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.

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