailey: Angie’s one of my favourite characters! I also appreciated the original characters. Honestly, this probably comes from having experienced more in life since the show ended ten years ago, but I really related to that moment of realizing you might not be marrying the right person, or your person, at the right time.
Jehan: Yeah, I honestly really enjoyed watching the original characters grow up! I liked checking in with our problematic faves to see what they’re up to, what inappropriate people they’re sleeping with, all of it. I’ll also say it was refreshing to see them grappling with issues around queerness and representation in a way that sorta kinda acknowledges both the privileges and insularity of the white lesbian world.
Kayla: I’m also surprised by how much I enjoyed the storylines involving the original characters! I’ve seen some people say that the smashing together of the rich and glamorous lives of the original characters and the more grounded storylines involving the new characters is awkward, but I love that juxtaposition actually. I love the original for its sense of fantasy, and I like that we still get that feeling somewhat here, with Shane hopping off a jet and Alice being a lowkey celeb – but there’s more of a self-awareness in this iteration of the show in terms of what queer life looks like for different people and how class impacts that.
I also just love the aesthetics of this show? The direction is a lot tighter, the music cues are great, the fashion is aspirational, the sex scenes feel a lot more real.
Shelli: Watching the OG crew grow up was perfect. The music was great and I can see where they are going with this new crew, too. I liked that reflected back some of our real situations (still needing roommates going into your 30’s to pay rent, Finley dealing with family back home, etc). They are going in the right direction! I just hope some of that direction is making sure Finley stops wearing those god awful dykey denim cutoffs!
Al(aina): I really appreciated how they brought up drinking and sobriety with Tess and Finley, because everyone drank absolutely too much in the original series and we need to talk more about alcoholism in our community. Tess saying that she drank to get away from her life, but stopped drinking so she could feel again?? I’m in this picture and I don’t like it!
I also enjoyed Micah’s storyline about where he wanted to be touched. It was a sweet scene and it (and I think Micah’s treatment for the most part) is something I really appreciated after they did Max so dirty.
Carmen: Yes! I really loved that scene for Micah in particular! I really like Micah and Leo Sheng, and I hope there’s more of him next year, along with integrating him more into the core friendship circle. He often still feels like an outsider – even in his own home! – but he’s really tender and I think there’s depth there to further explore.
Also, because NO ONE ELSE SAID IT, I’m going to put on my Afro-Latina crown real quick to say that Sophie Suarez now royalty to me! And I will go anywhere that her smart mouth tells me to go. No questions asked.
Imagine you’re in the writers’ room, Sarah Shahi says she’s open to returning, do you vote yes or no?
Jehan: No. Carmen was so mistreated and was also not played by an actual Latina so I’m not here for more of either problem.
Dani Janae: That’s a hard No for me. I was never big on Carmen, I thought she kinda put Shane in this box of the women she wanted to date, but that wasn’t really who Shane was/was ready to be. I’m a Shane apologist and I think they never really dove into why Shane is so malleable and willing to bend to whatever people want from her. Also, the show now has Latina characters played by actual Latinas, so I don’t even think we need Carmen anymore.
Shelli: That is a hard and loud NO! She was not played by someone who was actually Latinx and the writers’ room could literally not ignore that. Let’s also let Shane keep growing and not keep throwing her exes back at her. She has a fucking rescue dog now, so I think lots of new pussy is on the horizon.
Kayla: I think fan attachment to Sarah Shahi is a little out of control. In addition to the issue of casting, Carmen is not really the best written character! I’d much rather see a character like Tasha or Jodi return. And the biggest bummer for me is that Pam Grier can’t ever come back.
Natalie: Despite the fact that I loved Carmen de la Pica Morales with the intensity of a thousand suns, I would’ve absolutely voted No… though, admittedly, that’s easier for me to say than it must have been for those Latinx writers in the Gen Q writers room, so kudos to them.
People feel very entitled to their nostalgia, even when that nostalgia causes harm for others. For those writers to draw this line in the sand on this new show, it’s big. It was this show saying, “Sometimes we have to take a risk. Let’s make the show we want to make.”
