‘The L Word’ Returns More Diverse With ‘Generation Q’

The L Word: Generation Q” revives one of the groundbreaking shows of the 2000’s, primed for a new era while keeping intact its melodramatic flare. Much has changed since the original “L Word” ran on Showtime from 2004 to 2009, including everything from politics to the wording of sexual orientation. The addition to the original title itself is a statement about the new norm where the word “queer” has taken on a much wider breadth. It’s a worthy update, mixing social consciousness with operatic fun.

10 years since the last season and we’re back in Los Angeles. A few recognizable characters are back like Bette Porter (Jennifer Beals), who is now running for mayor but has a few personal secrets she would rather not discuss in public. Alice (Leisha Hailey) is swamped as the host of her TV show, dealing with studio execs trying to impose new writers while also adjusting to life married to a woman who already comes with a kid. Shane (Katherine Moennig) returns to town, in a private jet and to a gorgeous house above the city. She’s kind of just lounging around for now, figuring out what’s next. New characters are also introduced. There’s Dani (Arienne Mandi), the daughter of a wealthy Latino patriarch who rubs Bette the wrong way at first when they discuss possible campaign contributions. Dani is in love with Sophie (Rosanny Zayas), who happens to work for Alice on the show. There’s also Sophie’s roommates, Micah (Leo Sheng) who is trans and falls for their property manager and Sarah (Jacqueline Toboni), who starts hanging around Shane. 

Producing this new take on “The L Word” is Marja-Lewis Ryan, who expands the show’s reach while keeping the essentials that made it so impactful 15 years ago. It is not enough anymore to simply encompass the main characters or themes as “lesbian.” The new additional title, “Generation Q,” is a nod to the rise of queer culture. The storylines established in the first three episodes of the season update us on fan favorites like Bette, Alice and Shane, with few if any other returns as of yet. Rarely are events are characters from the previous incarnation of the show mentioned, even the theme song is new. Although Bette does get a call during dinner and Shane and Alice look at each other and exclaim, “Tina,” in reference to the character originally played Laurel Holloman. Bette is still raising their teen daughter however and it’s not an easy job. Now a teenager, Angelica (Jordan Hull) is ditching school, driving around and vaping with a classmate and is openly embarrassed by Bette’s public career. It gets worse when during a speech Bette is openly confronted by the husband of a certain former lover from years ago. It throws her a campaign into a tailspin. This is “The L Word” after all, where there’s major drama just around every corner.

The new characters are seamlessly introduced into the world of the more renowned cast. Dani is the most important. At first Bette is turned off by the fact that Dani’s father runs a company involved in opioids. It’s here where “Q Generation” also becomes about complex issues of race and society. Bette tells Dani she would expect such cutthroat capitalism from a white man, but not from a Latinx businessperson. Dani’s father Rodolfo (Carlos Leal), looking like a quintessential mogul, is tensely prejudiced, dismissing Dani’s updates on her relationship with Sophie as just being young and having fun. Per the rules of melodrama, love comes first so Dani realizes she should chart her own path and help Bette’s campaign. Sophie herself embodies the classic L.A. go-getter at your typical studio offices. She gets in trouble when she gets ahead of herself and raises Alice’s hopes that Kamala Harris might come on the show. As more open as society becomes however, there are always other forms of areas where progress is slower. Straight, white male producers still prefer Alice have guests on for pure celebrity value with wacky ideas for on the air antics.  Her proposal that interviewing a candidate like Bette will help give voice to the LGBTQ community receives blank stares.

The strongest new character angle involves Micah, who finds the courage to ask out Jose (Freddy Miyares) but gets nervous about fully discussing his history of transition. Their storyline also marks the first time “The L Word” has featured man on man sex, again confirming Ryan’s aim of expanding the show’s horizons. Worry not however, because there’s still plenty of steamy action involving the other cast, including the very first opening scene of the season. There’s also plenty of melodrama involving past love affairs, broken hearts and tension within families. Alice is the only one dealing with more down to earth problems, namely learning to be a stepmother and having to do things like rush out of the office to pick up a kid with stomach flu from school. You also can’t have good soap opera without at least one teary-eyed proposal scene, and aching lines like “please, please marry me.” Of course that’s the fun of this genre. It takes our very human feelings and pumps up the volume.

More diverse, more attuned to the times, “Generation Q” is a refreshing return to a past gem. Shows like “The L Word” tend to arrive just when they’re needed, and so it did back in the George W. Bush era. Now it’s back in a time of new uncertainties and debates. It knows promoting equality and respect can be fun even when it remains urgent.

The L Word: Generation Q” season one premieres Dec. 8 and airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime.