The L Word

The sixth and final season of The L Word is upon us. It is unclear whether the provocative lesbian soap opera will “go down in history,” as Showtime’s oh-so-clever promotional materials suggest. But one thing is certain: everyone hates Jenny Schecter (Mia Kirshner). Everyone!

Back in December, Showtime announced that the controversial Sapphic screenwriter would meet her end in the season premiere. À la Sunset Boulevard‘s Joe Gillis, her corpse turns up in a Los Angeles swimming pool (given her previous “poetic” ramblings, we can be thankful she doesn’t narrate from the great beyond). After Jenny’s death is revealed, the story flashes back a few months, and by the fourth episode, a handful of major characters have conspicuously cursed her name: “Jenny, I’m going to fucking kill you!” becomes a popular refrain. As a result, the first half of the season plays like an extended episode of Murder She Wrote, just with more, um, oral. And yes, in terms of the sex, The L Wordis as hot as ever.

Over the past two seasons in particular, Jenny’s drama-queen antics have been more irksome than compelling, and audience members have maligned the character in myriad online forums. These fans will likely greet her murder as a blackly comedic gift from the show’s creators. Showtime’s website is definitely treating the plotline in a cheeky fashion: In the “Who Killed Jenny?” poll, viewers can cast their vote for the killer among a pool of likely suspects. The light handling of her death is surprising. Despite her most-hated-character status, Jenny carried some of the series’ heaviest issues: she struggled with her orientation, reeled from memories of childhood sexual abuse, and recovered from a bout with self-cutting.

More interestingly, Showtime president Robert Greenblatt has been talking up a possible spin-off called The Farm, set in prison and featuring Alice (Leisha Hailey) as an inmate. At the start of this season in The L Word, she’s already suggesting a metanarrative may be at work. She’s penning a murder mystery treatment that resembles the unfolding action: whether she’s the killer or will be wrongly accused is unclear just yet.

Other sly, self-reflexive winks abound: gone-missing characters and popular guest stars from past seasons are brought back to the fold (including the hilarious Jane Lynch as high-powered lawyer Joyce Wischnia), and fans are rewarded for their behind-the-scenes knowledge about the cast. For instance, we learn that hairdresser Shane (Katherine Moennig) will be styling the strands of Ugly Betty star Eric Mabius — the actor who played Jenny’s love interest Tim in the show’s first two seasons. And in a playful parody of those corny Yoplait commercials featuring Hailey, Shane and Alice discuss “better-than-I-expected good” sex over bowls of yogurt.

The show is at its best in these loose, silly moments, as when Alice begins a text-message chain after she discovers the shocking identity of Shane’s latest hookup. Or when film executive Tina (Laurel Holloman) explains to a spacey Jenny why it’s catastrophic that the negative of her film, Lez Girls, has been stolen:

Tina: The negative is the original image. Without that, you can’t make prints. Without prints, you can’t screen it in a movie theater… No one is going to see our movie.

Jenny: [Pause.] Are you saying that nobody’s going to see our movie?

Tina: [Eyes rolling.]

Per the show’s MO, the new season also tackles serious issues, like hate crimes against gay people (as discussed by Alice on her talk show, The Look) and the difficult road to adoption for reunited couple Bette (Jennifer Beals) and Tina. This year’s hot-button topic concerns Max (Daniela Sea), the female-to-male transgender character, apparently inspired by last year’s news/tabloid reports of Thomas Beattie’s pregnancies. (Unfortunately, the first four episodes give Max’s heartrending struggle short shrift.) Over the years, Sea has been criticized for her amateurish performance as Max, but the sense that she is out of her depth as an actress actually enriches her portrayal of this complicated character. Before his transition, Max felt adrift and alienated in his own skin, and Sea’s awkward, tentative turn highlighted his bewilderment, not only with his body, but also with L.A.’s moneyed and glamorous lesbian scene.

Although The L Word’s writing over the years has been uneven at best, outlandish at worst, the series should be commended for raising tricky questions about race, gender, and orientation — and for employing female directors (like Rose Troche and Angela Robinson), still a rarity in Hollywood. And though it largely wasted Pam Grier as Kit, The L Word provided a stable of mature actresses with the juiciest parts of their careers. Jennifer Beals’ committed performance as queen bee Bette is regularly overlooked by critics and awards panels, and the sparkling Hailey has the best comedic timing of any actress on television. Jenny Schecter may (or may not) be dead. Who cares? Viva Alice Pieszecki, shackles or no!

RATING 6 / 10