Christina: I think it’s weird that there has been all of this conversation about her coming back or not coming back, I didn’t know she mattered that much in the greater context of the show? I mean, yeah, I loved Carmen, but like I loved a lot of things that weren’t great when I was 15! I don’t know y’all, Sarah Shahi’s not Latinx, let’s just all let this one go?
Al(aina): LOL the only character who needs to come back is Tasha.
Natalie: That is an absolute fact.
Why is The L Word so scared to have a visibly black dark skinned, 4C hair queer character?
According to Marja-Lewis Ryan, even Ilene Chaiken admits that that the original was, ostensibly, a show about white lesbians. Do you think Generation Q shed that legacy?
Dani Janae: The show has done a pretty good job of shedding this legacy. It actually took me a beat to think of all the white lesbians, everyone I think about when it comes to this show is a person of color. That’s really refreshing.
Bailey: For sure, it was an upgrade. But I think there’s still long way to go. It’s still a show about white or light skin queers of similar socio-economic class, and in a reality where no one is plus size. There are so many communities in LA that I hope they can represent next season.
Jehan: Yeah, it’s been so-so. It feels like white lesbianism 2.0 in that, yes, there are more people of color, more masculine of center folx, and more trans people. But for me, there are times where that’s coming across like a band-aid.
The show is still centering a type of queer representation that is about making sure there’s “at least one of_______” without actually engaging queer politics. Where are Micah’s friends??? He is a trans guy in LA and only hangs out with cis women? Why are there still so few Black people in this LA? In 2020, why is everyone’s biggest problem still either their relationship or getting acceptance from their parents? My hope is that Season Two goes much deeper into some of these missing communities and perspectives.
Kayla: In some ways, Generation Q exceeded my expectations in terms of racial inclusivity, but to be fair, my bar was LOW! I still think Vida is the far superior show when it comes to portraying a diverse queer Los Angeles. One frustration for me with Generation Q has been that a lot of the people of color still feel underdeveloped (which taps into what Jehan just said).
They’re not necessarily steeped in stereotypes, but they still just leave a lot to be desired in terms of full, dynamic, nuanced character development. Quiara and Felicity are two of the biggest examples, but I think the same can also be said of Micah and Dani, whose backgrounds and motives aren’t nearly as fleshed out as some of the white characters on the show.
Carmen: Yeppp! Lemme just quickly co-sign Kayla here and then go on about my way.
Shelli: Why is The L Word so scared to have a visibly black dark skinned, 4C hair queer character?
Sophie is as close as we got and yes, I dig her but she was not created to represent me. It feels like they are so scared to write a black queer character. They made Sophie streetwise, smart, snarky and dope, but I feel like they did that for their Afro-Latinx character because they were worried about the black-lash they would get from writing a different kind of black girl that same way. And sometimes it felt like Sophie was trying too hard. And yes, we had Tasha in the original but they wrote her so one note, closed off and seemingly always angry.
Carmen: I’m definitely someone Sophie was written to represent, and I absolutely couldn’t agree with you more.
Christina: On a scale of one to ten, I’d give Gen Q a five on shedding legacy? Yes, there are a lot more characters of color than the original, but as Shelli said, there still no dark-skinned folks, there are still no fat folks, and I don’t think we’ve really seen any non-binary folks? I’d love to see more about Micah’s life, who his other friends are — doesn’t he have other trans dudes in his life? I don’t love that “adding more QTPOC” folks is just adding a bunch of cis beige women.
Al(aina): Yeah, nah the show is still a white show.
With Dani, Sophie and Micah, it felt like Gen Q was grounding the show in a new generation that included 12 new QTPOC characters. Did you feel more represented by the reboot than you did by the original?
Bailey: I feel like I can relate to a few more characters because I’m no longer a teenager watching as a means of dreaming about my queer future; not only am I seeing my future represented, I’m seeing my past play out too. There were points where I felt I could see myself in Micah, but I also wish Micah would have more scenes that didn’t revolve around his gender. On the other hand, I did feel represented in sobriety and recovery by two white queers. It’s complicated!
