Rainbow Rant: 'The L Word' doesn't deserve a reboot
Like the Popeye’s chicken sandwich or a horde of zombies, “The L Word” has been resurrected. The reboot of the iconic queer TV show will begin airing Dec. 8, but I’m not celebrating its return.
I am the loyal opposition to “The L Word” reboot. I’ve pledged fealty to queer women’s television, but I believe it should take a different course. The “L Word” shouldn’t be relaunched unless the writers are ready to fully reckon with the show’s problems.
The original “L Word” was a wealthy, white fantasy about gay life in L.A. It reflected and reinforced some of the worst prejudices within our community. Here are my charges against it:
Fatphobia: “The L Word” was groundbreaking for showing queer women having sex in realistic ways, but almost every single sex scene was between thin, cisgender women. The show gave fat women nearly no love.
Classism: “The L Word” treated extreme wealth as completely normal. Its characters, including those that were supposed to be working class, were forever going on cruises, attending galas and even making Hollywood movies. The show was written as though being queer meant having money — leaving all of us to wonder if we weren’t queer enough.
Racism: Just as “The L Word” normalized wealth, it centralized whiteness. The show’s side characters, such as legendary Latin lover Papi, sometimes veered into racist tropes. It handled its primary characters of color better, but placed them in a very white world. Most of the characters of color were in relationships with white women. By showing no meaningful examples of communities of queer people of color, the show presented lesbian identity as a white space into which women of color must assimilate.
Biphobia: “The L Word” treated bisexuality as a lesser form of queer identity and trafficked in old stereotypes of bisexual women as unreliable and unfaithful. Worse, its central bisexual character, Alice, starts off proud of her identity and ends up declaring bisexuality “gross.” The series acted as though even bisexuals were repulsed by bisexuals.
Transphobia: There were no transgender women on “The L Word.” Instead, the show featured a trans man, Max, played by a cisgender actress. Max suffered unrelenting criticism, including misgendering and dead-naming, at the hands of the show’s main characters.
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My criticisms of “The L Word” are hardly original; the queer community dragged the show for these issues while it was airing. We took pleasure in criticizing “The L Word,” but we still mostly watched it because it was the only show with a cast of queer women characters. The new series will probably be popular because television hasn’t changed much.
There is one way that “The L Word” could do this reboot right. The writers could seize the opportunity to not only avoid the problems of the original series, but also comment on its flaws.
The reboot of “Tales of the City” provides an example that the new “L Word” could follow. Not only did the new “Tales” centralize characters of color, but it also rewrote the most problematic elements of the first series. The writers provided trans character Anna Madrigal with a completely new back story, departing from the books on which the series is based. This allowed the show to cast trans actress Jen Richards to play a younger version of Anna. The changes created an ending that celebrated Anna’s trans identity instead of treating it as a deception, as in the original series. It was an apology and restitution, all in the form of a beautiful TV show.
“The L Word” is a touchstone of queer culture. It helped define what it meant to be queer to a generation with few other representations. If the new writers understand that the original series was flawed, they owe it to their audience to make that clear.
Or, instead, we could create a television adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s classic comic Dykes to Watch Out For. I’m just saying.