KATHY: This episode of Nancy contains spoilers.
TOBIN: Okay but also the show we're gonna talk about has been off the air forever. It's available everywhere. Come on people, get on board!
VOX 1: From WNYC Studios, this is Nancy.
VOX 2: With your hosts Tobin Low and Kathy Tu.
[THEME MUSIC ENDS]
TOBIN: Yes, Kathy?
KATHY: I’ve told you before about how I sometimes feel like I’m bad at being a queer lady.
TOBIN: Yes, yes, you have talked about this.
KATHY: So like when I came out in college, I for some reason did not do a deep dive into lesbian media. Like I didn’t listen to Ani DiFranco…
TOBIN: Oh but she's a classic!
KATHY: ...I didn't listen to Melissa Etheridge, and I only very recently watched But I’m a Cheerleader.
TOBIN: Also a classic.
KATHY: Yeah I know. So now I just kind of feel like I’m always behind the lesbian learning curve. For example, and I hear about this all the time, I’ve never seen The L Word.
[THE L WORD THEME MUSIC PLAYS]
Girls in tight dresses who drag in mustaches...
CASSIE: I am shocked. I’m appalled. I’m outraged. And you call yourself a lesbian?
KATHY: This is my friend Cassie, who I met at A-Camp.
TOBIN: For the past couple weeks, every sentence starts with "My friend from A-Camp, this one friend from A Camp..."
KATHY: But Tobin it was so much fun! An adult camp for queer women!
TOBIN: Anyway, Cassie had some feelings about The L Word.
CASSIE: You mention the L word, you drop a casual Bette or Tina into a sentence, and you’ve got hours and hours worth of chat. You need to just be part of that community and hate it. You need to love it and hate it.
Talking, laughing, loving, breathing, fighting, fucking, crying, drinking, writing, winning, losing, cheating, kissing, thinking, dreaming.
[THE L WORD THEME MUSIC ENDS]
TOBIN: But isn’t The L Word an old show?
KATHY: Um, kind of, it premiered in 2004 and aired for six seasons on Showtime.
TOBIN: Okay so like old-ish.
KATHY: Old-ish, yeah. So I posted on Twitter that I was considering watching the show, and instantly I heard from all these people. They were like, “We’ll be following along while you slowly descend into madness and self-loathing.” And “I’m sorry for what’s about to happen to you.” And on and on and on, and I was like, how much can you talk about The L Word?
CAMERON: How long can people talk about The L Word? I don’t know. How much air is there to breathe and expel out of my lungs while making noise?
KATHY: This is Cameron Esposito. She’s a comedian and producer and actor and huge L Word fan. She told me that even though this show is basically a soap opera, and not even a great soap opera, it's the only show we've got.
CAMERON: So when this show came out, it was the first time that that there could be multiple lesbians in any scenario. So like even the idea that one could be an Alice versus a Bette versus a Tina, that is bonkers. Like in any moment when there’s a collection of lesbians...
CAMERON: ...that’s just a breathtaking moment. It just hasn’t happened very much.
KATHY: Okay so, I hear Cassie. I hear Cameron. I am ready to feel what Twitter feels about this show. So I’m gonna do it. I’m going to watch all of The L Word. All six seasons. All 63 hours.
[ROCK MUSIC ENDS]
[FIRST EPISODE SONG]
KATHY: So, at the beginning of season one, you meet this group of beautiful lesbian friends living in LA.
CASSIE: You’ve got Alice, who is the token bisexual.
[CLIP] ALICE: Some of us have it worse, Dana you know, some of us are dating lesbian men.
CASSIE: Bette, the power lesbian.
[CLIP] BETTE: Why is it so important for you to believe that everyone is sleeping with everyone else?
CASSIE: Her partner Tina.
[CLIP] TINA: So gay.
CASSIE: Dana, the awkward but closeted athletic lesbian.
[CLIP] DANA: Slander against cats, write that down.
CASSIE: Shane, the lesbian heartbreaker.
[CLIP] SHANE: Damn it! I hate being in the shit house.
CASSIE: And then you’ve got Jenny, who is my personal favorite.
[CLIP] JENNY: I think she's psychotic. What do I do?
KATHY: People have described it as Sex and the City if Carrie and Samantha slept together and then cheated on each other and then slept with either Miranda or whoever the last one is. And my first impression of the show? There is so much sex!
