How Well Does The BBC Do Lesbians?


So there are lesbians in Britain – at least three of them! –- and they’re all hot, white, currently single and brought to you to by the venerable matriarch of British TV, the BBC.

Lesbians are new territory for the BBC, Britain’s state TV service, better known for its news bulletins and gentle talent-based reality shows than its portrayals of gay love.

While several lesbians have turned up in BBC broadcasts over the years, it has always been sort of accidentally or in crime reports, and the broadcaster recently took some flak from gay charity Stonewall for only representing “sexual diversity” for a measly 0.6% of their screen time, and often portraying gay lifestyles in a negative light when they did. The UK’s edgier Channel 4 has a much better record on screening lesbians, bringing us vodka-soaked but adorable teen couple Emily and Naomi on Skins and some sticky fingered delinquents in Sugar Rush.

Anyway, finally, the BBC has got its act together and pumped out a six part drama series called Lip Service, which is all about lesbians and set in the gritty Scottish city of Glasgow. The British L-Word yo.

Rain, tight vowels, awkwardness – it ticks all the British boxes – but oh, it just doesn’t hit the giddy heights that The L-Word took us to. It pains me to say this, because if there is one thing a young British lesbian yearns for (after say a MacBook Pro and a penthouse suite in Shoreditch) it is the positive representation of young British lesbians on TV.

You just want to be able to point out a character to your mother and say “Look, mum, it’s a lesbian, she’s wearing nice clothes and she’s not going to commit suicide, or murder, or live out her life in tragic loneliness as a result of mental illness resulting from disappointment! Look, she’s happy!”

Well, I don’t think that moment has yet arrived. It’s good, but it’s not quite a Queer As Folk, or an L-Word. We’ve only seen one episode of Lip Service so far, so it may improve. But in the meantime, here are ten reasons it just isn’t quite up to Ilene Chaiken’s L-Word.

1. Lip Service isn’t issues-centric. No, it’s fucking-centric. Where the L-Word recklessly took on race, gays in the army and parenting, Lip Service is all about sex and the things that happen before and after.

2. There’s sex in a morgue. That didn’t happen in the L-Word and that was a good thing.

3. Lip Service‘s version of L-Word‘s Shane character is blonde and called Frankie (played by Ruta Gedmintas). Yes, she’s hot, sure, but somehow she’s got all the swagger and emotional inarticulacy without the charm. Either the acting is off or they just didn’t teach her how to be a lesbian very well.

4. They could have done with a few sex tutorials too, I know Frankie has intimacy issues but, my goodness, she would have hurt that poor girl’s soft bits in the final scene.

(See at the 5:20 mark.)

5. The dialogue is a little stilted — sure, Brits are supposed to be awkward and everything, but we can talk in full sentences and don’t always run out of the room in moods when people threaten to mention our feelings.

6. Frankie has a tattoo that is the Japanese symbol for lust. No.

7. I never thought I’d be saying the L-Word was realistic, but in Lip Service there really doesn’t seem to be a straight woman in all of Glasgow. And after a mere flash of the tattoo and a moody stare, the countless lesbians are all shooting yearning glances at one or other of the main characters.

8. Okay, fine, this is actually a positive: the writer Harriet Braun explains why her ex dumping her inspired her to write the series in a blog on the BBC website. I find tales like this inspiring.

9. Er…

10. Hell, who am I kidding? I loved it.

Anyway, as the saying in London goes, we’re kind of dez for this to turn out to be good, so we just hope there’ll be some better dialogue down the road and less of the moody I’m-so-complicated-I-can’t-talk bits. And just the same amount of sex would be fine.

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