Kayla: This is actually a tough one for me to answer! My instinct is no? I’m sort of torn in a few directions here, because yes I do overall find aspects of this show — and especially when it comes to the characters of color — more relatable than I find the original. Also, I’m not someone who necessarily needs to see characters with my exact identities in order to feel represented (I deeply connect with Elena Alvarez on One Day At A Time despite not sharing her exact identities). THAT SAID, there are so freakin FEW queer South Asian characters on television!! Yeah, I would love to see it here.
Dani Janae: There is more color and youth in the show, but I don’t necessarily feel more represented. I’ve screamed about this on Twitter – but where are the fat women on this show? I know there’s got to be one gay, fat actress in LA that would love to be a part of this project. WE did get Roxane Gay on the finale but her guest spot kinda gets bulldozed by… white lesbians, which was a choice. But I digress! I’d really love to see some body diversity next season, especially given the amount of sex scenes we’ve gotten this season. Fat people also have sex and we are very good at it.
Shelli: Where are the bodies? Where is the fatness? Where are the curves? Where are the queer charecters who are interested in bodies that aren’t thin? We need to see that.
Christina SERIOUSLY where are the fat folks and the dark skinned folks???
Jehan: Dani feels like a cardboard cut out of Bette, but less charismatic. Sophie is probably the most compelling to me, but I don’t think her storyline is being done justice. I want to know more about her family, not as a foil to Dani’s rich light-skinned Latinidad, but because she deserves the same amount of space to explore her Afro-Latinidad and her own family dynamics. Micah deserves so much more, too. He hardly ever shows up and, as Bailey said, it’s ALWAYS about his gender. What does he do, what’s he into? I need more!
Al(aina): This show rings far more true to me than the original did, for reasons similar as Bailey. But also like, how is there not a single fucking stud????? Not a SINGLE fat person??? ZERO Black or brown trans women??? That’s not my life!
And they’re all so… settled. Sure, they have roommates, but it feels very strange to me to see all these young queers with full time jobs who can afford to go out many nights a week. None of my friends are living like that; we’re all crying about the gig economy and debating whether or not to go back to school. Where’s that?
Most of the couples we saw on the original show were interracial, and while that’s fine, it’s also a trope in a lot of media. Seeing two black people together and in love is just so rare!
In the OG series, the only black person in Bette’s immediate circle was her sister Kit, but Gen Q expands on that in its first season. What did you think about this change?
Dani Janae: Okay so when the trailer was released and before we knew who Felicity was I SCREAMED when I saw Bette was dating a black woman. Based on the finale it looks like she’ll be dating another one, and that is so fucking important to me. Most of the couples we saw on the original show were interracial, and while that’s fine, it’s also a trope in a lot of media. Seeing two black people together and in love is just so rare! I think it’s really important for Bette, but also for Angie, to have that representation of black people in their circle.
Carmen: I’ve been screaming “Bette Porter with a Black Girlfriend 2KFOREVER!!!” since August after that trailer drop, and I’m not done yet! Seeing Bette with a black woman after six seasons of her being paired with a white partner who, ahem let us never forget, had such little regard for Bette’s blackness that didn’t even want a black child!!, was my own personal sweet redemption.
Carmen: (I also screamed from surprise joy a little when Tina came back! Not that I want Bette with her! I’m complicated. Moving on.)
Jehan: It feels like every Black person on the show is positioned for some White or lighter skinned character’s development. And yes this includes Angie. Kit, Felicity, Quiara… none of them exist outside of how they advance Bette or Shane’s narratives. Angie is beginning to have her own storyline deepen but for me, her character is toeing the line of advancing Bette’s development more than her own.
Shelli: I agree with Jehan so strongly. Also, where are Bette’s black friends who she isn’t fucking? Does she not have black aunties? Cousins who live in LA with kids around Angie’s age? It’s TV – we can get creative in a well-written way. I do LOVE that Bette has been falling for these black women with natural hairstyles though, so kudos on that.
Christina: The lack of black folks in Bette’s life has always been a disappointment for me. As thrilling as it is to see Bette fuck a black woman, I’d honestly rather have her find some black friends that she is not fucking — I love Bette, but it’s not exactly like she tends to keep the people she fucking around her very long…
Al(aina): Bette needs real Black friends next season. Like, at LEAST two. I don’t know any Black queer people in LA who exclusively hang out with white people, especially white women.