SARAH: When I got the show, I thought L stood for Love. I didn’t know what L meant. And my first day of filming, the AD was like “Okay, Sarah, this is Kate. Kate, this is Sarah. And in this scene, Kate’s going to be going down on you.” And I was like, “Holy shit,” like what? What did I sign up for?!
KATHY: This is Sarah Shahi. She played Carmen, who arrived in Season 2. By then, there had already been so much sex on this show, the writers had to get...creative.
SARAH: Mia and I had the scene where we're supposed to be like making out on a toilet post showering. And either she pees on me or I piss on her. [KATHY LAUGHS] And our piss is such, it's so powerful, it's such like a hard streamlined piss that it’s supposed to give the other one like an orgasm. It's supposed to like hit our clits and give us an orgasm.
KATHY: Oh that's what was supposed to happen.
SARAH: Yeah that's what that was exactly. [BOTH LAUGH] Oh yeah. Oh those are good times. The good old years.
KATHY: And part of what made it good was that the actors felt like they had input.
SARAH: We would rewrite our scenes if we felt like they should go in another direction. We were changing up the lines. We would say, “No I’m not gonna say that, let’s say this instead," like if we felt uncomfortable about a certain love scene. I got very spoiled on that show and I thought every show was gonna be like that. Sure enough, the next show I got was the opposite of that. You were not allowed to go outside the box and it’s been like that on a couple projects since. So like I said The L Word was truly special.
KATHY: And the sexiest person on the show was Shane. Beautiful, hypnotic Shane. I didn’t really feel this way, but basically everyone else did.
[CLIP] SHANE: I like a girl with ambition.
CARMEN: Oh, fuck you. [LAUGHS]
SHANE: Okay, if you want.
The way that we live...
KATHY: Cameron is a big fan of Shane.
CAMERON: That character was like on the prowl, and has realistic looking sex, with like actual choreography that one would do. Because the alternative is what I call “skydiving,” which is when two women are on screen and their hands are totally in the air, but they’re still having sex with each other.
CAMERON: But what Shane is doing is like real moves and just the idea that there could be an aggressor and that could be wanted.
[THE L WORD THEME MUSIC]
KATHY: Season 2 also begins the coupledom of my two favorite characters: Alice Piezecki and Dana Fairbanks. They’re best friends and lovers and have so much fun together.
[CLIP] ALICE: Oh god, is that a periscope in your pocket or are you just happy to see me? [MOANS] Oh captain, my captain!
PERSON: [KNOCKS ON DOOR] Guys it's time for dinner!
KATHY: But at the start of season 3, Dana and Alice are no longer together. Dana gets back with her ex, which is just SO uncalled for. And Alice starts obsessing over Dana and even like stalks her a little bit, which I can kind of understand.
[CLIP] ALICE: I mean, yeah I think you guys would be obsessing too. Cuz our sex [LAUGHS] was mind-blowingly, un-fuckingly unbelievable. And it just kind of makes you realize that this person could be the one great true love of your life.
KATHY: And just when you can’t believe things can get ANY worse…
[CLIP] DANA: Ductal carcinoma. Are you sure?
KATHY: Dana is diagnosed with breast cancer! So she pushes her girlfriend away, and Alice steps up to take care of her.
TOBIN: Okay, so you’re like really into this show right now.
KATHY: [DRAMATIC MUSIC] Tobin. I know people say this show is bad, but I am SO IN IT right now. I don’t care how bad it is, I love Alice and Dana so much, I can't believe this is happening. DANA CAN’T DIE.
TOBIN: Well, so does she?
KATHY: You'll find out... after the break.
TOBIN: Oh damn it!
[PARK AMBIANCE FADES IN]
KATHY: What's the first thing that comes to mind when I say The L Word?
[THEME MUSIC COMES IN]
PERSON 1: Love.
PERSON 2: Log.
TOBIN: Do you ever watch the show, The L Word?
PERSON 3: It felt very like Hollywood and very like soap opera, but not bad. It wasn't bad.
PERSON 4: Lesbian.
TOBIN: Very good, you passed.
[THEME MUSIC ENDS]
VOX: Nancy will be back in a minute.
TOBIN: And we’re back. Where are we?
KATHY: We’re at the part where the writers of The L Word decide to stab me in the heart...
