Reviews

The L Word

David Swerdlick

Although there is probably someone in L.A. just like Mark -- art house aesthetic on the outside masking a Joe Francis attitude on the inside -- he never seems completely believable.


The L Word

Airtime: Sundays, 10pm ET
Cast: Jennifer Beals, Erin Daniels, Pam Grier, Leisha Hailey, Laurel Holloman, Mia Kirshner, Eric Lively, Katherine Moennig, Sarah Shahi, Rachel Shelley
Network: Showtime
Amazon
But here's a jimmy joke about your mama that you might not like: I heard she was the 'Frisco dyke.
-- Snoop Doggy Dogg, "Fuck Wit' Dre Day" (1992)

I respect that she's your woman... I guess I'll dream about the two of you.
-- Slim Daddy (Snoop Dogg), The L Word (2004)

In the early '90s, U.S. popular culture was just starting to figure out gays and lesbians. Shifting away from stereotypical side characters, gay and lesbian sexual orientation was portrayed in complex plots; gay and lesbian characters were more accepted, even fashionable. It is a testament to this evolution that Snoop Dogg not only appeared on The L Word last year, but that it drew hardly any attention. Today, it seems only natural that a celebrity who has built an image as a connoisseur of female sexiness would want to get down with the show.

Lesbian chic is not new on TV. In music videos, women steal glances at each other, touch each other, even pour chocolate syrup on each other. In the wake of Ellen and Buffy's Willow, Hollywood wants to exploit the demand for lesbians. This past season on The O.C., Marissa (Mischa Barton) dated another girl for several episodes. And, parodying the trend, Fat Actress' Quinn (Kelly Preston) strategically kissed Kirstie (Alley) in front of a crowd of paparazzi, hoping to be "caught."

The L Word gained attention for its bold sex scenes, campy attitudes, and unapologetic libidos. Most reviews of the show touch on the fact that the main characters are exceptionally attractive in the conventional, femme, fashion-forward sense. This has led to questions concerning the show's lesbian themes: are they just an excuse for Showtime to display women getting it on in primetime. In response, executive producer Ilene Chaiken told the New York Times, "Some of these scenes may be perceived as calculated. They weren't. I do want to move people on some deep level," but at the same time, "I am making serialized melodrama. I'm not a cultural missionary."

Season Two offered another response, introducing a storyline following Mark (Eric Lively), Jenny (Mia Kirshner) and Shane's (Katherine Moennig) new roommate. A low-rent filmmaker, Mark sets up hidden cameras all over their house in order to get footage of the women's daily lives, including sex. He started out as a weasely pervert and wound up a conflicted outsider. While standing in for The L Word's non-lesbian audience, Mark also represents the people who make the show, everyone from the network executives to the cast and crew; he's a mirror held up to the show and its fans at the same time. The L Word's West Hollywood lesbians aren't totally realistic, and Mark's work-in-progress isn't either. Viewers are invited to despise Mark for pandering to voyeurism, but every week, those viewers are also watching images much like the ones he makes.

Mark thus became a means to showcase and preempt critiques about the show's titillations. He was the occasion for lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek moments, as when Jenny asks Mark why he's fascinated by Shane, and he says, "I'm gonna try to put my finger on it." When he tapes an introduction for his movie ("You're probably wondering if I've hit it yet. Well, the thing is, they're two real lesbians, or else I would've. But don't worry, I'm still gonna try"), he's not just talking to his fictional audience, he's a version of the The L Word's writers talking to their audience.

The season included more serious moments too, when The L Word criticized those who unambiguously exploit the straight male lesbian fantasy. In a meeting with his producer, Mark tries to sell his idea: "What's great about this project is it's not just about sex. These women, they have a way of life, a culture of their own, and it's revelatory, it's... anthropological. If we just do this right, this could so easily be at Sundance." The producer isn't impressed: "Yeah, yeah. Where's the fucking pussy?"

Although there is probably someone in L.A. just like Mark -- art house aesthetic on the outside masking a Joe Francis attitude on the inside -- he never seems completely believable. By the time Jenny confronts him, he's gone through a metamorphosis. No longer interested in making a quick buck off of straight men looking for "reality" lesbian programming, he now wants to uncover the intricacies of lesbian culture. He's more of a construct than a composite, a metaphor who too easily evolves from huckster to introspective guy while watching his own recordings of Shane on his iMac. Think Sex, Lies, and Videotape: Mark turns from Peter Gallagher to James Spader in the span of a few episodes.

AfterEllen.com's Candace Moore has argued that The L Word may have short-changed its fans by replacing Season One's more nuanced straight male character with one who makes the show more blunt and didactic in Season Two. She writes, "Tim (Eric Mabius) was understood as noble, even as he wasn't perfect -- his anger over Jenny's betrayal was certainly reasonable and didn't come from a particularly homophobic or misguided space." Tim may have been more representative of young, urban straight men in 2005. He had a comfortable relationship with the lesbian couple next door. He was curious about, even supportive of, all of the lesbian couplings going on around him. It was only when Jenny's self-exploration invaded what he thought was his own territory that he became self-conscious and somewhat hostile. In all his scenes, Tim conveyed the sense that he wanted to do the right thing, but didn't know exactly what that was.

Does The L Word change anything? Or does it perpetuate the straight male fantasies it purports to parody and complicate? The answer seems to be both. The L Word can create long, sensual sex scenes, and explore lesbian sexuality as an integral part of its plotlines. At the same time, the titillating scenes draw viewers -- gay and straight, male and female.

Lesbians in particular want to see themselves portrayed on screen, follow their favorite characters' stories from week to week, and see women with Hollywood-pretty faces and hot bodies having great sex. In 1994, The L Word's co-executive producer Rose Troche and executive script consultant Guinevere Turner made the independent film Go Fish. It was part romantic comedy, part lesbian media manifesto, and turned out to be a precursor to this series. Their vision was unequivocally articulated in the film by Kia (T. Wendy McMillan): "What would you rather our collective lesbian image be? Hot, passionate, say-yes-to-sex dykes or touchy-feely, soft-focus sisters of the woodlands? I mean, I think it's important that we acknowledge women that are comfortable with their sexual selves, especially lesbians."

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web
Film

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Noel Fielding (Daniel) and Mercedes Grower (Layla) (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back in time to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

People aren't cheering Supergirl on here. They're not thanking her for her heroism, or even stopping to take a selfie.

It's rare for any hero who isn't Superman to gain the kind of credibility that grants them the implicitly, unflinching trust of the public. In fact, even Superman struggles to maintain that credibility and he's Superman. If the ultimate paragon of heroes struggles with maintaining the trust of the public, then what hope does any hero have?

Keep reading... Show less

The Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop artist MAJO wraps brand new holiday music for us to enjoy in a bow.

It's that time of year yet again, and with Christmastime comes Christmas tunes. Amongst the countless new covers of holiday classics that will be flooding streaming apps throughout the season from some of our favorite artists, it's always especially heartening to see some original writing flowing in. Such is the gift that Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop songwriter MAJO is bringing us this year.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image