How did you feel about the way the show handled Kit’s absence?
Dani Janae: It was crushing without a doubt, but it made sense, at least for me. In the first L Word we saw her relapse more than once. For some people, addiction is a lifelong struggle. It is sad, but I think it was an appropriate way to address her absence. What I didn’t get is how no one knew she was related to Bette Porter and that she had died. In a celebrity obsessed world, it seemed like this should have been a readily available fact about her life.
Bailey: Kit was famous, everyone would have known that this was why Bette was running for Mayor. The show eventually handled the aftermath of all of Bette’s losses well, albeit given hardly any screen time and also managed by her daughter. How can anyone ever forgive Tinaaaaaa for not going to Kit’s funeral though, that’s my question.
Natalie: THIS IS MY QUESTION. How do you forgive her for that? I think I’d forgotten how much I disliked Tina until Bette said she hadn’t come to Kit’s funeral. Then it all came flooding back. I’m still mad about her not wanting a black baby and now I’m gonna be mad about this for forever.
Jehan: I really recommend that people read Grace Lavery, Danny M. Lavery’s and our own Christina Tucker’s take on this in the Shatner Chatner because I wholeheartedly agree with their breakdown of how the show has done Kit so wrong.
The main takeaway from their argument is that Kit never once got a win. From the first iteration to the reboot, she is the recipient of so many stereotypes of Blackness and is regularly a plot device for Bette’s development. I was irate when Bette only revealed Kit’s death as a way to clear her name for pushing Felicity’s husband. He attacked Angie, that was reason enough. And as Dani just pointed out, it seems a quick Google search should have revealed the info on Kit’s death much earlier in the show. Also, Bette was adamant she wasn’t going to share her “reason for running” because it was private… until it became convenient to do so.
Christina: Thanks for mentioning that piece Jehan! I still agree with myself, Danny and Grace — Kit deserved so much more than being this cardboard cutout of black stereotypes. Regarding Tina, I have never forgiven her for being surprised Bette wanted a black kid in like, episode two of Season One? TINA IS GARBAGE!
Al(aina): I really hated it. Really, really, really hated it. As has been said by other people, Kit deserved to be a whole person and not just “an addict” as Bette kept referring to her (also, stop calling people addicts, yeah?). I’ve always felt like Bette was dealing with some serious “I’m light skinned and have a white mom” guilt and her decision to run for mayor after Kit’s overdose feels very rooted in a past that she isn’t choosing to face and well friends, that’s why she and everyone else on this show should be in therapy.
In my dream world, the OG characters of The L Word get the audience to pay attention to the lives of queer women, women of color and poor women.
Particularly as it relates to representation for QTPOC, what changes would you like to see in Gen Q’s forthcoming second season?
Dani Janae: Add some fat people for the love of God. More butches and studs for me to secretly thirst after.
Bailey: More inclusion always and please. Shade/colour, size, class, and age – I could go on but I will never stop.
Jehan: More depth. Just across the board, let’s go deeper. I need something more than surface level representation.
Natalie: I definitely agree about adding more depth to the new characters and about continuing to expand who’s represented as part of queer community, especially trans and non-binary characters, but I’d add one (probably unpopular) thing… which, given that time is finite, is necessity: less of a focus on the OG characters. In my dream world, the OG characters of The L Word are similar to Piper on Orange is the New Black: a trojan horse to get an audience to pay attention to the lives of queer women, women of color and poor women.
Shelli: Bodies & Brokeness please. PEOPLE ARE POOR AND SOME OF US DON’T HAVE POOLS. Show that struggle from living paycheck to paycheck while also trying to enjoy life. Give me a fat character where her size is not their entire storyline, the same way Micah’s transness shouldn’t be his. If I don’t see a big baddie black bitch next season breaking hearts and making terrible decisions I will be upset.
Christina: Fat folks, dark skinned folks, more character development, and get Bette a black friend ASAP.
Al(aina): AND BRING BACK TASHA.