Tag Archives: feminism

Edie Falco and Eve Best on Nurse Jackie

The second season of this Showtime series continued to showcase the remarkable talents of Edie Falco and a terrific supporting cast. Writer/producers Linda Wallem and Liz Brixius (who are themselves recovering addicts) risk putting together a story based on the trials and tribulations of a drug addict who also happens to be extremely smart and competent at her job, if not quite so effective with her family. All these episodes into the story, we still don’t know the root of Jackie’s addiction, or for that matter, her unhappiness.

Because truth be told, Jackie never really seems that unhappy. Her husband is handsome and sweet, a much more maternal figure than she is, who manages their household with aplomb and sometimes grace. Her on-again off-again affair with Eddie, the pharmacist, seems sincere, just when you think she’s only using him for his access to drugs. Which maybe she is; one of the more compelling aspects of Nurse Jackie is that we never hear Jackie’s internal monologue.

We occasionally see her look at herself in a mirror (the show’s opening credits roll over a slow-motion scene of Jackie’s pleasant relationship with her medicine cabinet), but she never seems to appraise herself honestly. Something in her gaze laughs off the implications of what she’s doing (which is usually snorting up a line of powder or pills poured from a capsule she’s broken open). Falco plays her almost mischievously, as though part of the addiction game, for Jackie, is that she can manage to maintain it without getting caught by anyone else or even admitting it to herself. All her intelligence goes toward maintaining the ruse of her competent life.

That basic lie compromises all of Jackie’s relationships, but Wallem and Brixius don’t judge the character. Part of what makes Jackie compelling is how she juggles the contradiction between the self she presents to her colleagues and friends and the secrets she hides.

This season, a few cracks started to appear in the façade of her sangfroid. On a vacation with her husband, Kevin (Dominic Fumusa), and her daughters, Jackie loses the stash she’s brought with her in a nicely camouflaging dental floss container , and quickly finds an excuse to take her family home. The conditions for returning are reasonable (and since this is a comedy series, funny)—they’ve wound up in a B&B that represents the worst of the category, with a proprietor who’s immediately in their business and a room that barely contains the four of them.

Situations always conspire to hide Jackie’s need. In this case, it’s easy for her to suggest that a stay-cation will be better for all of them, and Kevin promptly loads them up and heads home. But that scene is one of the series’ first indications that Jackie can’t do without, that the drugs she collects and enjoys are more necessary than recreational.

Other cracks in her façade appeared this season in her hysteric daughter Grace’s neurotic symptoms. The poor kid’s anxiety rides so high she’s losing her hair. Grace is painfully serious, mortally concerned with ravages to the environment and her potentially short future. Grace manifests physically and emotionally everything that Jackie hides. Jackie refuses to think about the consequences of her double life; Grace thinks too deeply about a childhood that should be much more carefree.

Jackie refuses to see danger anywhere, believing she’s somehow impervious to reality and what it might inflict. Grace can barely leave her room without being hurt or affected on some somatic or spiritual level by the pain that seems to exude from every corner of her life. Jackie can’t help Grace; she’s like an alien creature who feels everything, while Jackie resolutely feels nothing.

The wonderful Elizabeth Marvel plays the mother of Grace’s friend as an insufferably perfect supervisor of her daughter’s life. But Jackie simply refuses to be the model mother. In fact, her drug use seems in part about protesting or resisting all the conventional roles that are rightfully hers—friend, lover, wife, mother—rejecting them for a life lived behind the rose-colored glasses provided by those pretty red and white pills.

Only Eddie (Paul Schulze) has an inkling of what’s up. The series’ first season ended with him uncovering the truth of Jackie’s double-life, and this season, he insinuated himself into her family by befriending Kevin across his bar in Queens. As Kevin and Eddie become good friends, we realize how isolated and lonely Kevin is in his househusband/barkeep role. But Jackie’s lives converge in uncomfortable ways that begin to complicate the simple solid line she draws between the hospital and home.

