Monday, March 9, 2009

The L Word ends with most unsatisfying series finale ever

I love series finales--even the not-so-good ones, even the ones tied to shows in dire need of being put out of their misery, even ones for shows I never really watched in the first place. Series finales evoke this nostalgic, high school graduationesque, joyous/sad feeling of tying loose ends, wrapping up and moving on. They are like little gifts to loyal watchers of a program. A chance to achieve closure with beloved (or not-so-beloved) characters. But with its finale last night, the groundbreaking show "The L Word" once again managed to conquer new territory, by being the most annoying and unsatisying television series finale in recent memory. (After Ellen called the debacle "lame, lacking and legacy tarnishing." Bwah!)

I came to the show during season two, after deciding to watch some episodes On Demand to see what all the fuss was about. The fuss, of course, was about the first mainstream television program to center around lesbian characters and relationships.

Wikipedia describes "The L Word's" first season thusly:
Season 1 was first aired in the United States on January 18, 2004, on Showtime and featured 13 episodes presenting several entwined storylines. Set in West Hollywood, the series first introduces Bette Porter and Tina Kennard, a couple with a seven-year relationship who want to have a child. Tina eventually becomes pregnant through artificial insemination but has a miscarriage during episode 1.09: Luck, next time. Later in the series, Bette develops an affair with Candace Jewell, which Tina learns of during the season finale. [5]

The pilot introduced a coming out/love triangle storyline involving Tina and Bette’s neighbor, Tim Haspel, his new-in-town girlfriend, Jenny Schecter, and Marina Ferrer. Marina is part of Tina and Bette’s circle of friends, and owns the neighborhood cafĂ©, The Planet, which serves as the group's hang-out and focal point for the show. The season also introduces Shane McCutcheon, an androgynous, highly-sexual hairstylist and serial heart-breaker; Alice Pieszecki, a girly, bisexual journalist looking for love in any way she can, and Dana Fairbanks, a professional tennis player who is still in the closet and torn between pursuing her career and finding love. In the first season, Dana falls for a sous-chef named Lara Perkins whose
sexuality is questioned by the group until Lara has an unexpected meeting with Dana in the locker room.
I'm a straight girl, but I couldn't resist the great, soapy plotlines of this show. (Betrayal, intrigue, kidnapped babies, fatal illnesses, lost fortunes...Dallas and Dynasty have nothing on "The L Word.") Add to the high drama (and comedy) awesome fashion, and I'm hooked. "The L Word" was a great, guilty pleasure.

That said, I've always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the show. Increasingly, as the show wore on, camp crossed the line to fantastical. The writing was often sloppy and continuity was lacking (Whatever happened to Helena's two children?) The show's creators weren't afraid to kill off a cast member just for the hell of it.

When "The L Word" introduced a transgendered character, Max, it could have been compelling to follow him through his transition, if he wasn't treated with such obvious disdain by the writers and characters--more an occasional sideshow than part of the actual show.

Just like most Hollywood writers, "The L Word" team couldn't write black women for shit. Kit was Bette's straight, alcoholic, musician sister. The character, played by the legendary Pam Grier, was drawn like a cartoon. In recent seasons, Kit's every utterance was prefaced by "Girl!"..."Honey!"..."Baby!"...or it could just be that the crappy dialogue and Grier's delivery made it seem so. You could almost hear a director suggesting "Can you deliver that line with a little more blackitude?" With seemingly little life of her own, no friends outside of her sister's orbit, and apparently unable to find a suitable man in all of Hollywood, Kit was reduced to the sassy handmaiden to all the pretty, white girls with problems. (Yes, I know that Jennifer Beals is biracial, but for the most part, in this show, she was portrayed with more cultural connection to the white characters than her black half-sister. Grier filled the role of the resident black chick.) The wardrobe department couldn't even bother to give poor Pam awesome clothes like those proffered to her castmates. She was always stuffed into some ill-fitting, bootleg get up more suitable to a 20-year-old. Guess it's too much work to properly outfit a still-pretty-damned-fine black, middle aged body. This is fricking Pam Grier people! Show some respect.

All that aside, I was still looking forward to last night's series finale, the culmination of a peculiar
sixth season that centered around a murder mystery: Who killed the manipulative, self-absorbed, over-the-top, loony (and, yeah fabulous) Jenny Schecter.

The direction of the ultimate season seemed misguided. Rather than demonstrate the evolution of characters and the show's story, walking them to some reasonable close, "The L Word" careened wildly in service of an Agatha Christie-like plot. Apparently, "L Word" creator Ilene Chaiken belives, like Hercule Poirot, that anyone is capable of murder, given the right impetus. And so, she set about creating a host of reasons for characters to want to kill someone who had been a friend and integral part of their circle for years--stolen movie treatments, missing film reels, videos of supposed infidelity, general obnoxiousness. It all seemed awfully silly, stretching the bounds of the imagination and requiring characters to do things that in previous seasons would seem unlikely. If Jenny's divatude was getting too much for her "framily," couldn't they, just, I don't know, de-friend her? Sure, murder seems like fun, but...

