There are two kinds of televised black holes, and I was sucked into both of them lately.
The first is when you become addicted to a TV series that's been going on for a while and catch up with it on DVD: You then sink into a black hole in which you compulsively watch episode after episode, wasting entire nights and weekends. Let's just say that the Sheila and I finally discovered the current iteration of Battlestar Galactica this weekend and were sucked into it. Don't even try to ask us for dinner over the next few weeks: when we're not at the theater, we'll be home watching this space opera.
The second kind of black hole is conjured by someone whose talent doesn't match his/her ego, leading to a rather different kind of sucking. Here, let me introduce you to Ilene Chaiken, the brain (I use the term loosely) behind The L Word. I've now watched the first four episodes of the new and last season, and I can only say that Chaiken has got to be one of the most inept writers to ever be put in charge of a TV series. It's not that crazy things can't happen on soaps, but they have to have an internal logic: they couldn't happen in our world, but they can make perfect sense within one specific fictional universe—which is why I can buy Cylons bent on destroying humanity in Battlestar Galactica, but I can't even buy the girls having breakfast together on The L Word, let alone some of the most delusional plot developments (imagine highly ironic quotation marks around the previous two words) cooked up by Chaiken.
But beyond these technical problems, my core issue with the show—and one that hasn't been raised, I believe—is that its value system is screwed up to the nth degree. I would argue that underneath its libertine surface and despite paying lip service to feminist issues, The L Word is a Republican show, and that is why it feels so jarring these days.
First, the entire show feels like a gated community: Let's live among people who are identical to ourselves and shut out all the others. Throwing in a black lesbian or a deaf one doesn't change anything to the suffocating sameness that binds the characters.
Second, the precepts followed by these women—except for Kit, Tasha and Max—include crushing the "little people," lying, cheating, abusing power, consuming conspicuously, worshipping money and appearances.
Take Bette, for instance. She's adored by the fans because Jennifer Beals is hottt and she also manages to make the character more sympathetic than she actually is. But look at Bette's words and actions: In addition to being a serial cheater, she's a rather unappealing snob who treats the people she perceives as inferiors like dirt (witness her recent and repulsive outburst when she called a hospital clerk a maggot) and often abuses her position (the episode with the grad student, and worse, when she tried to fire Jodi out of spite and with no professional grounds).
Or take Tina, Bette's girlfriend. She's had a different personality every season—only Helena had more—but one thing has remained constant: she's a spoiled, judgemental bourgeoise. Just recently, she was acting all superior because Bette has a bad record when it comes to faithfulness. But Tina herself had affairs! And her mild blond exterior only camouflages rather ugly behavior, like the way she treated her lesbian friends when she lived with a man.
And of course there's Jenny. It's fine that she's a total psychopath, every show needs one. But what I find jarring is that the other characters seem to think she's merely a wacky artiste. Jenny should be the series' über-villainess, recognized as such and used as such in terms of storytelling. Instead, the last season's bad girl was club promoter Dawn Denbo—compared to Jenny, a lightweight in the evil department. So yes, I find it completely insane that supposedly sympathetic characters tolerate Jenny in their midst. Kick her out of the holy circle and fight her! That way you'd get actual stories, instead of what passes for plot on The L Word: endless processing about relationships.
3 days ago