Eddie becomes a bit snarky this season, since he knows one of Jackie’s secrets and uses it to exercise power over her. The situation lets the writers show Jackie sweating.She’s furious with Eddie for infiltrating her life, but quickly accommodates to the power he holds and changes her tactics. She keeps Eddie in line by baiting him with the possibility of returning to their relationship, although he retains the upper hand, since Kevin has come to like and trust him as his friend.

Jackie’s relationship with Dr. O’Hara (Eve Best) also takes a hit this season, becoming more complex and layered as the writers flesh out Best’s character. Their friendship has always been odd—would a wealthy doctor really be BFFs with a nurse from Queens? Would they really lunch in fancy restaurants, and become so close that O’Hara would want to pay for Jackie’s kids’ education?

The plot point stretches believability, and yet as played by Falco and Best, the women’s compatibility comes from their wry, even mordant sense of their absurd situations, if not the sum of their lives. Their respect for one another stems from how good they are at what they do, and from being women in a professional environment that privileges men.

Anna Deavere Smith, as Gloria Akalitus, was given a larger role this season, which allowed her character, too, to illustrate women’s plight in a male-dominated world.While Akalitus still carries much of the show’s comedy, patrolling her ER like a bomb-sniffing dog, looking for rule infractions and inappropriate behavior along with cost-cutting possibilities, this season clarified that Gloria also has a real heart. She and Jackie understood one another on a deeper level, and Gloria learned how to manage the huge and unwieldy ego that is Dr. Cooper (“Coop,” wonderfully played by Peter Facinelli).

One of Nurse Jackie’s central pleasures is the buffoonery of its leading male character. Utterly self-centered and entirely arrogant, Coop expects the staff to kow-tow to his position just because he’s male and a doctor, surrounded by nurses who are mostly women and gay men. Enamored of his own good looks, Coop pays to extend the ad campaign that featured him as the face of All Saints Hospital, unable to tolerate not seeing himself on billboards and bus shelters around the city.

In the second season’s finale, Coop beds the free-spirited girlfriend of the recovering addict male nurse, Sam (Arjun Gupta), prompting the poor guy to fall off the wagon and to land his fist on Coop’s nose. Crushed that his face has been compromised, Coop goes crying to O’Hara and Jackie, while Sam gets completely bombed, forcing Jackie to reveal that she knows all the tricks for quickly returning someone to sobriety.

The writers temper Coop’s insufferable ego-centricism by making his character as full of contradictions as Jackie’s. He’s the child of two mothers, raised by lesbians yet still flaunting his male privilege and cluelessness about what it means to be “othered.”Occasionally, he uses his provenance to try to establish liberal credentials, but it never quite sticks, as Coop has too much fun surfing through life on the wave of his whiteness and his maleness.

His absurd and occasional attempts to make common cause are only excuses for comedy. For example, when Harvey Fierstein guest stars as a gay man (no surprise) whose partner is dying, Coop makes sure to let him know that his mothers are lesbians. That Fierstein and most other characters respond with indifference is a neat commentary on how an unconventional background no long automatically makes you empathetic or even interesting.

Coop’s tic—when he’s stressed, he grabs women’s breasts and won’t let go—is hysterical in both senses of the word. It provides terrific opportunities for his acting partners (especially Merritt Wever, as apprenticing nurse Zoey) to react comically and it’s a very funny psychological manifestation of his inability to crawl out of the womb.Even though Coop’s mothers made a guest appearance in Season One, we learn little else about Coop’s life outside of All Saints.

We really don’t know anyone’s back-story on Nurse Jackie. The appearance this season of O’Hara’s sometimes girlfriend—a television journalist played by the beautiful, perky Julia Ormond—revealed that she’s bisexual. In one episode over that story arc, O’Hara and Sam have a quickie in the hospital chapel. As their breathing starts getting hot and heavy, Sam admits he has a girlfriend and O’Hara retorts, “So do I.”

Although her relationship with the girl reporter doesn’t work out, O’Hara’s lesbian proclivities add nuance and texture to a character who’s already an unusual take on what it means to be a woman doctor. Proudly rich, decked out in catch-me-fuck-me heels and designer clothing under her white lab coat, O’Hara is supremely competent and unruffled.