KATHY: ...because Dana...is...dead.
[THEME MUSIC ENDS]
ERIN: (whispers) I'm still here. I'll always be in your heart, Kathy.
ERIN: My name is Erin Daniels and I play Dana.
KATHY: Were you heartbroken when Ilene Chaiken, who created the show, decided to kill of your character? I mean I just watched this. This is fresh wounds right now.
ERIN: You know, yeah of course, I was devastated for a number of reasons. I was sad for Dana, of course, but I was also frankly very sad for myself for a number of reasons. I’d grown really attached to the character but I’d also grown really attached to the cast, and I didn’t understand why. But this was a story that Ilene wanted to tell, and she chose to. She has said to me many times since, you know if I have one regret, it was probably killing Dana. And I was like, I might agree, I might second that.
KATHY: Did that make you feel better?
ERIN: You know, a little better [LAUGHS] I can’t lie. I mean, it's like, okay thanks. But I guess because there was so many questions like “Why would you do that. Why would you kill off this character? Erin must be such a bitch. She must be such a diva. Or what did she ask for?” And it’s like no, it had nothing to do with that.
KATHY: If Dana never died, what do you think she would be doing now?
ERIN: I think that she would use her celebrity and she would be a spokesperson for breast cancer awareness. I think she probably would have been just as much of a disaster in her personal life. I do think she and Alice would have ended up together though.
KATHY: Aww! That's what I wanted to hear!
ERIN: I do. I really, really do. Cuz ultimately isn't that what you want out of a partner is a best friend?
[THE L WORD THEME]
KATHY: Season 4. This is when Jenny Schecter starts to go off the rails, and she becomes the most divisive character on the show. So Jenny is a writer, and one of her short stories is picked up by a magazine. It’s called “Lez Girls.” But, get this, Lez Girls is actually a shameless expose of all of her friends, with the names barely changed. So, Jenny is basically the show’s hero and villain in one.
CAMERON: She’s like the Piper of this show.
K: This is Cameron, again.
CAMERON: She’s the trojan horse that gets us into this community. The stuff that she had to carry, the stuff that character had to carry, it gets like, surreal. My point is, Jenny was given a lot to carry, like it was too much. So yeah I don’t think I’m Team Jenny.
KATHY: At this point in the series, I am not Team Jenny either. Let me tell you why.
[LIGHT PERCUSSIVE MUSIC BEGINS]
KATHY: Jenny’s story that I was talking about earlier, becomes a book and then gets a bad review by a critic named Stacy Merkin.
[CLIP] JENNY: Fuck you Stacy Merkin, fuck you!
KATHY: And to get revenge, Jenny tries to get close to Stacy’s girlfriend, who is a veterinarian. So Jenny adopts a dog from the shelter and brings the dog to the vet, so that she would put the dog down!
[CLIP] VET: This is the right thing to do.
JENNY: Are you sure? Are you sure he has to die?
VET: It's her time to go.
[PERCUSSIVE MUSIC ENDS]
KATHY: Poor Sounder! But to be fair, Sounder was a very old dog.
MIA: It's very easy to dislike Jenny because of course her actions are often reprehensible, especially... is there a dog in where you're at?
KATHY: Yes. The dog just went down.
MIA: Right. Okay.
KATHY: This is Jenny herself, the actor Mia Kirshner.
MIA: I mean for me, I am like a passionate animal lover. And that was just very like, you know I'm obsessed with my dog. And for me this was something very difficult to do. But I think ultimately, as not to bring this down, but she's mentally ill. And that's that's a very real, very serious thing.
[THE L WORD THEME]
KATHY: By season 5, the show has become sort of a parody of itself. The plot twists are even more ridiculous, everybody is cheating on each other, and there are problems showing through the cracks. Like, in five seasons, the spectrum of lesbians is still very narrow. And in terms of racial diversity...
CAMERON: Where is this version of West Hollywood where there are so many white people? [LAUGHS]
KATHY: Once again, Cameron Esposito. And she says that's not all.
CAMERON: Pretty much every character on The L Word responded to a certain character with a degree of butch-phobia and transphobia.
KATHY: Cameron’s talking about Max, who’s sort of the token trans character. The other characters alienate him, he’s constantly being misgendered, and he gets terrible storylines. It's just really, really disappointing.