Told through real-time scenes interspersed with snippets of from police interrogation in the aftermath of Jenny's death, last night's season and series finale opened more doors than it closed. It is still unclear whether Jenny was murdered, committed suicide, or tripped over the anvil the writers left lying around the episode (Characters made repeated references to a broken railing on a new balcony, cautioning anyone who came near it to be careful.) We don't know why the police think Jenny's demise was anything but an accident. (Hell, we don't even know what happened, since the character's death takes place off screen and is only hinted at.) We have no idea why police interrogations in Hollywood involve endless questions unrelated to the crime in question. (Hint: It let's characters spill information that writers weren't able to reveal any other way.) Even the few non-dead Jenny-related storylines started in season six were left open. (Was Tasha really coming back to Alice in the end? Will Shane go after Molly and tell her that Jenny hid her letter?)

Sometimes while watching "The L Word" you could clearly see the show's writers wanting to break convention and try something daring and never-done-before. Last night's episode is a perfect example. Of course, wanting to innovate certainly isn't a bad thing, but sometimes things have never been done, because they don't work. And sometimes the conventional way is the easiest and most successful way to get a thing done; innovation just for the sake of it doesn't work.

"The L Word" series finale didn't work. It created an inglorious ending for what was a really fun, enjoyable show that meant something to a lot of people. I liked it for the clothes and drama, but I've read some really moving stories online today by lesbian women who were able to see themselves and their relationships portrayed on television for the first time. Why not honor that?

Really, if the best the writers of "The L Word" could give loyal fans is an hourlong "eff you," then they should have gone whole hog. Lead actress Jennifer Beals could have awakened in a Pittsburgh bed to find that the whole, six-year, Bette and Tina lesbian uber couple with a quirky satellite of friends thing was just a dream, and that it's really 1983 and she's a dancing welder with a hot steel mill owner boyfriend and a closet full of riped sweatshirts. Or, a la "The Sopranos," they could have just faded to black.


Professor Tracey said...

You read my mind. Over your link and my reply in over at my blog. You crack me up.

Mel said...

My personal favorite for an alternative finale: the entire cast climbs out of the script & does a "Murder on the Orient Express" on creator/producer/writer Ilene Chaiken.

So glad it's over. I'm one of those dykes who watched it to see how "they" were portraying us... not only did I never feel it represented me, but I also never felt it represented my community, not in all the 31 years since I came out. I liked many of the characters, but never came to love them because the writers (read: Ilene Chaiken) were so sloppy & arbitrary with their lives, so that I never came to trust them to even be who they were as characters.

Compare with (at least the first couple seasons) of Queer as Folk: what a difference. In fact, I think I'll go watch some now, just to wipe the taste of The L Word out of my mouth. Def. the lesbians of QAF were much more akin to something I recognize.

Sassy J said...

Yeah, so who killed Jenny? I think it was suicide, but then ole girl was drawn out the bushes...huh? I did like the storyline of Max; it was different and intriguing. They made it seem like she was coming around to keeping the baby, and Bette and Tina clearly didn't want the child.

I think this season was a perfect segway to a season 7...there were just too many new emerges and questions! lol

Anonymous said...

The L-Word, when it first appeared in 2004, outraged most of the lesbians I hang with. From the get go, we were mad as hell at the Jenny character and her boyfriend--hey this is the RARE lesbian TV show so get that hetero couple off the aire! Just the hetero sex scenes alone sent us into orbits of outrage (hey I like that alliteration) :-)

Believe it or not, many lesbians find heterosexual sexuality offensive as all get out, and don't want this in a lesbian zone.

None of the characters represented any lesbians I know or have known for the past 30 some years.

I found the show so offensively pornographic, with no solid representation of a lesbian couple in a committed relationship, that I wondered what the point was. Ratings and attracting voyeuristic creepo straight men, was our guess.

The true lesbian self rarely appears in TV or movie form. We were very disappointed because Ilene Chaiken was involved with the production of "Go Fish" a truly great lesbian indie movie. What went wrong between "Go Fish" and the L-Word. The irony being "Go Fish" was a breakthrough cross-over hit, and that's what opened the door for Chaiken's big TV break with L-Word. The L-Word was just another Los Angeles cliche for the apolitical sex lesbian. Us political types were disgusted.

I even made my opinions known to one of the actresses in the show who happened to be at our local lesbian bar one night. "See all the women in this bar?" I asked her. "Do ANY of them resemble ANY of the lesbians on your silly TV show?" I asked. She had to admit that the show was a fantasy, and that it did a great diservice to lesbians worldwide.

If you think you were angry over Pam Grier's "fake" blackness, just imagine how the rest of us felt about every lesbian character on the show Tami!