Yet all we know about her outside of her professional life is that she won’t tolerate a girlfriend who cheats and that money is no object. When she and Jackie share a moment, after it’s clear O’Hara’s affair has ended, Jackie admits that she likes being O’Hara’s “girl.” O’Hara confesses that Jackie is the only reason she looks forward to coming to work every day. Odd couple though they might be, Jackie and the doctor are in many ways the show’s central pair, the Meredith and McDreamy of All Saints.

Nurse Jackie, thankfully, isn’t Grey’s Anatomy. While on Grey’s, the staff’s work is a thinly veiled excuse for muddling in their personal melodramas, Nurse Jackie is more interested in how our work becomes our lives. Although Nurse Jackie’s writers say their show is really about addiction, it’s also about how our work is so central, it’s easy to split off professional personae from domestic selves.

Jackie’s best self patrols the floor of All Saints, where she delights in bending rules and advocating for people who have little power over controlling institutions. She might be unethical, but her choices are always for the good, and always make the right kind of difference.

That her personal life is morally suspect casts a pallor on her character’s righteousness, but it’s also realistic and somehow true. No one is perfect. Without her flaws, Jackie would seem a larger-than-life crusader. Instead, she fights the good fight with one hand and puts dope up her nose with the other. Despite the hospital’s name, no one is a saint—or perhaps, on the contrary, we all are, warts and all.

The Feminist Spectator

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Hung on HBO

HBO’s new summer series about a man whose anatomy becomes his professional destiny is not the first place I’d look for feminist television programming. And yet Hung turns out to be a wonderfully smart, funny, and indeed feminist story of a down-on-his-luck middle-class white history teacher-basketball coach whose wife divorces him, whose house burns nearly to the ground because of an electrical short in an overloaded extension chord, and who can’t get his life together, financially, emotionally, or pragmatically.

Ray Decker, played by the handsome, valiant Thomas Jane, is an otherwise ordinary man, beset with all the problems of someone whose best years are well behind him. He was a high school baseball star, who married his high school sweetheart, never left the Detroit suburb where he was raised, and in fact lives in a tent in the backyard of the house he inherited from his parents, which burns in a catastrophic fire in the series opener. He’s an average white guy stuck in his own history, who never progressed beyond his teenage success.

His wife, Jessica, the now-faded cheerleader, played by Anne Heche in parodic high dudgeon, has left him for Ronnie (Eddie Jemison), a high school geek who grew up to be a plastic surgeon (he gives Jessica shots of Botox after their morning coffee). Ronnie is short, blinkered, and socially clueless; it’s clear Jessica is more attracted to his money than to his body. Ironically, mid-way through the season, as the economic downturn hits, Ronnie announces that they aren’t rich anymore, leading Jessica’s busy-body mother (who looks like Dr. Ruth and speaks with an inexplicable Eastern European accent) to ask Jessica if she has to keep “giving him sex.” While Jessica dismisses her mother’s concern, in a later scene, as Ronnie rolls her way to nuzzle her ear in their marital bed, Jessica summarily announces that she’s not in the mood, predicting a lot of bad sexual luck in Ronnie’s future.

In an effort to improve his odds financially, Ray enrolls in a how-to-get-rich-quick seminar led by Floyd Gerber (Steve Hytner), whose large teeth, bad haircut, and empty inspiration reads as big-L loser immediately. In the seminar, Ray reconnects with Tanya (Jane Adams), a goofy poet with writer’s block with whom he had and has again a one-night stand. When their second tryst derails emotionally, Tanya’s accusation that all Ray has going for him is a “big dick” begins an entrepreneurial opportunity for both of them. The unlikely couple embarks on an even more unlikely business venture called “Happiness Consultants,” in which Tanya pimps Ray out to various sexually frustrated (or curious) middle-class suburban housewives.

