Sunday, September 16, 2012

With Enhanced Realism, The L Word Season Three Moves The Series In A Positive Direction!

The Good: Increased realism, Acting, Characters, Bonus features
The Bad: Could use commentary tracks . . . One or two character decisions that seem oddly dropped
The Basics: The L Word Season Three has the show in full stride, with more realism and (generally) fewer soap operatic moments than the prior seasons!

The third season of a show can be the time it really hits its creative stride. Such is certainly the case with The L Word. The L Word is a show I am just now discovering on DVD and I have found it worthwhile in its first (reviewed here!) and second seasons (reviewed here!). But, Los Angeles lesbian culture has an elitism that has made parts of the show fairly inaccessible . . . until the third season. In the third season of The L Word, we finally see someone hassled for being gay and while I have openly been glad that The L Word doesn’t have its characters as victims of hate crimes (I’m pretty much through with depressing stories of gay/lesbian/bixsexual/transgender abuse in this life, much the way I am done with Holocaust films), but that Shane picking a fight in the wrong neighborhood was pretty much the peak of antigay behavior on the show until now rang a bit false.

In the third season of The L Word, there is far more than a minor altercation to enhance the realism of the series. In addition to adding more gender confusion with the introduction of Moira/Max (a pre-op transgender individual), elements like being lower class and sexual identification issues (in the form of Tina falling off the hole and onto the pole - sorry, could not resist the rhyme!) make the characters of The L Word less like archetypes and more like individuals in this season.

Set six months after the second season finale, The L Word Season Three finds Bette and Tina once again struggling with sexual dysfunction. They are also beginning to have money issues (though how that is given Bette’s contract was bought out, she was not outright fired, is entirely unclear), but are working to get Bette declared the adoptive mother of Angelica (the baby Tina gave birth to at the climax of the prior season). The line that implied the potential break-up between Dana and Alice is borne out as the season opens with Alice as a crazed stalker, self-medicating and obsessed with Dana. Dana is back with Lara and her tennis career is really rising fast. Kit is finding keeping The Planet profitable is harder than she would like, so she hires a new manager, who starts bringing big events to the small venue. Helena buys a movie studio, which puts her in an interesting position relative to Tina and Shane and Carmen’s relationship is actually pretty solid after six months.

Jenny Schecter returns to Los Angeles after six months of mental health treatment with Moira, a woman who is very masculine in her demeanor who wants to become a man. As Max, Moira falls in with Billie (The Planet’s new manager), who hooks her up with testosterone treatments. When Jenny is liberated from her day to day toiling by a publication offer from Simon & Schuester, she becomes more assertive and defiant.

One of the real treats of the third season of The L Word is that Jenny Schecter, who dominated the first season and had a significant role in the second season, is a virtual nonentity in the third season of the show. The producers awkwardly squeeze her into situations (her toast to Shane in the final episode, for example, seems like a real stretch for the character), but she takes a back seat in the storylines to Max more often than not.

The third season of The L Word further complicates the characters and explores the complexities of family and sexuality. Basic liberties being denied to people are made explicit in the third season and it takes a real bigot to watch Alice being kept out of Dana’s hospital room and not feel like something is wrong with the situation! The L Word is fearless in its third season and explores a full range of experiences and emotions that are universally relatable, even as it showcases lifestyles (like Max’s struggle with gender identification) that many people might not have direct experience with.

Much more than the plots, The L Word is about characters. In the third season, the principle characters are:

Tina – Against her better judgment, she takes a job with Helena at Helena’s new movie studio. She resents Bette taking up the cause of arts instead of staying home with Angelica. Sexually bored and frustrated, she goes online and chats with a man who wants her sexually. She decides to explore her renewed interest in men, much to Bette’s dismay,

Dana – who moved on from Alice to return to Lara, finds herself in an awkward social situation as a result. When she and Lara are making love, Lara finds a lump in one of her breasts. When she is diagnosed with cancer, the change throws her and strains her relationship with Lara. She wins a major tournament,

Shane – Now in a full relationship with Carmen, she agrees to wear a dress and play straight for a quincinera. But, when Sherry pops back up in her life, she is punished by Carmen for not being monogamous. In the resulting fall-out, she proposes to Carmen and that choice leads her to hunt down her father. She delights in having family experiences with Carmen,