The Jenny character was THE most hated fake character in the first season, and we had to stop watching after a few episodes of season two because again, we were offended at the sexualized and degrading images of lesbian life.

In an interview Ilene Chaiken said she was most like the Jenny character... figures. It's kind of like having Ellen be compared to Audre Lorde or Mary Daly or Susan B. Anthony! Oy triple vey, give me the real Dykes any day :-)

And why is a woman murdered in the last episode? Isn't that what MALE dominated malestream media does to women?

Anonymous said...

P.S. I jumped over to Professor Tracey's place, and I found it interesting how all the non-white characters were so problematic in L-Word. But the truth of the matter is, the lesbian characters were really bad too.

There wasn't one real lesbian in the bunch, so actually, the entire show was problematic, for reasons I illuminated in my previous post here.

ActsofFaithBlog said...

They lost me after Bette kidnapped the baby. I hated what they were doing to Pam Grier, I hated when they killed off Dana, I hated the Max character and I just got fed up with the lack of true diversity. Ugh. I really wanted to like it though. Plus it was a personal pet peeve of mine but having lived in West Hollywood, the setting was so NOT WeHo it just too distracting. Anyway.....

Sassy J said...

By the way, the interegation tape is horrible. Tina's is up right now, and it has very little to do with Jenny's death. It was a lot disturbing...

Tami said...

So, I've been thinking about this. Last night on the pre-finale retrospective, someone (I think one of the writers)admitted that "The L Word" doesn't accurately represent the lesbian community, but said that "Friends" didn't accurately portray the single, heterosexual community either (ain't that the truth!). Fictional TV is rarely the place to look for accurate representation of anything. BUT, part of me likes to think that when you are creating a show centering on a marginalized people who don't often get screen time (and you are one of those margnalized people yourself) that you have some obligation to present the group at least semi-accurately, as your portrayal will stand as THE portrayal.

This goes beyond "The L Word" and portrayals of lesbians. People of color also go through this all the time. Spike Lee gets much heat for his wack portrayal of black women, and he too pulls the "it's fiction" card.

Do Ilene Chaiken and Spike Lee have legitimate points?

P.S. I say "no."

Tami said...

Sassy J @ Tina's interrogation tape. I'm with you...WTF? First--Why would all that come up in a police interrogation? And why wouldn't the writers have explored that, y'know, in the ACTUAL SHOW?

Mel said...

Do Ilene Chaiken and Spike Lee have legitimate points?

P.S. I say "no."

I also say "no." The fiction card is just a rationalization for laziness or hubris, probably both.

I've gotta say that every time I've seen Ilene Chaiken on camera talking about "The L Word," I have been struck by her overwhelming smugness, often directly in the face of massive criticism.

Her discussion in the pre-finale special of the decision to off Dana is a case in point. Dana was an extremely popular character. The case was against her being killed, the fans were outraged & alienated (how many people stopped watching at that point?), & the near-instantaneous way her breast cancer developed into her death was hugely improbable, esp. given Dana's relative youth & health. A much better & more realistic "issue" story about breast cancer (that wouldn't have alienated fans) could have had her dealing with it over a longer course of time: how many of us know breast cancer survivors? I.C. knows she screwed up, but can't admit it. She seemed to want some sort of "Love Story" deathbed sentimentality, instead of a real story.

And she did that same kind of thing over & over: stories that put some "issue" -- badly handled -- over & above any kind of love & respect for her own characters. The greatest sympathy I felt for all the characters was that they were stuck with such an arbitrary "god" controlling their lines & their lives. I have no idea what the actors playing those characters might have felt about the ridiculous stuff they were asked to do (other than comments they've made about Dana's death), but I could well imagine that a lot of them are glad to be over with this show too.

Anonymous said...

Good point about Spike Lee's characterizations of women and Ilene Chaiken's portrails of lesbians. I get my blood boiling over any female character in a Spike Lee movie -- sexist clueless pig that Lee is.

Chaiken is a traitor to lesbian nation. We are now stuck we these vapid minstel show like lesbians on the L-Word and "Ellen." Kind of like what black people might have felt about Sammy Davis Jr.--lots of tap dancing and malestream "acceptance" of a lesbian like Chaikan, but clueless about the life of real lesbians inside and outside WeHo.

Real lesbians are like Davis Jr. vs. Malcolm X. If you get that analogy,you can see lesbians as just a foil for some stupid sex lesbian trying to make a "hit" --male porno production of lesbian life. Scary, but then I don't go along with sex lesbians or WeHo fakes or Hollywood lesbians making movies and articial babies!

Sick of this garbage Tami, just sick of the clueless lack of real representation! Spike Lee, let's send him to lesbian nation for judegement day!! Black Lesbians will decide what punsishment fits this female degrading clueless idiot! What a pity black women have such sexist pigs making movies. Black women, get rid of Spike and make your own movies!!!


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