If Ray is hobbled by his own stasis, Tanya’s earnest ambitions are enough to motivate them both. Although she’s a bohemian writer trying to be a vegetarian, she takes her work as Ray’s pimp very seriously. Part of the series’ comedy comes from watching Tanya navigate in the very unfamiliar waters of sexual capitalism. She’s been unable to write for years and works as a permanent temp as a copy editor in a law firm. But starting this business on the side with Ray let’s her aspire to the personal, intellectual, and especially financial freedom that she hopes will enable her creativity. Tanya’s “alternative” values are never belittled by the show’s writers, but her self-taught cutthroat business sense makes for a comic comparison with her otherwise progressive ethics. Tanya has a nasty mother who dismisses her (played by Rhea Perlman) and isn’t particularly pretty (in fact, in most scenes, Adam’s face is made up with a kind of oily sheen), but she’s vital and lively and cares about things in a way that Ray can’t fathom.

The unlikely affection between Tanya and Ray is utterly appealing as they begin to develop a friendship based on their business partnership. Thomas Jane and Jane Adams have great chemistry and work well off each other. The whole cast, in fact, has a nice bead on the show’s quirky humor, which treads a fine line between satirical and sincere. Heche’s Jessica, for example, who still has feelings for Ray, is surprised but generous when Tanya comes to see him coach a basketball game. Tanya joins the strange family easily, befriending Jessica as she cheers awkwardly (for the wrong team).

Ray’s twin kids, Damon (Charlie Saxton) and Darby (Sianoa Smit-McPhee), are disheveled teenage misfits with weird dyed hair and soft, puffy bodies. But their peculiar relationship to both parents, neither of whom knows exactly what to do with them, gives Ray and Jessica something to bond over. When Charlie pierces his tongue, for example, both parents are horrified. Jessica, maintaining her forced cheerleader cheerfulness, doesn’t understand a thing about her alienated, goth-leaning children, but her attempts to reach them prove funny parodies of the over-sharing, trying-too-hard parent. Saxton and Smit-McPhee do a nice job performing the kids’ incredulity at their parents’ stupidity. The kids’ allegiances shift depending on which parent has more money and the most comfortable place to house them.

Hung seems to be a story about failure, about the losers with whom people associate or who they inadvertently become, but the series’ pleasure comes from the small ways in which the characters succeed in each episode, whether sexually or financially, and the little ways in which their kindness toward one another makes their lives worthwhile.

The series also demonstrates perfectly how people perform what they think others want them to be. Ray’s role as the star of Happiness Consultants isn’t natural to his personality.He might be well endowed, but he needs to be tutored by Tanya in how to play the suave, debonair male prostitute they think their clients expect. The writers regularly prove that no one’s interested in his social performance; only his sexual performance matters, and in that, he always succeeds the way he and Tanya promise.

But in each assignation, Ray learns something about himself and about women. Early in their endeavor, on his first visit to a client, Ray balks at her middle-age, plump body, begging off with a cold. After Tanya scolds him about judging people on their appearances, Ray returns, only to find the woman now skittish about following through. She admits she’s sick of her husband’s inability to please her, but only when Ray shows her the goods is she persuaded (and eagerly excited) to complete the transaction.

In fact, none of the women Ray services are conventionally attractive or behave “normally.”Tanya persuades a sexually frustrated, homely proofreader colleague from work that she’d enjoy employing Ray. Their scene together in a hotel room is a gem, as the woman unmasks their meeting as only a fantasy in which she knows Ray is playing a role, but then happily goes along with it by letting go of her own inhibitions and gleefully repeating, “Let’s fuck” until they do. In all of these instances, Ray is happy to comply, and seems vaguely moved at what he sees in these women.

At the same time, although it’s Ray’s anatomy that provides their income, Ray is the objectified sex worker, a nice role-reversal in the cosmic scheme of conventional prostitution or pornography. Ray is not the agent of his own destiny; it’s Tanya who sets up his meetings, and who scolds him when he tries to arrange dates on his own. Tanya interviews potential clients, assessing their needs and how Ray can meet them. If their business is at all successful, it’s because Tanya understands the emotions that drive their clients’ sexual desires and talks Ray through how to satisfy each customer.

