By Megan Wadding, photos by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/SHOWTIME December 2019 Issue.
Lesbians rejoice! Showtime’s groundbreaking series, The L Word, is back after a 10 year hiatus. The highly anticipated revived series, The L Word: Generation Q, will see the return of three original cast members, alongside some new faces, for an eight episode run, premiering on Showtime on Sunday, December 8.
Leisha Hailey (Alice), Jennifer Beals (Bette) and Kate Moennig (Shane) will reprise their fan favorite roles along with the new characters, as they once again experience love, heartbreak, sex, setbacks and success in Los Angeles.
Ilene Chaiken, original creator and executive producer of The L Word, is spearheading the revival as an executive producer, alongside newcomer, Marja-Lewis Ryan.
According to Chaiken, the idea for a revival of the series has been something that had been talked about for years, but finding the right time was key. Chaiken credits Hailey, Beals and Moennig with coming up with the idea and bringing it to fruition.
“Not only were they immediately on board, it was largely their idea to do the reboot,” Chaiken explained. “We talked about it for years, and I insisted on waiting until the right time. But stood by their conviction that the show should come back.”
The original series had a wildly successful run, gathering a die-hard mass, largely lesbian following, that faithfully tuned in to Showtime every Sunday evening with friends all watching together piled on couches in living rooms, at viewing parties in gay bars surrounded by other fans, in secret on laptops with headphones, and later on Blockbuster-rented DVDs, and even later, on Netflix. Bette and Tina were relationship goals, and then they weren’t, and then they were again. We were hooked. For many lesbians, it was the first time they had ever seen themselves represented on television, and that in itself was groundbreaking.
When the show ended in 2009, fans were left with so many questions: Would Alice ever find another great love after Dana? Would Shane ever settle down? Would Bette stay faithful to Tina? Who killed Jenny?! The show had a five-year run, but like the show’s dedicated fan-base, Chaiken said that the it felt as if it had always lived on and called it very “gratifying” to see it revived.
“For me, The L Word never truly had ended. I had an instinct that it would come back in some form or fashion. But I believe this is the best possible version and outcome,” said Chaiken.
Ending with a cliff-hanger of a murder, the finale of the original series was abrupt and left many stories unfinished. In The L Word: Generation Q, Alice, Bette and Shane, are now a decade older, dealing with new crises and loves and careers. We find Bette in the middle of a run to be the first lesbian mayor of Los Angeles, and Alice with her own talk show. But are they all still as close as they were 10 years ago? Did Shane ever find true love, or is she still — now in her 40s — the token community lothario? Does Alice keep The Chart updated? Expect to be “surprised” and “delighted” by where the characters’ lives have taken them, according to Chaiken.
“Bette, Shane and Alice have grown, grown up and evolved,” she said. “So much can happen in the course of ten years. Toddlers can become teenagers; relationships can end and new relationships will have begun and maybe even already ended all within the course of that time. Careers change, financial circumstances, bodies, appetites. While they are still, at core, the same people they were when we left them, we’ll learn how their lives have changed in huge and subtle ways.”
The original series has become a sort of a time capsule that sometimes perfectly and sometimes not so perfectly captures what it was like to be a member of the lesbian community in Los Angeles during the early to mid 2000’s. The show explored many narratives and gave representation to those who had never seen themselves portrayed on television so beautifully and boldly. Chaiken’s goals remain much the same with the new series, specifically to continue to tell “good, moving, deeply engaging stories” that will also shine a light, particularly on the lives of LGBTQ characters, who are still, even a decade on, underrepresented in film and television, according to Chaiken.
Alongside all of the rave reviews and cult-like following that the original series amassed, it also received criticism on occasion, mostly in regard to how issues surrounding class, race and gender identity were depicted on the show. The portrayal of transgender character, Max, in particular was a big point of contention with some fans. Chaiken acknowledged that errors had been made and insisted the new series will do better.
