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'The L Word' Returns, Rebooted For 'Generation Q'

L-R: Actors Jennifer Beals, Leisha Hailey and Katherine Moennig reprise their original roles in <em>The L Word: Generation Q. </em>The rebooted series also welcomes plenty of new cast members.
Hilary B. Gayle
L-R: Actors Jennifer Beals, Leisha Hailey and Katherine Moennig reprise their original roles in The L Word: Generation Q. The rebooted series also welcomes plenty of new cast members.

The Showtime series The L Word depicted the multi-layered lives of a tight-knit group of LGBTQ women in LA. Groundbreaking in its day, it tackled issues of love and relationships — and sex — between women in a way that TV had rarely before seen.

When the series went off the air in 2009, thoughts of a reboot periodically resurfaced. But it was President Donald Trump's election in 2016 that lit a fire in one of the original stars, Jennifer Beals.

"We decided to get together and talk about what we could do to be helpful," Beals says. "And we realized our strong suit is storytelling and perhaps this is the moment to rededicate to bringing The L Word back — to give visibility to the community that was about to get hit by this divisive administration."

Now Beals, along with creator Ilene Chaiken and a mix of returning and fresh cast members, are bringing the show back for a new era. The L Word: Generation Q premieres on Showtime this Sunday.

Beals and Chaiken spoke about the original series and the relaunch.

Interview Highlights

On any burden of representation in the original series

Chaiken: In the beginning, I didn't feel that pressure of representation — of, you know, serving the community that has become so important to the show and to me. I just felt the pressure of making a television show. But when I got on set that first day, and we started shooting, and I saw these actresses portraying these characters and I realized: We were telling stories about love between and among women and sexual love as well as romantic love. And I had never really seen that on television. I just was overwhelmed.

On criticism of Max, a transgender character from the original series

Ilene Chaiken (left) and Jennifer Beals attend the Season 1 premiere of <em>The L Word: Generation Q</em>.
Frank Micelotta / Showtime
Ilene Chaiken (left) and Jennifer Beals attend the Season 1 premiere of The L Word: Generation Q.

Chaiken: When we introduced that character, there had been no portrayals of trans characters on television. And we were flying blind. I mean, we did a lot of research. GLAAD sent people into the writers' room. We met other trans people, particularly F-to-M trans people, who came in and talked to us. But the rules change over time. So at the time, we didn't know, and it wasn't yet, a rule that one casts trans actors to play trans characters. In retrospect, that was a mistake; at the time, we didn't know. I acknowledge and own that it was imperfect, but we were the first to do it and we did our best.

Beals: And also, I think at that time, trans characters were by and large being portrayed as mentally ill or criminal in some way. And I think, you know, Max certainly wasn't that. And so it was an alternative to that narrative — and albeit it was a nascent alternative, but it was something. And so even in the flaw, you're furthering the cause.

On if depicting lesbian sex on screen is still revolutionary

Chaiken: I think it's revolutionary in America because we're such a sex-averse culture. And to talk about sex, not just lesbian sex or LGBTQ sex, just to talk about sex is revolutionary. And personally, I really like telling stories about sex — not gratuitously, but because it's a big part of our story. That's that's why I like it, because it reveals so much about who we are. This story of not just who we love, but how we love and what happens when we engage in sexual encounter is so revealing.

On casting Beals, a straight woman, as a gay character

Chaiken: I've never asked when casting: Are you gay or straight? I'm looking for someone I believe in a role. And in casting these new actors, apart from the trans character portrayed by a trans actor, we didn't ask any of these actresses whether they're gay or straight. And frankly, I don't know for the most part whether they are.

Beals: It's also a really tricky question to ask in the casting room, because there might be somebody who's not willing to share their story yet. You don't know where they are in the process in their own journey of identity. So it's a tricky thing. Definitely, you want authenticity — but you also want to want to respect where someone is in their journey. It's not something you would ask someone in the casting process, I think.

Chaiken: And Jennifer Beals may be straight, but [her character] Bette Porter is one of the best lesbians I know.

Beals: I'm really proud to be an honorary lesbian.

On how to adapt the series over time

Beals: I think the key is to identify good story all the time. And, you know, hopefully you can identify where you can do better, for sure. But I think, you know, first and foremost, as storytellers, I think you identify the great story. And that's where the show will live or die.

Chaiken: And in telling the story, I think you acknowledge the conversation we're having right now. But I think that the biggest lesson that we learn is to always ask the question, and ask it of one another, and with sensitivity and interest. And that's how we evolve.

Mohamad ElBardicy edited this interview for broadcast. Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.