Can The L Word: Generation Q Correct the Mistakes of The L Word?

Executive producer Marja-Lewis Ryan on the show's second season and diversity within the cast and writers room

Can The L Word: Generation Q Correct the Mistakes of The L Word?
Image:David Livingston (Getty Images)

The L Word: Generation Q—the updated sequel to the original lesbian prestige soapreturned for its second season on Sunday night and boy, did it come in with a bang. After months spent wondering whether or not Sophie would get on a plane with her fiancé Dani or her friend and one-time fling Finley in a season-one cliffhanger, viewers finally know if Sophie made the right decision. Sort of! While the ramifications of Sophie’s infidelity take center stage during the season premiere, subsequent episodes reveal that this second season of the L Word reboot will finally deliver on its promise of focusing on the younger generation. Hardcore fans will be happy to see that beloved original characters Alice, Bette, and Shane are still involved in the series and remain central to the story, but newcomers Micah, Sophie, Dani, and Finley are getting more of the spotlight.

The legacy of the original L Word is a complex one, as is all television created from a singular lens. The original series was groundbreaking in its depiction of lesbians and created the ultimate fantasy of a united queer community where everyone was sexy, single, and writing the next Hollywood hit. But the cost of that fantasy was misrepresenting or altogether excluding other kinds of queer people, namely trans people and queer folks of color, even despite the presence of Jennifer Beales, Pam Grier, and Janina Gavankar, among others. Generation Q is a revisiting of that world from an updated perspective.

Executive producer and showrunner Marja-Lewis Ryan told Jezebel she sees this series as something of a course correction from the original. “Taking over the show was such a huge undertaking and there were so many people left out or mistreated in the original,” she said. “The idea that I got to rectify those missteps is the best part—to actually get to put people on television who haven’t gotten to see themselves and who are huge members of my community has been awesome.”

The second season of Generation Q is demonstrably different from the first, not just in that it spends more time with the younger characters, but in its exploration of its characters of color, something that was severely lacking in the first season and in the original series. Gigi (played by Sepideh Moafi), a new character tied into the Alice Piazecki (Leisha Hailey) universe, was introduced in season one as a Farsi-speaking Iranian woman who, like some of the other characters of color, was one-dimensional. She was there but only just, and only in concert with white characters like Alice and Nat (Stephanie Allynne). In this new season, Gigi is given more life and an actual background other than just being Nat’s ex-wife. However, much like Sophie (Rosanny Zayas), her existence as a brown woman is still intrinsically linked to the white and white-passing characters with whom she shares the screen.

What is most clear, however, is that attractive white characters like Shane (Kate Moenning), Finley (Jacqueline Toboni), and Alice are still the vehicles that move the show forward, at least in the first part of the second season. Finley’s appearance in the premiere was essentially a white person coming in to spice up a scene that centered on characters of color. Granted, Finley’s action made complete sense for that character, but I only know that because Finley was the breakout star of the first season, and her character ties together the lives of all the Others.

As much as Generation Q is doubling down on its investment into its characters of color, it’s also adding new white characters to interact with their old white characters—or as Ryan explained it, “expanding the show generationally.” One such addition is that of Rosie O’Donnell in the role of Carrie, Tina’s fiancé. “What [Rosie] represents,” said Ryan, “and who she is, is so important in the makeup of the queer community.”

The L Word has always viewed queerness through a white cis lens—molding their characters of color, including Jennifer Beales’s Bette, to be palatable and attractive by classic European beauty standards and tying them constantly to white characters and white communities. Generation Q fell into a similar pattern in its first season despite having a cast that was not only racially diverse but included trans actors in lead roles, something the original series couldn’t quite get right.

Ryan didn’t agree with my assessment that the first season of Generation Q allowed its white characters to be the main attraction. I asked her if the second season would be different, giving more room for characters of color to stand on their own. “Well I take issue with the question,” Ryan said, before pointing out what a big deal it is to have so many actors of color together on this project. Ryan then brought up one of show’s characters, Sophie, played by Rosanny Zayas. “Sophie is me,” Ryan said. “When I cast Rosanny I was so excited to find a fellow Brooklynite who could really bring something to the screen that I’ve never seen before on the show.”

While the show does in fact put more different kinds of people on screen, it provokes questions about how its characters are developed, and whether a show meant to be an exploration of intersectionality can be effective with a white woman at the helm. “The best part about television is that it’s not me alone telling these stories,” Ryan said. “I get to hire a room full of writers that represent the actors that are on screen.” It’s true that there are some impressive names in the Generation Q writers room, including Nancy C. Mejia (Vida), Regina Y. Hicks (Insecure), Maisha Classon (Claws), and a host of other talents. Ryan, who developed the show, is also credited as a writer on every episode.

Despite my misgivings of who gets to be properly and thoroughly represented on the show, the latest season of The L Word: Generation Q is a promising piece of entertainment, although fans will have to be patient, as the first three episodes are a slow burn. Whether or not it will be the problematic yet incredibly important cultural touchstone that its predecessor was remains to be seen. But certainly, the show cannot achieve those heights until characters of color other than Bette Porter are given the full scope of the human experience in this fantastical version of Los Angeles. Until that happens, at least we can all mutually enjoy Alice Piazecki’s pattern-on-pattern looks.

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