In another neat foiling of presumption, Ray falls in love with Jemma (Natalie Zea), a particularly complicated client with a host of unusual demands. When he tries to date her and begins refusing her payments, she purposefully hurts him. A contrite Tanya realizes too late that Jemma’s game is to construct Ray as the victim in their relationship, to avenge her own victimhood in past relationships. But the scenario upends the assumption that for men, sex is only physical, while for women, it’s emotional, since here the roles are exactly reversed. Ray’s hapless naiveté is partly what makes him so appealing. His masculinity isn’t built to handle the situations in which he’s called on to act. He needs Tanya’s help to navigate the emotional currents of his trick’s needs. But he’s charming in part because he rises to each occasion (literally, of course, and figuratively).

Hung is a really a family drama, with a twist that makes it interesting and a perspective that makes it feminist. No one here is starry-eyed about the American Dream; everyone knows that it’s precarious at best, diseased and desiccated at worse. But the series finds something sweet and poignant, rather than resigned and bitter, about the prevailing state of affairs, drawing the characters’ humanity against the odds. In the last episode, Ray, devastated by Jemma’s betrayal, gets drunk in a bar where he’s recognized by an old rival, a man who pitched against him when he was a senior in a high school and still hasn’t gotten over the fact that Ray, who was a freshman, batted his pitch out of the park. In pouring rain, the men head to a baseball field to relive the moment. The older man throws Ray a duffel bag full of balls one by one, and one at a time, Ray hits them away, saying, “Contact,” after he manages to connect with each pitch. The other man’s middle-aged body is paunchy and sagging as he winds up to throw, the outlines of his mortality palpable against his wet shirt. Ray looks only marginally better as he sways over home plate. The men barely speak, but the scene is a wonderful, soggy illustration of lives stuck in place.

Happily, it’s the proto-feminist Tanya who gives them all hope, who swats away references to her own inferior looks (a constructed claim, since Adams is actually very cute), who glows with newly found confidence, who schemes about ways to increase their business, and who engages her clients with tough pragmatism and no-nonsense business ethics. Adams plays beautifully the blooming power of the underdog who comes into her own. In the last episode, as Ray stumbles back to his tent wet and drunk to find Tanya waiting for him with a wad of cash from Jemma, Adams and Jane perform a sweet scene of friendly intimacy, need, and pleasure that portrays one of the most moving, innovative, insightful relationships on television.

Watch Hung.

The Feminist Spectator

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“Life after ‘The L Word’” at Times Talks

I admit that my unshakable fan status prompted me to bite on the Times offer to see Ilene Chaiken and “members of The L Word cast” talk about life after the series (Their lives? Our lives? Life in the world? Didn’t know). I dutifully paid my $30 and traveled into the city April 20th, a miserable rainy night, and stood in line with hundreds of other lesbians and other folks (I did see one or two men in the crowd), and poured into the very comfortable Times auditorium, and opened my program to see with pleasure that Jennifer Beals would be that “member of the cast.” And all my old and vaguely silly but extremely pleasurable L Word fascination was fanned back into high flame.

After watching the series for six years with at most six or eight friends at a time, and more frequently just with my partner, first on video tapes that started fading with over-viewing and eventually on DVR and then “on demand,” as all our technology changed over those years, it was a revelation to sit in a live audience of hundreds of fans. The demographics surprised me—my unscientific assessment suggests that a third of the audience were squarely middle-aged white women; a third, women in their 20s and 30s; around a quarter women of color of various ages; and the rest illegible to me. When many of these spectators lined up at the open mike during the last segment of the evening, it also became clear they’d come from various parts of the tri-state area and even around the country to hear Chaiken and Beals speak. (I learned only later that various on-line sources, including www.afterellen.com, had revealed earlier that Beals would be Chaiken’s dialogue companion. Here’s a YouTube clip–taken against the wishes of the ushers and security, no doubt, of Chaiken and Beals’ entrance at the event: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkIZrJK7rpk.)

