Judging by its title, The L Word— Showtime's newest original series, following somewhat in the trail of Queer as Folk— might be viewed as an attempt to cash in on the current small-screen interest in all things alternative-lifestyle. But as is the case in real life, it's not quite so cut and dry.
Unfortunately, it's also not that consistent. Some of the characters in this ensemble drama about gay and straight women in Los Angeles, are fully formed — like long-term couple Bette Porter (Jennifer Beals) and Tina Kennard (Laurel Holloman), who are trying to conceive — but others are more one-dimensional. That gives the show an inconsistent feel: Some plot lines are more predictable than others.
Take college swimming coach Tim (Eric Mabius) and his girlfriend, aspiring novelist Jenny (Mia Kirshner), for example. On Jenny's first weekend in town, the pair is invited to a party at Bette and Tina's, where Jenny talks literature with the captivating Marina (Karina Lombard) — a discussion that leads to a dalliance. Most of what ensues is about what you'd expect, save for the reactions of a couple of characters.
Bette and Tina's attempt to find a sperm donor to have a baby is captivating, as is Bette's relationship with her sister — a jazz musician struggling with alcoholism, played to strong effect by film veteran Pam Grier.
Other characters venture even further into the realm of cliché. Get away from Bette and Tina's domestic bliss, and the other lesbian or bisexual characters seem to spend all of their time cruising bars. Shane (Katherine Moennig) is the typical bad girl who doesn't care what anyone thinks of her — particularly jilted lovers — and has the Joan Jett looks to prove it. Bisexual magazine journalist Alice (Leisha Hailey) keeps a who-slept-with-whom flow chart.
But it's Dana (Erin Daniels) — a closeted professional tennis player — who provides the best example of where The L Word shines, and where it falls flat. Watching Dana struggle to find dates, hampered by her inability to read women, is something anyone of any gender who's tried to date can relate to.
The show's not quite so intriguing when it treads upon her closeted status — and its effect on endorsements — ground that's been trod since the days of Billie Jean King.
Executive producer Ilene Chaiken's effort is promising, but here's hoping it ventures into some less-traveled directions.
The L Word premieres Sunday, Jan. 18, on Showtime.