Alice – Self-medicating over her loss of Dana, she gravitates toward Helena. While speed dating, she meets a lesbian vampire literature teacher. After getting over Dana, she starts dating again, but that is complicated when a friend needs her help,

Jenny – After six months of therapy, she moves back to Los Angeles, with Max. When her book is actually picked up by a publisher, she gets a big advance and begins reevaluating her life. Otherwise, she just hangs out,

Carmen – Still in the closet with her family, she enlists Shane to come with her to a family event, as her friend. She loathes Max’s tendency toward being a slob. She gets irked at Shane for not being faithful as well. She gets a cool gig as a d.j. for Russell Simmons,

Helena – When a tarot reader gives clues that Alice is her next romantic relationship, she begins pursuing her. She buys a movie studio and hires Tina. Continuing her tendency for the predatory, she seduces a documentary filmmaker whom she is financing. Actually hurt by that and as a result of being swindled multiple times, her mother steps in with a drastic decision at the climax of the season,

Moira/Max – Jenny’s new love interest, she has a very masculine build and is the subject of an assault when she and Jenny are on the road. She is not as well-off as the rest of the women and has serious gender identification issues. Still young in many ways, she crashes with Jenny and is much more slovenly than her friend. Her gender identification issues make her more masculine and she is surprised that Jenny embraces that in her. Becoming Max, he starts taking hormones, uses a prosthetic penis to urinate publicly in men’s rooms, and throws a fundraiser for the surgery that will transform him,

Kit – Turning day to day management of the Planet over to Billie, she falls for Bette and Tina’s Manny, Angus. Despite Angus’s youth, she develops a romance with him and she is pleasantly surprised when he pushes her effectively to get back in the studio and record a new album. Going through a very rough menopause,

and Bette – Practicing “attachment parenting” with Tina, she has to adopt Angelica in order to have parental rights, a process that is annoying and nerve-wracking for her. Fighting against the Bush Administration’s policy against the arts, she begins to move away from parenting and back toward her familiar lifestyle, despite not having the income any longer to realistically live the way she wants to. When Tina gets into a relationship with a man, she hires Joyce to represent her interests, though the subpoena comes at the worst possible time for them both.

In the third season of The L Word the acting is highly tuned. The prior castmembers all know their beats perfectly and even Mia Kirshner, who has not previously wowed me, manages to play Jenny’s defiance this season in a more grounded and interesting fashion than the character’s prior incarnation (which was basically enough to give the viewer whiplash). Daniela Sea is an excellent addition to the cast as Max and she plays the transgendered character perfectly.

The real winners on the acting front in the third season are Leisha Hailey, Erin Daniels, and Katherine Moennig. Despite the fact that the series has been off the air and basic curiosity when looking at the actor appearance dates on the IMDB’s page for the show is enough to lead one to spoilers that are now years old, I refuse to spoil things for viewers who are just getting into the show. Even knowing what was coming in the third season with one of my favorite characters from the show, The L Word Season Three is surprising with the power of the performances. So, despite the fact that these three actresses give standout performances, I won’t be going into the context of those performances. I will, however, say that Leisha Hailey is able to express an emotional range as Alice that she has not been given the chance to before now and she is amazingly adept as an actress. Similarly, when Katherine Moennig plays off Eric Roberts in the final episode of the season as Shane and her father meet in a bar, her body language is so tight and expressive that the end of the season is no surprise at all as a result.

Erin Daniels, similarly, plays Dana incredibly through her breast cancer arc. It is a shame she was not nominated for any awards for her performance this season.

On DVD, the third season of The L Word has a featurette that focuses on Daniels’s arc, a documentary on the show and its effect on lesbian culture, and a few minor featurettes about jewelry and contests surrounding the show. I would have loved commentary tracks for almost every episode of the season, but, alas, they were not to be found!

The L Word is strong in its third season and while friends have warned me that the show takes an abrupt quality leap off a cliff, I am eager to continue with the series given how incredible this season was!

For other works with Alan Cumming, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Smurfs
It’s Complicated
Tin Man
X-2: X-Men United
Nicholas Nickleby


For other television reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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