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The L Word: Generation Q is best when at its messiest

Illustration for article titled iThe L Word: Generation Q /iis best when at its messiest
Image: The L Word: Generation Q (Showtime)
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As Generation Q settles into its world, it has not only a lot of characters to contend with but a balance of tones. There are attempts to mix the dishy soap of the original series with a more serious, grounded narrative, and that can be a difficult recipe to pull off. “Less Is More” has mixed results in its attempts to blend everything together, and some of the show’s more over-the-top moments end up being more convincing than some of its more serious ones. The show is definitely still finding its voice, but as with the pilot, there are already some compelling stories taking shape.

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There’s heightened drama that delights, like an ex-wife showing up mid-hookup to hammer her wedding ring to the door in a soap opera gesture. But then there’s heightened drama just for the sake of...heightened drama. Sophie freaking out about Dani taking a new job without consulting her reeks of the latter. Sure, it’s generally reasonable for someone to expect their partner about major life changes, but the reason Sophie initially gives for getting upset is that she thought they were supposed to be “slowing down” and “settling” (what?). Later, it’s because Dani made the decision without asking. In short, Sophie as a character is hard-to-pin-down so far. The writers seem unsure of exactly who she is yet but also why she even reacts this way. The settling argument isn’t convincing, and Sophie and Dani always end up being more dynamic and three-dimensional when they’re in scenes with other people. Dani’s hero worship of Bette has stakes to it, especially since Bette isn’t making great decisions in her personal life: It’s clear the door is not closed between her and the former employee she had an affair with.

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So far, the most interesting thing about Sophie is that she’s so close to her family. We’re introduced to her mother, grandmother, and sister, and these scenes make Sophie the most breathable and specific. Queer stories often touch on the idea of chosen families, but not all queer people have strained relationships with given families, and Sophie’s family situation contrasts deeply with Dani’s, who is locked in a battle between wanting to please her father but also wanting to break free from his shadow.

To bring it back to Alice and Nat’s first night together—when Nat’s ex Gigi dramatically hammered the ring to the door—Generation Q ends up going deeper into the dynamics between Nat, Alice, and Gigi when Nat’s son Eli gets sick. Alice rather blatantly doesn’t want to deal with any of it, tapping in Shane for assistance. Shane’s much better with the kid than Alice, and that is a smart way of bringing some of the character’s past into the present: Shane pretty much raised her little brother Shay for a period of time in the original series, and she was great with him then, too. Generation Q is already peeling back the layers of this character, showing some of her softer sides. Meanwhile, it’s peeling back Alice’s layers, too, and what’s underneath is messy—in a good way. Alice wants it both ways: She wants Nat to let her play a bigger role with the kids, but she also has very little interest in parenting. It’s a tense relationship, but some of the best relationship writing on the show is happening in Nat and Alice’s story. It captures some of the struggles when it comes to dating with kids but in unexpected ways. Alice and Nat are subtly very dysfunctional, and it makes for tense but believable scenes.

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Gigi apologizes for her behavior on that night and says that she thought she was losing her family. She cheated on Nat, and their breakup was certainly messy, especially since kids were involved. Generation Q has some fun with the tension between Nat, Gigi, and Alice but still develops Gigi into being something more specific and complex than just “crazy ex-wife.”

Micah continues to have a sweet romantic storyline with the hot new neighbor, but he’s another character who needs more specificity and depth. Still, Leo Sheng brings a lot of heart to the character, and his comedic timing in some of the more awkward moments is excellent. The Sophie and Dani storyline has felt a little stilted and less romantic. It’s admittedly harder to craft romance with characters who are deeper into their relationship versus a new love story, but it feels very overt that Generation Q is setting these two up for a dramatic breakup. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all in for a dramatic lesbian breakup story, but when it’s so easy to see the conflict being crafted, it takes you out of it a bit. Sophie’s grandmother sitting her down and telling her it’s more difficult to stay than it is to leave might as well be Sophie’s grandmother looking directly at the camera and saying a big betrayal is coming.

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On the surface, Finley is still the resident court jester, but “Less Is More” does some subtle but telling character work with her, including establishing that she definitely has a difficult relationship with alcohol and sex. She assumes Shane had to be wasted when she brought two women home, and she admits that she has never had sex without being drunk. Seeing her strike out at the bar with so many women is, in turns, funny and sad. She wants so desperately to be like Shane, but the thing about Shane is that she doesn’t try to be sexy; she just is. It’s an effortless confidence (referred to inexplicably in the original as “nipple confidence”) that Finley clearly doesn’t possess, because there’s some internalized shit going on deep down. It gets hinted at a bit in her conversation with Sophie about her parents kicking her out of the house.

The original L Word was strongly rooted in place. Even though it painted an often too zoomed-in, too fantastical portrait of Los Angeles, the city was definitely a character, and it did get some of the details about Hollywood power dynamics and rich white west coasters right. Generation Q is still interested in making its setting matter, but it opens the world up slightly. With Bette’s campaign, the show looks at some of the real-world politics in LA, including a huge homeless population of LGBTQ youth. The gentrification of a former gay bar also comes up in Shane’s storyline, and it’s actually a true fact that there are no lesbian bars left in Los Angeles.

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There’s also some Hollywood commentary in Alice’s workplace storyline. Her producers want her queerness packaged in a specific, palatable way. To be fair, telling Alice she can’t just interview her friends is a valid critique of Alice’s approach to journalism. But by bringing in straight dude writer Drew to turn Alice’s show into a goofy late-night show that doesn’t actively engage with LGBTQ issues, her execs are sending a clear message that they’re only comfortable with a certain type of queerness.

Generation Q is digging into the messiness of queer life while still maintaining some semblance of fantasy. Shane continues to have near mythical status: When she shows up at the bar, an old fling approaches her, presumably for a hookup. The bartender can’t take her eyes of Shane either, and her girlfriend Tess (Jamie Clayton, who is always fantastic) immediately tells Shane she knows exactly who she is. What they don’t see or know is how Shane is clearly grieving her separation from her wife. She’s more than the myth, and Generation Q is taking its time unspooling the details of her last relationship, just as it is with Bette’s oft-referenced “personal reason” for running for office that still hasn’t come to light. The more the show leans into the messiness of its characters lives, the deeper the drama.

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Stray observations

  • “His name is Drew.” “I hate him already.”
  • Gigi asks Alice if she had any messy breakups, and Alice says “how much time you got?” Never forget in the original when Alice lost her mind after her breakup with Dana and kept a literal cardboard cutout of her in her apartment.
  • It is a little shocking to hear Jenny Schecter’s name uttered in this episode! But I guess Bette finally answers the long-standing mystery of Jenny’s death: It was a suicide.
  • Angie is a very believable teen so far.
  • Not only is Sophie’s closeness with her family sweet but so is their obvious affection for Dani.
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