“At the time, we researched extensively and believed we were presenting an honest representation of Max’s journey,” she explained. “But I fully accept that we made mistakes, the biggest one being the casting of a cisgender actor to portray a transgender character.”
Chaiken promised that The L Word: Generation Q will proceed with the view of correcting that particular mistake, and also offer an “even more culturally diverse” ensemble this time around.
“The new show will explore and embrace the breadth and scope of our LGBTQ community and will delve deeper into the ways our lives intersect,” she added.
The original series covered things integral and timely to the lesbian and LGBTQ community at large at the time, particularly things such as marriage equality and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, as well as infidelity, fertility, coming out, illnesses, friendship, death and more. Chaiken teased that The L Word: Generation Q will revisit all of that and more, specifically within the context of how much the world has changed over the last decade, including the “gains,” and the “backlash and backsliding” that has occurred.
“I’m just happy the show is continuing and will go on to tell stories that haven’t already been told,” Chaiken said.
Q & A with Leisha Hailey
by Megan Wadding
Leisha Hailey starred in The L Word original series playing the character, Alice Piezecki, the outspoken, bisexual, budding journalist, and everyone’s best friend. Once the original series ended, Hailey found herself becoming a driving force behind the revival, The L Word: Generation Q. Hailey spoke with Echo about where the new series finds Alice, what it was like to get back into character, what story-line ideas she contributed and more.
Echo: Was the revival of the show something you’ve always wanted to see happen? Has this always been an ongoing conversation with Ilene Chaiken, and Jennifer Beals and Kate Moennig?
Hailey: After the wrapped, we honestly thought something would immediately take its place. There had never been a lesbian-centric show in mainstream media, and our show had been surprisingly successful in several different ways. So [back] in 2012, Kate, Jennifer and I reached out to Ilene, believing that was the right time, and long story short, it took the four of us 7-8 years to get it back on air.
Where does the new series find Alice? Do you think fans be surprised to see where her life has taken her? Were you given any creative liberty in helping to shape who you think Alice would’ve become today?
Two years ago, Kate, Jennifer, Ilene, and I walked into each meeting with all of the potential new showrunners with two very clear ideas: 1) Alice has a popular talk show. 2) Bette was running for office. I felt that Alice’s career path would definitely lead to a talk show ten years later. It will be a surprise for the fans to see Alice’s personal life unfold; she is on a journey that she has never been on before.
What was it like getting back on set and back into character?
Alice was a character I missed playing very much. Back when the show ended in 2009, it felt like there were so many more stories to be told. Walking in her shoes again feels liberating. Alice is that fun, risk-taking, witty part of myself that I never get a chance to let out in real life.
How has it been to work with Kate Moennig and Jennifer Beals again? I know you have all stayed close in real life, but to be on set with them again must be so fun.
While shooting a TV show, we can sometimes spend 16+ hours on set. I love nothing more than spending my long day at work with two people I love so much. It’s non-stop laughter and the three of us care so much about this show that we have a like-minded respect for what we are creating.
The original series highlights so many of the important things the LGBTQ community was experiencing at that specific time, and really had an impact in terms of mainstream representation. Did you realize at the time how important the show would be, specifically for the lesbian community?
We all knew in the first season that we were making something special, but never anticipated the incredibly positive public reaction that we received. Once we realized that, we felt the responsibility to move the needle to help represent our community in a positive light.
Over the years, I am sure you’ve had many fans tell you how much the show has meant to them. What does that mean to you, knowing what an impact it had? What has been the reaction you’re getting from fans excited for the new series, The L Word: Generation Q?
When fans tell me how much the show meant to them, I relate personally because growing up I had no gay content or references on television. I never saw myself represented, so I understand what it means to other people to have a show like this where they can see themselves portrayed. When fans come up to me now, their level of excitement is an all-time high for The L Word to come back.
The L Word: Generation Q premieres on Showtime on Sunday, December 8 at 10 P.M. ET/PT. For more information, visit sho.com.