`L Word': Where the boys aren't

It's lesbian land on Showtime series


January 17, 2004|By Carina Chocano | Carina Chocano,LOS ANGELES TIMES

HOLLYWOOD - Any doubt that The L Word, Showtime's new series about the lives and loves of a group of young lesbians in Los Angeles, hopes to fill the void left when HBO's Sex and the City goes off the air in February should be dispelled by the show's tagline: "Same Sex. Different City."

Splashed across a glamour shot of eight beautiful women (and one beautiful man), the promotional copy invokes the spirit of its predecessor so plainly, it can take a moment to catch on to the double meaning. The sex is not the same at all; the sexes are. And just for good measure, the "L" of the title equivocates too.

The line is a transparent, almost predatory come-on to a demographic that knows it's on the verge of getting dumped. Clearly, The L Word, which premieres tomorrow, has no compunction about hitting on Carrie Bradshaw's many vulnerable, soon-to-be brokenhearted TV-land exes. But it's hard not to admire the bravado.

Sex and the City has inspired plenty of pale, anodyne imitations. The L Word at least comes close to it in spirit, cheerfully presenting urban promiscuity as a generally well-intended process of trial and error, punctuated by choreographed sex scenes, spirited post-game analysis and an overall view of the city as a bright, gorgeous grown-up romper room.

Putting the moves on anyone, no matter how wide-open they are, is always a risk, and the question of whether Sex and the City fans will be receptive to The L Word's wooing is anybody's guess. Still, for all of its flaws (most of them, incidentally, stemming from Carrie's lamentable pun habit), Sex and the City proved that the audience for an unsentimental look at the mating habits of single women in the city extended well beyond their real-life counterparts. Fans were willing to take barriers to identification and departures from reality in stride in return for the kind of relationship dissection that Carrie and friends indulged in on a weekly basis.

No lesbian stereotypes

The general absence of male-female trouble in The L Word could prove a slightly harder obstacle than Carrie's fairyland shoe budget for the average Payless shopper to surmount. Indeed, the little bit of it that there is still has a lesbian theme - the female half of a couple worries about her sexual orientation. The show is clearly courting an audience well beyond its built-in niche. The straight world parallels are as highlighted and prevalent here as lesbian stereotypes are absent.

The L Word takes the Sex and the City concept to its furthest, if ultimately logical, extreme: doubling the players, ratcheting up the raunch factor and relegating men - particularly the straight ones - to the role of Charlotte. With toxic bachelors safely out of the way, the show is able to turn its attention almost exclusively to the problems inherent to dating women and finds that, hey, girls are impossible, too!

The story centers on two couples living in West Hollywood. Bette (Jennifer Beals) and Tina (Laurel Holloman) have been together for seven years and have decided to start a family together. Tina and Bette's next-door neighbor is Tim (Eric Mabius), a women's swim coach who is awaiting the arrival of his girlfriend, Jenny (Mia Kirshner), from the Midwest.

While Tim devotes much of his time and energy to feathering the nest, Bette, the aloof, short-tempered, workaholic director of a small museum, is prone to patting her lover condescendingly on the knee and fending off requests to make it home in time for dinner. Tina, a warm, friendly woman, has quit her job to "prepare her body for pregnancy."

A boy-free universe

Despite glaring assaults on plausibility (West Hollywood, as it is depicted here, is a nearly boy-free universe seemingly populated exclusively by refugees from a Calvin Klein ad), the show strikes universal chords. Pam Grier plays Bette's half-sister, Kit, a wobbly, recovering-alcoholic musician. Kit is estranged from Bette's conservative black father (Ossie Davis), who also refuses to acknowledge Bette's relationship with Tina.

Tina and Bette's friends include Alice (Leisha Hailey), an unlucky-in-love bisexual magazine writer; Marina (Karina Lombard), the sultry and mysterious owner of what appears to be the only cafe in town; and Shane (Katherine Moennig), a shaggy-haired female Lothario.

By now, television viewers know that the "L" word is race-, gender-, coast- and premium-pay-channel-blind. And with the women of HBO halfway out the door, Showtime is betting on the notion that, by now, we're willing to swing both ways.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

On the air

What: The L Word

When: Tomorrow, 10 p.m.-11:30 p.m.

Where: Showtime

In brief: A single-sex successor to Sex and the City

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