Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Less Inspired Than The Prior, The L Word Season Four Has A Decent Character Mix!

The Good: Wonderful characters, Good acting
The Bad: Formless sense of plot for the season
The Basics: Figuring out its new mix of characters, in the fourth season, The L Word is good, but in no way extraordinary.

There are very few shows I stick with after the generally-agreed upon time when the series jumped the shark, at least as far as older shows I am now discovering on DVD. With The L Word, rumor is it took a pretty steep dive after the fourth season. As I consider the fourth season of the series, that idea – that the fourth would be the last one worth watching – was actually sadly unsurprising to me. After all, for some of the key characters in the show, Season Four finds the writers and producers stretching to figure out what to do with them. That said, I’m happy I watched the fourth season (I was pretty much ready to give up on the series when the third season saw the untimely demise of my favorite character!), though objectively it is a somewhat aimless series bloated by several new characters and an abandonment of some of the early seasons’ more compelling individuals.

On the big plus side, The L Word Season Four seems to be where the writers and producers realized just what an unlikable character they created with Jenny Schecter. In this season, the character is acknowledged as loathsome by everyone but Shane, who both does not care what others think and spends most of the season very much wrapped up in her own thing. In fact, this season of The L Word finds most of the characters seriously disconnected from one another.

After Bette runs off with the baby, Tina is furious. Shane reverts to old habits after fleeing her own wedding. Helena, cut off, begins to learn thrift from Alice. Returning to Los Angeles, Tina and Bette play a game of legal chess to come to an arrangement over their daughter. Bette surrenders and buries herself in academia while Tina is charged with wooing Jenny to represent her suddenly popular work, Lez Girls. As various members of their social circle are outraged over Jenny’s book, Alice becomes obsessed with a new nexus in her website, a woman who has slept with thousands of women, named Papi.

When Angus arranges a rebirth of Kit’s career, things seem to be going well for them until Angus hooks up with one of the nannies and he is caught. Shane, meanwhile, is saddled with her younger brother, Shay, and becomes a model for a Hugo Boss campaign to pay for his medical attention when he breaks his arm. The pseudo-parental bond with Shay leads Shane to a new, serious, relationship with a single mother, Paige. And as Bette deals with her boss coming out and starting a new relationship with an artist/professor at her college, Jodi, Alice finds herself in a relationship with a soldier, Tasha.

The L Word in its fourth season is well-focused on Shane, Alice, Bette, and Max, with the others working as supplemental characters to their main stories. Helena is relegated to a recurring b-plot as she works to survive without money and discovers a love of gambling. Shane has a good arc which both cleverly utilizes her character – she is utterly indifferent to the hype surrounding Papi and does not care at all when Alice tries to make a big deal out of her and she rejects the initial offer from Hugo Boss because she has no interest being the face (or body) of their advertising campaign – and gives her growth and development – she feels guilty over abandoning her fiancĂ© and becomes emotionally dependent upon Shay when he is abandoned on her doorstep. Shane seems very Shane throughout the season, but she grows and develops well beyond who she has been and where she has been before now. It is a smart use of character growth for a character I initially did not like and who had a somewhat tragic feel to her end in season three.

Alice gets a decent challenge as she has a somewhat promiscuous season going from Papi to Phyllis to Tasha! Ultimately developing a serious relationship with Tasha, who has politics very different from Alice (and most of her friends), makes for a dynamic seeming character. Bette has a similarly dynamic sensibility to her in that her new job takes her away from most of her friends, but into a series of relationships that complicate her life both personally (with Jodi) and professionally (her mentor role to “the culture” with her boss, Phyllis). Her relationship with Tina seems completely dead this season (though Tina’s end of that comes into play very late in the season). Max continues to struggle with her gender identification, but he finds a woman who accepts him for who he is and champions him when he has to stand up to his father and boss.