Kim Severson, a Times food writer and out lesbian, moderated the evening with casual wit, channeling a fan’s desire for dirt with a journalist’s sense of the well put, productive question. Chaiken and Beals answered graciously and seemed entirely forthcoming, especially Beals, whose obvious intelligence, fair-mindedness, and generosity lent the evening a great deal of dignity. Beals’ dedication to the larger project of the show was palpable in each of her remarks, and her overtly articulated feminist politics a real pleasure to hear. She described how much her work on the show changed her awareness of gender and sexuality issues in American (and Canadian, since the show was shot in Vancouver) culture, and the new-found confidence working on the series has brought to her own work as an actor on film sets she said are “usually monolithic, patriarchal structures.” She now feels comfortable challenging film and television directors and producers on casual (or explicit) sexism, refusing demeaning dialogue and character set ups.

Beals also related that her connection to her body was strengthened by her L Word work. She told a story about a recent film shoot for The Book of Eli, a movie she just wrapped with Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman, written and directed by the Hughes brothers (whom she noted with pleasure were terrific to work with because they’re biracial and were raised by a lesbian). The director of photography on the shoot explained apologetically that a shot that started at her feet and moved up her body wouldn’t “linger”; she reassured him that she’d just spent six years on The L Word, and wasn’t at all worried about how he’d film her body. Hearing her pride and pleasure in her own sexuality, and the obvious feminism through which she sees her work, was striking throughout the evening.

Apparently, the rumored spin-off starring Leisha Hailey (to be called The Farm) was put on indefinite hold, but Chaiken is pursuing plans for an L Word film. The Beals and Chaiken also have a new project they’re working on together that, they protested, is still germinating and too soon to reveal. But the pleasure they take in their own professional partnership was palpable. They told stories they’ve rehearsed many times elsewhere about how they started working together. Beals was the first person cast on the show; at the time, she was contemplating an offer to play a prostitute, and said she happily chose to play a lesbian instead.

Given the choice to play Bette or Tina, she choose Bette, and asked that Chaiken write her character as biracial, since in addition to the progressive work she knew the show would do for representations of lesbians, she said she also wanted to see her own identity on screen. Beals said she also loved Rose Troche, one of the show’s first directors, when they met. Since most of the episodes were directed by artists who, like Troche, were associated with independent film, Beals said shooting each episode was like doing a “little movie.”

Chaiken admitted that the most autobiographical characters on the show were Bette and Jenny (until, that is, Jenny “went crazy,” in Chaiken’s description). Bette connected to Chaiken’s life as a high powered professional woman trying to balance a relationship with someone slightly less socially visible, and the complications of being a woman in the arts and media. Chaiken didn’t say much about how Jenny reflected her own life, but one can surmise. She said that the two characters channeled “a lot of my issues” until they “became themselves.”

Severson asked how Chaiken secured so many terrific, high-profile female guest artists for the show. Chaiken explained that many women were taken enough with the series that they had their agents call to express their interest. Although she insists she didn’t write for any particular actors, she was pleased with the pool of people available from whom to cast. She and Beals agreed there are so few parts for women that are “interesting and different and not in the service of a man’s story,” that especially women actors into their 30s and beyond were eager to join the cast. Beals emphasized how different it was to perform a character whose life doesn’t revolve around a man.

Severson referred to the controversy that surrounded the show since its premiere, with some spectators complaining that the characters (and the actors who played them) were too beautiful, too thin, or too unrealistic. Chaiken responded that if no one were inflamed about the series, it wouldn’t have lasted for six years. She admitted that she got attacked because Jenny was Jewish, even though, Chaiken said, “I happen to be Jewish, too.” Beals seemed more distressed by some of the harsh, on-line responses to the twists and turns in Bette’s portrayal, and decided she needed to steer clear of fan site discussion boards.

Severson joked about the peculiar plot twists of the final season (referring casually to “the guy with the beard,” who killed Jenny, and the various other “what’s up with that?” moments of the season), and Beals quipped that Chaiken “went over to the dark side” for the show’s last episodes. Chaiken protested that the show reflected “life” and couldn’t always be sunny; likewise, when Severson, to the glee of much of the audience, accused her of “killing” Dana, Chaiken defended herself by saying that she thought it was a true, important depiction of lesbians with cancer.

