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TV Review: Lesbians in love

Friday, January 16, 2004

By Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

There are many L-words depicted in Showtime's newest drama "The L Word." It's set in Los Angeles. It explores loving relationships. But the l-word that strides above all others in this series is lesbians.

 
 

"The L Word"

When: 10 p.m. Sunday on Showtime

Starring: Mia Kirshner, Jennifer Beals, Katherine Moennig, Erin Daniels, Leisha Hailey and Pam Grier.

   
 

As a companion to "Queer as Folk," Showtime's series about gay men, "The L Word" follows the lives of a group of lipstick lesbian friends living in Hollywood.

Although sex is not quite as pervasive in "The L Word" as in "Queer as Folk," it remains pretty explicit. In one of the few heterosexual scenes, the camera backs away quickly, but when the lesbians are coupling, it doesn't hesitate to go for the close-up.

Anyone uncomfortable with graphic depictions and discussions of sexuality will be turned off by "The L Word," which should go without saying. But "The L Word" is a better written series than "Queer as Folk" and seems less exploitative. Sex is a predominant theme, but relationships are presented as more important. Where the "Queer" boys often couple only for pleasure, most of the "L Word" characters are equally, if not more, interested in love. ("There's only one thing that cuts across all our realities," one character says. "It's love.")

Mia Kirshner, usually cast as a harder character such as on "24" and "Wolf Lake," plays a woman designed to take viewers' hands and usher them into this world. Her character, Jenny, is a smart fiction writer who moves to Los Angeles to live with her swim coach boyfriend, Tim (Eric Mabius). They live in an apartment next door to Bette (Jennifer Beals) and her partner, Tina (Laurel Holloman), who are seeking a sperm donor to help them start a family.

Their group of friends includes butch "love 'em and leave 'em" Shane (Katherine Moennig), closeted tennis pro Dana (Erin Daniels), bisexual journalist Alice (Leisha Hailey) and Bette's half-sister, Kit (Pam Grier). They all hang out at a cafe owned by Marina (Karina Lombard, a Catherine Zeta Jones lookalike), who takes a shine to Jenny. By the end of the pilot, Marina has ushered Jenny into the world of sapphic love, unbeknownst to Tim.

Like "Queer as Folk," "The L Word" is a soap opera, although a higher caliber one. The characters are less like caricatures, and it's easier to get caught up in their predicaments.

Alice is a particularly fun character. She's constantly making charts to show six degrees of sexual separation between different people in her circle of friends. "Name any lesbian you know," she tells her editor. "I can link her to me in six moves."

Closeted Dana proves intriguing as well. She wants love, but is afraid to reveal her orientation, concerned that it would negatively affect her burgeoning career.

Where some of these plots will go is obvious -- Dana will be outed, Jenny will break up with Tim, Tim will be the sperm donor for Bette and Tina -- but in the first couple of episodes made available for review, the journey is more interesting than one might expect.


TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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