For a full five years, a good proportion of the English lesbian population (and their inquisitive heterosexual friends) were glued to The L Word. A glossy, airbrushed, Los Angeles-set drama, The L Word was lesbian chic and featured a cast of characters with professions such as radio presenter, gallery owner, tennis star, film producer and bestselling author. Hardly representative of a regular group of lesbian friends.
But UK girls loved it nonetheless. Or did we? Was it a question of watching the only thing that was actually about other gay girls? Because, let’s face it, Radio Times is hardly brimming with real, good quality lesbian drama. Sure, soap operas like Brookside and even Neighbours have offered a token nod to gay life, but aside from The L-Word there has been precious little representation of lesbian society.
The thing about The L Word is that we simultaneously love and hate its ridiculous plotlines, all-American glam girls and regularly unbelievable scripts. It is sheer escapism. But maybe we value it for the small element of reality that it managed to retain. For example, The L Word gave well-rounded personalities to ‘butch’ lesbian characters who until then had usually been reduced to a generic stereotype. It described the unfair treatment of gay people in the armed forces, and it showed the tangled web of relationships which all girls are familiar with.
Perhaps because of these few redeeming features we forgive The L Word for a multitude of sins. Because for the most part, its plotlines are way off the top of the Ridiculous Scale. For example, without wanting to spoil the final episode for those who haven’t seen it yet, I’m sure many of those who did would join me in asking ‘Who on earth was responsible for that?’.
While The L Word was no doubt a groundbreaking show when it first aired, and one which brought lesbian life to a hugely broad audience, isn’t it time that we had something a little more… real?
In the UK we did of course have Sugar Rush, a post-watershed teen drama based on Julie Burchill’s novel which delineated one girl’s crush and subsequent foray into lesbian life with humour and panache. And because it was so undoubtedly English, and wasn’t only filmed when the sun was shining, it gave a more honest account of what it is to be a young lesbian.
It seems TV bosses have finally listened to what the audience wants, with the news this week that there is to be a new lesbian series set in Glasgow from BBC3, while the producers of The L Word are creating a reality TV show titled The Real L Word. But do they really have to turn to reality TV, itself a worn-out genre, in order to bring a realistic representation of lesbian life to the screen? In a post-L Word landscape, what’s needed is creative, quality drama which doesn’t rely on sensational storylines and too much gloss, but depicts lesbians in a realistic light.