KATHY: And finally, at the end of season six, someone kills Jenny! And the whole show transforms into this ridiculous lesbian murder mystery, and EVERYONE is a suspect. I’ll just say it...it’s not a very satisfying ending.
[DRAMATIC MUSIC ENDS]
CAMERON: You know, I said to you, when we were chatting about this, that it’s a soap, so you just have to watch it like a soap. And the reason I said that is ‘cause like, it was the first and it was so important and, you know, I think there was a lot of pressure for it to be reality based. But it’s a soap opera. It’s not like historical nonfiction. [LAUGHS]
KATHY: And the show really did matter to a lot of people. Even though it had super dramatic storylines and ludicrous situations, the show also had a lot of heart. You could connect to the characters. Like, for my friend Cassie from A-Camp, it was Jenny. Way back on the first season of the show, Jenny was struggling with her feelings for a woman, and Cassie really related to that. So I asked her to call into my interview with Mia Kirshner.
CASSIE: I actually really love Jenny as a character.
MIA: You are one of the few. [ALL LAUGH] It's okay. I'm aware. It doesn’t hurt my feelings. I think it’s funny.
CASSIE: No I'm proudly Team Jenny.
MIA: Thank you.
CASSIE: Season one Jenny mirrored my coming out experiences and coming out experiences and made me feel less isolated almost down to a T.
MIA: Oh, that's incredible.
CASSIE: It really was. It was confronting to watch as a 16-17 year old, you know to see that mirrored there. But I think that's one of the best things to have come off the show, that it's telling these real stories that are connecting people.
MIA: I think that was to me the best part of the show was the discussion about things that, when the show started, you know, of course there are communities that were out, but it was the first show of its kind to show relationships among women. And that's so important. I mean that's what art is supposed to be. It's supposed to make you feel less alone.
KATHY: The show wrapped in 2009 after 6 seasons of love, loss, cheating, all the sex, and a dead dog. The diehard fans were sad to see it go, but I think they also accepted that it was probably for the best. Since then, queer women on TV shows have mainly been in supporting roles—the best friends, the comic relief. If people thought The L Word was the beginning of a new era of queer TV, they were wrong.
[MORE UPBEAT MUSIC]
KATHY: But, Showtime just announced that it is bringing The L Word back! It’s rebooting the series. So I had to ask Mia...
KATHY: Would you want to come back in some sort of flashback situation?
MIA: Well, I don’t even know if she’s dead.
MIA: I don’t know if she’s dead. I mean is she dead? Look at what the character is capable of doing. I don’t know. I’m not being provocative. I don’t know if she’s dead.
MIA: I don’t think you’ve scratched the surface about what happened.
TOBIN: So Kath, you've completed your mission, you've watched all of the show. Are you a better queer woman now? How do you feel?
KATHY: I think we can all agree that The L Word was important when it was on. What surprised me was how important it is even now. I mean, if you think about it, The L Word eventually inspired the creation of the Autostraddle website, which then created A-Camp, which then brought Cassie and me together as friends.
TOBIN: Oh so it’s like [SINGS] the lesbian circle of life.
KATHY: I don't think that's how the song goes, but sure. And with all the good the show has done, can it really be a bad show?
KATHY: Also, I am Team Jenny, I've decided.
TOBIN: I could've guessed that, of course you are.
[NEWS MUSIC BEGINS]
K: Also! Breaking fan news. The creator of the show, Ilene Chaiken, recently said that the reboot of The L Word might ignore all of season 6, so Jenny might be alive after all!
T: Oh lord, we gotta do this again.
KATHY: All right, that's our show. We're on all the social media places, search for Nancy Podcast and you'll find us there for sure.
KATHY: Our producer...
TOBIN: Matt Collette!
KATHY: Sound designer...
TOBIN: Jeremy Bloom!
TOBIN: Caleb Codding!
TOBIN: Jenny Lawton!
KATHY: Executive producer...
TOBIN: Paula Szuchman!
KATHY: I'm Kathy Tu.
TOBIN: I'm Tobin Low.
KATHY: And Nancy is a production of WNYC Studios.
[END CREDITS MUSIC]
CASSIE: Do you have any particular thoughts on the theme song?
SARAH: That song was not my favorite, damn it. Damn it! I did not like that song. I fast forwarded through it the entire time. All right. Let’s like, let's do better.