Thursday, April 23, 2009

The End of: The L Word

It's been a long while since this finale aired, but I've had a busy semester abroad and want to try to check in with every show as they wrap up their seasons. Thus, it's only fair to go chronologically and begin with those shows that checked out for good.

***SPOILERS below for the entire series of "The L Word"***

"The L Word" is an example of a show that was nearly unrecognizable by the time it finished its sixth and final season. In its first season, it was an intense Showtime series that really followed the lives of a group of lesbians in Los Angeles, very much focused and never off-track without a clear main character. Some could argue that the story is all about Jenny's introduction to lesbian L.A. but I'm not convinced. Terrific performances from Jennifer Beals, Laurel Holloman, Mia Kirshner, and especially my two favorite characters: Alice (Leisha Hailey) and Dana (Erin Daniels). The token male was also good and relevant, Eric Lively, currently of "Ugly Betty," as Tim, Jenny's boyfriend. Season two was almost as good, and I think that the two new characters were extremely strong, Helena (Rachel Shelley) and Carmen (Sarah Shahi). The second season was still fresh and at the same very entertaining. The third season sort of started to take a nosedive, with the complete role reversal in the relationship of Bette, who became a weepy, whiny, waste of a character, and Tina, whose sudden unexplained attraction to men was a complete misdirection which proved absolutely inconsequential by the middle of the fourth season. The death of Dana, which I knew about before I started catching up on the show from the beginning, was a decent plot point but a horrible mistake for the show. Dana was the best character on the series, and her nervousness to be out publicly in season one was followed up equally well by her terrificly entertaining romance with Alice in the second season. Her cancer changed her as a character, and not in a terribly positive way. I hated Alice in the third season, and thought she, like Bette, completely changed as a character for the worst. The departure of Carmen at the end of the season, resulting in Sarah Shahi's casting on a poor NBC procedural, was also a misstep. Since then, Shane's plotlines have been endlessly circular, despite the occasional reappearance of Rosanna Arquette as Cherie Jaffe and the positive portrayals of doomed lovers by Kristanna Loken and Clementine Ford. The onslaught of new characters, like Moira/Max, who always stuck out as a character and whose plotlines never quite fit with anything else, and the disappearing Papi and complete Alice-opposite Tasha, did nothing to revitalize the show (though Rose Rollins was probably the strongest actress in the fifth season, even though her character wasn't terrific). Even Marlee Matlin, whose role started out strongly, couldn't help to rescue the show from staleness and unoriginality.

The biggest problem, of course, was Jenny. She was an intriguing character for the first season, there's no arguing that. She was always a bit of an oddball (remember her fish-tank fantasies and the guest appearance by Julian Sands). In the second season, before the show went downhill, she got an unfortunate haircut and starting sleeping with Carmen, a relationship I never bought. At the start of the third season, which began with her painful utterance of Hebrew, she was a completely transformed character whose only mission in the world seemed to be wreaking havoc on everything she touched through her ignorance. I actually considered skipping through all of Jenny's scenes during the third and fourth seasons since they were so unbearable. Later on, her character had a chance at redemption once she realized how ridiculous she was and decided to embrace her self-absorption and love it. The show, which had previously shown "lesbian incidents" before the opening credits, switched over to clips from Jenny's short stories, which were complete re-imaginings of the show's earlier seasons. That was vastly entertaining and a good way for the show to positively use the disaster that was Jenny's character. The sixth season, unfortunately, sort of undid that by having Jenny realize how much everyone hating her and being sort of sad and upset about it, and put her too much in charge of purposely messing up everyone's lives.

The sixth season, a shockingly short eight episodes, was nothing too special. The fifth season I saw more as a recovery from the unfortunate third and fourth seasons, and the sixth season just tried to coast on that without anything to really back up. Nothing too new was introduced, and old problems in everyone's relationships (especially Alice and Tasha, as well as everything to do with Shane) were rehashed over and over again with no real developments of any kind. The casual tone of the show, specifically with its obnoxious texting montages, was thoroughly annoying and just made it feel like everyone wasn't trying. The short eight-episode season was treated like treading water rather than using this final chance before the show's time ran out to head in a new direction. This was all epitomized by the fact that nothing was actually accomplished the whole season, with the flash-forward to Jenny's death in the first episode resulting in... nothing. It's not clear who killed Jenny, or whether she actually was murdered or just slipped to her death. The last episode, in particular, felt just like filling the clock until it ran out. Jenny's tribute was a nice way to see some old faces, but as a finale, it wasn't anything to write home about. The show as a whole just took a nosedive about halfway through its ran, or actually a little earlier, and despite some valid attempts to recover (Bette and Tina getting back together, the brief but wonderful appearance of Holland Taylor's Peggy Peabody), it couldn't really get there. The spin-off in the work with Leisha Hailey will be a completely different show, and I'm not sure how interested I'll be. There's nothing much to recommend it, except a changed character who will likely be nothing like the Alice I use to know and love. If ever I want to reminisce about this show, I'll just go back and watch the first two seasons of the show on DVD. I would suggest the same for anyone who wants to recall the good old days of this otherwise so-so show.

Series finale: C
Season grade: C+
Series grade: B-
Season MVP: Laurel Holloman (though not enthusiastically)
Series MVP: Erin Daniels

Next show up: "Battlestar Galactica," and then some thoughts of new pilots