Words by Shayna Cohen
If you question a college student today about whether or not a show with nudity can possibly have any substance at all, you will be greeted with a chorus of Hodors and a four-minute humming of the world’s most epic theme song. Game of Thrones, recognized for its cast of robust characters, complex storyline, and graphic brutality, is not the first to utilize sexposition, the communication of important storyline information through characters engaging in sexual activity.
Rewinding the clock, you will discover one unknown show that did it first and did it better: Showtime’s The L Word, a highly popular series that ran from 2004 to 2009, depicting the professional and personal lives of several queer characters in Los Angeles.
The L Word has gone unnoticed and unwatched by most of the current generation, even though all six seasons are currently available on Netflix, but is well-known by one demographic-queer women. Buzzfeed even produced an episode of women reacting to it for the first time. The L Word is made a unique and powerful show through its use of raw intimacy and an ostensible lack of diversity. Only one of the main characters, Bette Porter, is mixed race, with an African American father and a white mother. Her racial background and how that impacts her relationships with others is key to her character and a talking point of the show throughout its six seasons.
She spends a lot of time with her black half-sister and black father, supporting her recovering alcoholic sister and taking care of her father during the last month of his life. Her relationship with her nonwhite family is the basis for her upbringing, passion, and character, and is a bond she fights to maintain through family strife with regard to her sexuality. Her ability to defend and hold on to her identity while existing in the white world is admirable. She never denies her heritage, even though she can pass as white.
One of the major arguments she gets into with her partner, Tina Kennard, is who the sperm donor for their child should be. Bette comes home from work one day, thrilled that she managed to find a donor who is kind, artistic, and supportive of their life choices. When he meets Tina at her house, Tina is visibly shocked by his dark complexion and later questions Bette about it, fearing for the dangers of placing even more “otherness” on their child. Bette, however, holds her ground, feeling like the child needs to be a reflection of both of them, sharing their histories and looking more like a child they would conceive together, if not so limited by biology. Bette understands that her child might walk easier through society with lighter skin, but both Bette and The L Word defend the importance of diversity, nondiscrimination, and individual pride.
Intimacy in the The L Word is vital to the show’s message of equality and character development, and is not a lewd trick designed to attract viewers. For example, only three minutes into the show’s pilot, Bette and Tina discover that Tina is ovulating, meaning that she is in an optimal position to conceive a child for the two to raise together. The love and tenderness of the couple is conveyed solely through the couple’s smiles, hand holding, quick kiss, and voices, and yet it is a supreme moment of human tenderness. Later on, when the two begin the process of conception, their moments of shared passion have great meaning to the viewer, not only because he or she now knows the characters and feels emotionally connected to them, but also because the actresses wonderfully portray the love and trust that are crucial to the relationship.
For different characters, intimate moments are used to convey different emotions and struggles. Whenever the notoriously single Shane McCutcheon enters into a one-night stand, the same carefulness and dialogue are not displayed as when Bette and Tina are on screen. Shane’s lack of emotional connection highlights her difficulty in forming romantic relationships and her relaxed, no strings attached, way of life. When Alice Pieszecki finally wins over the woman of her dreams, the pure joy on her face demonstrates the importance the relationship has to her. Each character is unique and three-dimensional on the show, and moments of intimacy among them are used to further develop both the characters and the plot, and not as a simple thrill for the audience.
Alice even analyzes the causes and power of intimacy among humans as the overarching theme of the show. She makes a chart that later grows into an international website, which allows people to input their names into an endless tree, whose branches connect them to people they have been intimate with.
Alice argues and fights for the importance of the chart throughout the series, claiming that it is a testament to humans reaching out to each other through the pain, emptiness, and unsatisfying nature of life in a quest for connection and understanding.
Unlike other television shows, The L Word defines its message around intimacy, proving how it is not a simple thrill for people, but rather a way communicate bonds of love and support. While shows like Game of Thrones integrate intimacy into their storylines as a way to convey information, The L Word takes it a step further by using it as a way to convey emotion. The L Word is a unique show, the first of its kind to focus entirely on queer women, in a time before the national legalization of same-sex marriage.
It gave people a previously unreachable display of living as a queer women in society surrounded by other queer women. It is a part of LGBTQ+ culture to this day, with a large portion of the community understanding jokes, references, and allusions to the show and its meaning.
The exploration of meaningful relationships among people is the theme of The L Word, and according to Alice, “ it’s a really profound statement about the nature of human existence.”