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January 4, 2008

The L word is laughter


The humor is back from last season, and so is the drama

With the start of a new year, minds turn to thoughts of new starts. It is a time filled with resolutions, whether to diet, quit smoking, stop being a doormat or just appreciate oneself more.

With all of the newness that January brings, there is, of course, a new season of The L Word.

New season. New drama. New nookie. New, new, new.

Which also means, gone are some of the old. Papi, who was the focus of much of the fourth season, is gone. Not just gone from the story but gone, as in nobody so much as mentions her name. One wonders whether Janina Gavankar, the actress who brought Papi to life, did something cruel to the producers . . . like boiling their bunnies or slapping their girlfriends.

The core women are back. The incomparable--and often incomprehensible and completely reprehensible--Jenny Schecter, last seen floating out to sea, is back. Unfortunately.

Those who thought she was insufferable either as the tortured artist or as the smug-if-crazy successful author are going to bay for her blood in her new persona as completely, 100% self-involved celebutante who has taken complete control of the Lez Girls movie.

With her return, however, audiences are treated to Adele, her second assistant of the season. While her first assistant couldn’t take the constant demands and harangues, Adele seems, by the end of Episode 4, to have figured out the instruction manual and may just know how to run a 2008 Schectermobile.

Bette’s relationship with Jodi Lerner is proceeding apace, with all the emotional clashes that made them such an interesting couple last season intact. One almost feels sorry for Bette’s ex-girlfriend Tina, who just doesn’t seem to be able to get a new woman.

Bette, after all, set the bar pretty high, Tina says.

When all is said and done, though, Bette might not be as over Tina as she appears.

Shane, the ever-rapacious androgyne of the group, is still with Paige as the season begins, and they are getting ready to move into an apartment together. Those who saw how Shane’s last committed relationship ended can pretty much guess that’s not going to work, but perhaps even Shane has met her match. In fact, if it’s possible, Shane actually overdoses on nookie and decides to go cold turkey, with often madcap results.

Bette’s boss, Phyllis, who came out of the closet last year in her first season, is also still with her girlfriend Joyce. Whenever either is on the screen, especially if they’re together, the comedy backgrounds of Cybill Shepherd and Jane Lynch, the actors portraying Phyllis and Joyce, come to the fore.

Of course, any time Jane Lynch is on the screen, it suddenly feels like a Christopher Guest movie. She was so funny in films like Best in Show and A Mighty Wind, it naturally carries over into her role in The L Word.

Kit and the Planet, her coffeeshop/bar/hangout, are doing well. She is recovering nicely after booting her philandering ex-boyfriend out of her life. That is, until her annual drama. That poor girl never seems to make it through a season without something terrible happening.

Helena Peabody, the spoiled rich girl who got cut off by her mommy and then fell in with a high-stakes gambler who lost her stake at the race track, starts Episode 1 off by walking to her cell in prison. Well, one would think it was a county jail, since she is awaiting trial for beating up Catherine, the gambler, and taking a large sum of money, since she never got her cut of all the pots she helped her win.

Apparently the creators have run out of ideas and decided to go back to the classic pussy-in-prison motif. Surprisingly, it works. Even more surprisingly, they have real-looking women in the jail. The majority are black and Latina, there are a lot who are not svelte and perky, and some are downright ugly, which has to be some kind of first for The L Word. Unfortunately, this first comes in a shower scene, but the hysterical blindness will pass eventually. At least, that’s what the doctors say.

The most interesting couple, Alice and Tasha, are still together. Alice is now a news junkie, constantly worried about her military girlfriend who is supposed to be shipped off to Iraq. But the “insurgents” over there might not have a crack at her, since she may get discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

It doesn’t help that Tasha’s lawyer, who is supposed to be representing her, seems opposed to gays in the military himself.

Rounding out the dramatis personae, Max has decided that he wants to do a podcast for Alice’s OurChart website, talking about his issues as a transman. Alice is not so sure, repeating her mantra that it’s a site for lesbians.

The whole thing sounds like the show is biting the hand that it feeds. It’s obviously a reference to the blowup over transgender inclusion in ENDA that made the Human Rights Campaign look so bad last fall--and HRC is hosting The L Word premičre parties around the country.

Actually, it will be more interesting to see how they finally resolve the issue of trans inclusion on the show. They might do a quick-fix sort of thing, with a quick, “Oh, now I understand!” flash of comprehension that would be completely untrue to life but typical of television.

Oh, and Max has attracted the eye of Tom, Jody’s sign language interpreter, who desperately wants a boyfriend and thinks Max is the bee’s knees. It’s like they always say, all the cute boys are transmen.

The humor that was so evident in Season 4 is almost certainly back this season, but the writers are doing a decent job of keeping the drama going as well. The show seems always to be on the verge of jumping the shark, only to keep inching back from that precipice. Nip/Tuck on FX, the show that brought in Portia DiRossi to spice things up and give the show a Sapphic cache, jumped the shark so long ago that each episode gets more and more ludicrous in trying to outdo the previous week.

The L Word, however, keeps much of its drama manageable, using the more outrageous moments as a natural exit for outgoing characters.

Anyway, the show returns for Round 5 on Sunday, January 6 at 9 pm on Showtime, which is available as a pay channel on all cable and satellite systems.



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