Wednesday, December 26, 2007

TV on DVD: The L Word (Season Four)

MAJOR spoilers below about events throughout the show’s fourth season.

Apologies for the rant. I watched the first five episodes all in a row, then the next six all in a row, before watching the finale on the third day. Throughout these marathons, many thoughts went through my head. Without further ado, here they are.

This season was off to an unfortunate start merely because of where the show left itself by the end of its third season. Some of the characters have trouble recover from their plotlines, though I am happy to say that after all that is said and done by this season’s finale, most of the characters should have no trouble bouncing back for the fifth season, which premieres next week.

First, the bad. The show generally creates unnecessarily forced scenes and encounters which are awkward and often almost painful to watch. Any scene which involves Alice or the combination of Bette and Tina is certain to be followed by a minute or two of silence during most of this season. Additionally, the show goes for a new sort of style which really does not work and gets annoying quick. In one early episode, split-screen cell-phone conversations dominate the hour. It all gets to be a bit much. And how Bruce Davison’s Leonard Kroll ever ended up on Alice’s bed is beyond me. The girls talk so much about how they are lesbians, but more often than not, there is little reason to be saying anything at all and the plot should be allowed to speak for itself.

Watching Helena get cut off in the third season finale was one of the best and most exciting moments of the third season. Her fending for herself is a bit much, but she falls far too quickly back into old habits. Her friends, particularly Alice and Papi, constantly berate her about the abusive, servant-like relationship she is willingly in. Yet she does absolutely nothing but deny it and hide behind her British accent. Only in the fourth season ender is there a glimmer of hope that she might actually be ripping off the self-centered Katherine. I truly hope something comes of that.

As I write and think about it more and more, the story is not as bad as I initially thought. Maybe it is the fact that I finished the season with a very good taste in my mouth. The barrage of new characters – Papi, Phyllis, Jodi, and Tasha – is actually quite well handled. Papi bursts onto the scene as a living legend, and she out-performs the expectations of her character in my mind. Her affection for Kit is surprising but gives her an added dimension. Phyllis is absolutely hilarious, and her quick attachment to Alice and subsequent head-over-heels falling in love somewhat predictable yet still amusing to watch. Jodi is exactly how Tina describes her to Bette – her match, someone just as opinionated and outspoken as Bette. Cybill Shepherd and Marlee Matlin portray Phyllis and Jodi very well, and they do fit in with the rest of the cast smoothly. Tasha, on the other hand, began as a sore thumb who hardly smiled and whose romance with Alice was somewhat inexplicable. Her military affiliation did not suit the show, but her going-away party was actually quite affecting. At the time of her introduction, I was not so impressed, but again, I finished off the season feeling quite good about it all.

My major problem before the finale was the complete corruptibility of every single character. The idea that even the angelic Angus would cheat on Kit was unfathomable to me, and that twist made me angry to the point of despising the show. Hazel’s immediate flirtation is representative of the show’s constant need to be provocative and sexual for no reason. The show succeeds with some memorable passionate scenes (Shane and Paige’s fantasy home life montage in the finale), but it really overdoes it sometimes. This season threatened to cross the line with its non-stop flirtation between every single character who appeared on screen. That, for me, was this season’s biggest problem. Also, each of the negative traits of each of the characters is so emphasized and underlined that it becomes too much to bear. Bette in particular could go for a few minutes without being overly controlling or looking like she is about to cry.

I am beyond thrilled that Jenny finally got “bitched out” by someone. After season three, she became even more despicable this year with her attempts to mess up the life of Heather Matarazzo’s reporter and her veterinarian girlfriend. Finally, after completely screwing herself over and alienating all her friends with her less-than-fiction book, she gets fired from her own film. The scene where Tina finally works up the nerve to curse her out was one of my favorites from this year.

Last year’s weak element Max finally gets a chance to shine this season, with a slightly predictable but otherwise productive storyline involving a doomed relationship, quitting his job, going home for his mother’s funeral, and a girlfriend who appreciates him for what he is. I frequently forgot that Max had actually been Moira, and I applaud the writers for making Max into a completely new character devoid of the old and rather boring Moira.

I watched this season over the course of three days, pausing after the 11th episode only because I did not have the disc with the season finale on it. Had I written this before watching the 12th installment, my sentiments would have been very different. There is still something to be said for a show that is addictive enough to watch almost straight through like that. I was enjoying myself, even if I was constantly annoyed with the way the story was moving. After the finale, I am happy that Tina is in fact “back” and no longer straight, and I think that her helping Bette get Jodi back while actually being in love with her again is the most interesting thing they have done with her in a while.

All in all, the show is a fun ride but it does not always succeed in playing its cards right. For a few hours, it made me forget that there are straight people in the world and that not everyone wants to jump each others’ bones all the time. For all its idiosyncrasies (Dana’s appearance in the finale is completely unexplained, but a welcome chance to see Erin Daniels), I do enjoy this show and I am happy that the fifth season premieres in a mere twelve days. The finale left off with most of the characters happy (!) and with a possibility of returning to its former greatness.

“The L Word” Season Five: C+
The finale: B

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