Saturday, January 5, 2008

Girl in Tight Dresses, Plots Drag Like...

Pictured: A Betty who doesn't suck

I admit it: I'm a blog virgin. There are a handful of blogs I might visit in moments of boredom, usually to skim the latest headlines, but I don't participate in comments sections or subscribe to any feeds. I've never tried my hand at writing an entry, and there's an 80-20 chance I'll lose interest in this and shut it down before the month is through. But something is happening tomorrow night that I might need to blog about. If you're an ill-tempered, masochistic Showtime-subscriber queer like me, you already know what it is. It's the return of The L Word, a show so horribly written that it's almost enough to make you approach the huddled nebbishes on a WGA picket line and say, "That's right, you strike! You strike and you stay struck until you apologize for that fucking tractor!"

Oh, but that wouldn't be enough. You would have so much more to say, maybe starting with "What, do you think Mia Kirshner doesn't have anything better to do with her time? Fine, she was in Not Another Teen Movie, but she got her break in an Atom Egoyan film, for crying out loud. What horrible crime against humanity did she commit in a past life that she wins a leading role on what should have been a groundbreaking TV show, only to have its writers systematically destroy her character, turning her into one of the most loathed fictional creations in the history of premium cable, a medium that gave us Dream On and The Mind of the Married Man? Why is she reciting Hebrew prayers in unspeakably asinine faux-arty carnival scenes while sporting Azrael Abyss-inspired eye makeup and adopting dying dogs in order to prey on innocent veterinarians while Sarah Polley writes and directs Away from Her?"

The list of grievances one could lodge against the writers of The L Word is quite possibly endless. There's the humor that's not funny; a deep resistance to acknowledging valid criticism of the show that routinely manifests itself in unresolved plot lines and Betty appearances that suggest the show runner is hostile to her own audience; and a glaring inability to write characters out of the show in a way that's respectful to viewers, the characters, or the actors who play them. There are wasted casting opportunities, like hiring Elodie Bouchez, who won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for the brilliant The Dreamlife of Angels, so she can – do what, exactly? Show up in the background of a few scenes with Jenny and then kiss Karina Lombard, a former series regular who was unceremoniously dumped at the end of the first season and brought back for two or three minutes several years later, presumably for little more than the private amusement of the people who canned her?

And then there is Papi. I still can’t figure out why she was created. The only way Papi could possibly work as a character is if Janina Gavankar were replaced by Rachel Dratch, who would basically serve the same function she did on 30 Rock, but while dressed in a variety of ugly sleeveless shirts and increasingly bizarre-looking hats. For example, if Alice and Shane ducked into The Planet’s bathroom to have an intensely personal conversation (which happens on The L Word with alarming frequency), Papi would emerge from a stall, wearing a tam-o'-shanter and holding a plunger. Dana Fairbanks would make it to the finals of a tennis tournament and there would be Papi, the overeager ball girl with an obvious crush, bedecked in a brightly colored knit rasta hat. (Oh, wait. Dana’s dead. See: a glaring inability to write characters out of the show…)

Looking back on it, as one often does when she realizes she has spent four years watching a show she sort of hates, we knew what we were getting from the very first episode. That’s when the supposedly intelligent Bette and Tina, the token long-term couple in a group of otherwise single friends, conspired to conceive a child by luring a horny straight guy into a threesome.

First of all, Ilene Chaiken totally stole that plot from an episode of I Love Lucy. But even more disconcerting than her flagrant pillaging of one of television’s most beloved comedies was that these two characters, who were longstanding, politically active, ostensibly socially aware members of the gay community, were going to have unprotected sex with a complete stranger because they had been suddenly seized by baby fever. Why would they do that? Because it's not TV, it's HBO?

Maybe that's the problem. It's not HBO, it's Showtime, and Showtime is bad. It’s so bad that it ought to be called NBC. When a network isn't even partly redeemed by violence, nudity, graphic lesbian sex or the prettiness of Jonathan Rhys Meyers, it has more problems than Tom Cruise's publicist. And don't give me Weeds as an example of a Showtime show that works, because Mary-Louise Parker is practically superhuman. She could make anything work. Which begs the question, why isn't Mary-Louise Parker writing The L Word? Fine, she’s straight, but she was in Fried Green Tomatoes. She knows from lesbianism.

"Yeah," you're saying to yourselves right now. "And the idiot who wrote this knows from stupidity." You're right. I won't argue. I know that I'm stupid. I'm so stupid that I embrace my stupidity. I am volunteering, even, to broadcast it to all three of you who will read this. I know that if I hate The L Word so much, the obvious solution is to stop watching it. But where do I get my lesbian fix on TV now that Kynt & Vyxsin have been eliminated from The Amazing Race?

Nip/Tuck is out of the question, and even I can't make it through an episode of South of Nowhere. (My standards may be thinner than Donald Trump's hair, but they do still exist.) The L Word is my only option, and surveying a big four network landscape that is virtually lesbian-free, I should probably be thankful for it. So what if at its worst, it is one of the most embarrassingly badly written hour-long dramas in the history of television? At its best, it gives us - or gave us, prior to another of those signature sloppy character exits - innumerable scenes of the ludicrously hot Sarah Shahi awkwardly pretending to deejay and do other things I won't mention because my family will probably find this and pass judgment. It's hard to argue with that, though I expect to have a complaint or two come Sunday night.

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