Chaiken and Beals stressed throughout the evening that the show’s goal was to tell stories that hadn’t been told before. Beals, in particular, underlined that her work on the show always had a political quotient, while Chaiken side-stepped the politics, demurring that you can’t begin with the intent to make a political point and wind up with “good art.” I was more impressed by Beals’ attention to what it meant to American culture for a series about lesbians to persist for six good years.

She said as she was doing press, she remembered that the “personal is political,” using good old fashioned feminist language to mark the intersection of life and ideology. She said she was excited about the possibility of helping a “young girl in the middle of nowhere find herself represented,” and about “giving someone safety and the room to be authentic. Everyone needs to be heard,” she said.

Questions from the audience were sometimes sweet and moving, and sometimes astute. One middle-aged African American woman responded to Beals’ remark about the isolated young would-be lesbian, saying that even those of us who live and work in places like New York are empowered by seeing representations of ourselves on screen. The woman related how her co-workers, to whom she was already out, seemed to have a new appreciation for her life and her lesbian family, and that the show gave her an opportunity for a “second coming out” that obviously filled her with surprised pride.

A surprising number of straight women took the microphone to attest to how The L Word affected their own lives, prompting the audience to murmur with a rather affronted impatience. But Chaiken and Beals responded magnanimously, especially Beals, who took each question seriously, looked directly at the speaker, and answered precisely and carefully. Beals has the same gravitas she brought to Bette; I could feel the audience responding with a great deal of respect (and no small amount of pleasure and desire. She was clearly the icon of the moment).

Chaiken and Beals struck a mutually wistful tone through much of the evening, considering the show’s six year life-span and its recent end. Beals said she’s in frequent touch with Kate Moennig, who played Shane; she texted her recently to ask what she wouldn’t give for one more scene at the Planet, chatting over a cup of coffee. The nostalgia and longing was sweet, and reminded me that those scenes in the restaurant always seemed among the most authentic, full of real connections among the actors and the characters. Beals recalled how much she learned from doing the show. “My eyes were also opened,” she said. “I learned how connected we all are. All women are connected. Homophobia is a form of misogyny.”

Chaiken said she thought The L Word happened at a moment of “receptivity for gay characters on tv,” when “the culture was ready.” Now, she believes that if she were to pitch the series, producers would tell her that lesbians have “been done.” The pair said they thought they’d be “passing a baton,” but instead, they said, “there’s nothing” on television that will continue to till the groundThe L Word broke.

At the end of the evening, Beals made a point of thanking the fans for their dedicated support of the show. She said she’s realized, by attending various fundraisers, that there’s a market for the photographs she took on set during the series (Beals has a solid reputation as a photographer, as well as an actor). She’s thinking of making an L Word photo book, for which she’d give the royalties to various charities.

I have to say I was proud to be among those fans that night, proud of Chaiken and Beals and Severson and how smart they all were, how feminist, how progressive, how positive and articulate about the need for the kind of work The L Word accomplished in the cultural imagination. A couple days later, I watched a clip online of Laurel Holloman accepting an award for “sexiest scene on television” at the Bravo A-List Awards show. She paraded her lovely self up to the mike, looking sexy and gorgeous, took hold of the vaguely phallic globe that served as the trophy, and joked, “This looks a prop from my show.” She went on to remark that she was accepting the award for a scene in which she “sat on Jennifer’s face.” She applauded how remarkable it is (“How cool is that?”) that such a scene could be televised, let alone awarded, and said, “I don’t know what’s with this Prop 8 business,” before she left the stage.

Maybe it’s politics lite, but it’s politics, just the same. The L Word girls are out there getting it said, getting it done, chipping away at those “patriarchal structures” and homophobia and misogyny, not just in the film and television industries, but in many of our lives.

How cool is that?

The Feminist Spectator

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