Because the show is not particularly plot-focused, the characters in The L Word are what is important in the fourth season, the cast expands and the essential characters are:

Bette Porter – Professionally-driven, she pretty much abandons her daughter to Tina after abducting her. She buries herself in academia as Dean Porter, who tries to keep the funding for her college up. As a result, she finds herself in an awkward position when her new boss, Phyllis, comes out and gets in an awkward first relationship with Alice. She is challenged by the visiting artist, Jodi, who she quickly develops a relationship with. She is horrified when Kit falls off the wagon,

Alice Pieszecki – When her website gains an abrupt new Nexus (Papi), she is instantly intrigued. After a one night stand with her, she gets involved with Phyllis, whom she is charmed by. After that, she develops a relationship with the very in-the-closet Tasha and unfortunately complicates the soldier’s life,

Tina Kennard – A virtual non-entity this season, she is in a heterosexual relationship for the entire season, though late in the season she begins to find herself attracted to Kate, a famous director. She awkwardly tries to represent Jenny in getting the movie rights to Lez Girls and discovers she is a real jerk,

Jenny Schecter – Becomes an uber-bitch after Lez Girls is serialized by The New Yorker. When the book gets a bad review, she goes psycho, getting into a relationship with the reviewer’s girlfriend to ruin their relationship,

Shane McCutcheon – After bailing on her wedding and discovering her ex wants nothing to do with her, she returns home to discover her half-brother, Shay, abandoned on her doorstep. She rejects an offer by Hugo Boss to model for them, until Shay breaks his arm. When she becomes invested in Shay, she gets invested in Paige and soon she is in a new, serious, relationship. She is heartbroken when Shay is taken back by her father,

Kit Porter – She has a chance to hit it big again, thanks to Angus. While she and Angus work on their relationship, she is shocked when Tina lets slip that he cheated. After befriending Papi and learning of Angus’s infidelity, she falls off the wagon,

Helena Peabody – Cut off from her funds, she gambles and loses, putting her at the mercy of a woman who is content to use her and keep her on a short leash,

Max Sweeney – Having successfully passed for months at her new computer job, he is put in the awkward position of dating the boss’s daughter. When he comes clean to her about her current gender, their relationship ends and soon thereafter, her boss begins pressuring her by making his life there uncomfortable,

Jodi Lerner – A deaf artist, she challenges Bette and develops a troubling relationship with her,

Tasha Williams – A friend of Papi, she is a soldier who served in Iraq. After meeting and falling for Alice, they develop a relationship and her position in the military is threatened when a soldier sees her and Alice out together and reports it back,

Phyllis Kroll – A professional and Bette’s boss, she comes out, ending her marriage of more than twenty years. She has a fling with Alice, which she thinks is much more serious. She gets an unlikely partner, while continuing to complicate both Bette and Jodi’s lives,

Papi – A player who puts Shane to shame, she has flings with Alice and Helena, but then befriends Kit. She helps Kit get alcohol and tries to support Tasha,

Angus Partridge – Generally a good guy, he commits to being with Kit, until he has a fling with a blonde nanny. Following that, he works hard to make things right, becoming a constant once again in Kit’s life and a much healthier alternative for her than Papi. His band gets a contract, but he gets booted from the group,

and Paige Sobel – A single mother, she gets involved with Shane very hesitantly.

The acting in the fourth season of The L Word is universally good. The characters from the prior seasons perform flawlessly and newcomers to the series Marlee Matlin (Jodi), Janina Gavankar (Papi), Rose Rollins (Tasha), and Kristanna Loken (Paige Sobel) gel flawlessly with the established performers. As big a coup as Marlee Matlin is for the series, she is overshadowed on screen by the recurring appearances of Cybill Shepherd as Phyllis, who arrives on the show with a stature that matches Jennifer Beals’s Bette and plays uncertain in her sexuality enough to be plausibly obsessed with Leisha Hailey’s Alice.

Ultimately, the fourth season is good, but it did not leave me with the driving need to see what happened to the characters. In fact, where The L Word Season 4 ends, all of the characters I cared about had pretty much resolved their arcs and whatever comes next is just gravy. I can only hope it is good gravy!

For the other seasons of The L Word, please visit my reviews of:
Season 1
Season 2
Season 3


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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