The L word, that sexy, soapy hetero-boy fantasy of queerness, is back.
And after a shaky and sometimes creepy sophomore season (voyeurcam boy, Jenny's short stories), things get back on track by putting the tits back in titillation. No perfectly placed planters and deep shadows to lower the nipple quotient here.
Launched two years ago back when swishcom Will & Grace was making TV safe for flamboyant femboys and the hypersexual homos of Queer As Folk had lips flapping and sphincters puckering with their aggressively graphic depiction of gay life this Sapphic Sex And The City was considered groundbreaking. It was applauded by straight mainstream media for its progressive portrayal of lesbianism, even though its L.A. lipstick lesbos' lives resemble a Playboy video shoot most of the time.
Meanwhile, ultra-conservatives claimed it sent the wrong message that being gay is cool and sexy. Of course, anyone who tunes into The L Word or watched Madonna's MTV-motivated spit-swap with Britney Spears or read about Angelina's pre-Pitt stop with Calvin Klein model Jenny Shimizu will tell you that's exactly what being a lesbian is both very cool and very, very sexy.
The ladies of The L Word may be too impossibly hot to be real, but that doesn't mean all real dykes are dowdy. They don't all have brush cuts or mullets, wear denim shirts and bolo ties and Birkenstocks with wool socks, drink beer from the bottle and bitch about men while they fold their flannel and pack their U-Hauls.
It's been almost 30 years since Billy Crystal pried open the closet door as prime time's first openly gay character on Soap. And he set an unfortunate precedent for TV queers to come, that of the campy second banana, a sitcom tradition, gay or straight. On Will & Grace, for example, the more outrageously, musically gay Jack became, the straighter uptight Will was allowed to be.
Surprisingly, teen soap Dawson's Creek provided one of TV's most thoughtful portrayals of male homosexuality, when jock fratboy Jack traded tomboy Joey for the real thing and eventually found true love with the local deputy.
However, the road to acceptance has been even rougher for lesbians. Sure, there have been prime-time crypto-dykes for decades, from sex-hungry yenta Rhoda Morgenstern to sword-swinger Xena, warrior princess. But the first lesbian lip-lock wasn't laid until a 1991 ep of L.A. Law involving Amanda Donohoe, who, in a bit of network backpedalling, played a bisexual. Ratings drove Roseanne Barr and Mariel Hemingway to share an overhyped and ultimately meaningless smooch on Roseanne, and Sandra Bernhard was hired on to play Roseanne's dyke pal Nancy.
Ellen DeGeneres had her coming-out party in 1997 and now brings her daffy, dancing asexual self to daytime TV. Rosie O'Donnell recently returned to daytime with a purposefully provocative (i.e. ugly) dyke 'do that distracted from her comments on gay marriage.
There are other examples of "hot" lesbotainment: Buffy The Vampire Slayer's witchy Willow and Tara, ER's Dr. Kerry Weaver (what ever happened to plot lines showing Weaver as something besides the bitchy boss?), Samantha's fling with a sultry dyke on Sex And The City. Even Friends squeezed some sex appeal out of Ross's lesbian ex and her lover.
But just because these characters are on TV doesn't mean the shows depict gay life. For the most part, lesbians are still marginalized characters whose sexuality defines who they are rather than informing it, and who exist without any connection to a larger lesbian community.
At least it's entertaining, if not really enlightening, to watch them take their tops off as hetero-boy fantasies. Unfortunately, The L Word fails to live up its slogan, "Come for the sex, stay for the characters," a promise on which most TV has yet to deliver.
The L Word airs Thursdays at 10 pm on Showcase.
What to watch this week
Monday, October 2
Corner Gas Get slapped snotless by Brent Butt and the Dog River gang, now yucking it up in its fourth season. 8:30 pm on CTV
Tuesday, October 3
Friday Night Lights Kitschy sports drama based on the hit movie stars Kyle Chandler (the cute bomb expert who blew up on GreyÕs Anatomy last season) and KelownaÕs Taylor Kitsch. 8 pm on NBC and Global
Wednesday, October 4
Toronto Maple Leafs The Tie Domi-less Leafs open the regular season at home against the Ottawa Senators. 7:30 pm on TSN