Volume 74, Number 42 | February 23 - March 01, 2005

Photos by Stephen Lovekin/Showtime

Rosie O’Donnell, Erin Daniels, Katherine Moennig, Leisha Hailey and Sarah Shahi at “The L Word” premiere in Chelsea.

Same sex, different city, a New York judge’s ruling

By Sarah Schmalbach

It was a bittersweet premiere earlier this month at the Chelsea Clearview theater for the second season of “The L Word,” Showtime’s provocative lesbian drama. Sweet because it happened just days after New York Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohen ruled that gay marriages should be allowed in New York City. Bitter because the day after the ruling, Mayor Bloomberg, in what critics call an election-year effort to win back conservatives, appealed the ruling and has put it in indefinite bureaucratic limbo.

Despite these political developments, Matt Blank, Showtime’s C.E.O. and Ilene Chaiken, the show’s creator, were ecstatic at the premiere on W. 23rd St., having just signed the contract on “The L Word” ’s third season. With quiet and determined pride Chaiken said, “In the face of a political climate that is stunningly, regressively oppressive to women, to gays, to any culturally marginalized or unprivileged class of people, the need to go on proclaiming ourselves and shouting out our stories is ever more compelling.”

The Los Angeles-set show, which premiered on Showtime on Sun., Feb. 20, revolves around the merry-go-round love lives of nine women, all gay excepting Jenny, who moves in with her fiancé, Tim, next door to a lesbian couple and is seduced by one of their female friends. The show is the first of its kind to address the many problems of the gay community, which truthfully, seem to be universal issues. The characters deal with infidelity, the devastating loss of a miscarriage, choosing a sperm donor and choosing a partner.

At the premiere, Blank optimistically commented on the phenomenon he thought guaranteed “The L Word” a spot in cable network history. “I was amazed how quickly ‘The L Word’ popped up in pop culture,” he said. “Just days after the premiere it was being used in Op-Ed pieces across the country. In the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, the New York Post.” In these Op-Eds however, the “L Word” took on a different meaning: Liberal. And so last fall the women of the cast, starring only one openly gay woman, became temporary and ironic poster children for liberal views.

Consequently, there are some expectations that this season will be just as strong a political force against conservative close-mindedness. Lauryn Siegel, a 27-year-old music writer from California said, “The show is politically important in that it’s a fun and somewhat normalizing way to portray a lifestyle that is viewed as deviant by the conservative right. It makes a good case for being open to other lifestyles.”

Siegel also recalled how in the very first episode, dozens of “L words,” including love, life, liberty and ladies, flashed across the screen, which at the end faded back into the title, “The L Word.” “Thinking back on it, I’m sure the producers wanted the title to be interpreted in many ways,” she said.

There are some debates about whether “The L Word” is watched by gay couples or straight men purely as a means of “turning them on.” When talking to actual fans of the show, however, the greater audience seems to have much purer and more personal reasons for tuning in. Dana Porreca, a 22-year-old student from the New Jersey Shore, said plainly, “I watch it because there are no shows on TV about being a lesbian. I want to be able to watch a show that I can relate to.”

Erin Daniels, the actress who plays a professional tennis player on “The L Word,” has mixed feelings about the political velocity of the show and how it might affect the national debate on gay marriages. “Anything helps,” Daniels said. “But if you try to pound politics down people’s throats, they’re going to stop watching. On the other hand, anytime you introduce gay life into mainstream society, it’s good. Hopefully our show will help people realize that things need to change.”

The TV program’s best-known star, Jennifer Beals, tried to put it into not only a national but an international context. “The longer the show runs, the more people will realize that our similarities outnumber our differences,” Beals said. “In this day and age when people are being wiped out by tsunamis and being wiped out by armies and terrorists, it’s important to see that love is all we have. Why now, would we begrudge someone their sexuality?”

Although the two shows share the same night but not the same time slot, there seems to be a hint of competition brewing between the cast of “The L Word” and the Ladies of Wisteria Lane. However, Blank said, “If there was ever a group of women who could make those Desperate Housewives desperate, we’ve got it.

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