“Same Sex, Different City,” the billboard read. It was 2003 and I was in Los Angeles with my old girlfriend, driving around that vast, sprawling metropolis looking for thrift stores and a vegan restaurant.
At that time, both of us lived in the cold, dark world of The Closet, compelled to keep our relationship a secret by deeply religious families, homophobic college peers, and a world we thought could never understand our love for each other. Of course, we were also 19 and both in love for the first time, therefore making us equal parts naive and crazy. It was a difficult time: We constantly questioned everything about ourselves and our relationship, and not a day went by that we didn’t feel guilty or confused.
“That tagline is like a play on Sex and the City,” I uttered nervously after we had both been lost in thought, wondering if there could actually be a television show about gay women.
“Yeah, I wonder if, you know, it’s about, um, lesb:” my ex-girlfriend trailed off.
Well, it’s the beginning of 2008, and I can say without question that the television show advertised on that billboard is definitely about lesbians. The L Word-created by Ilene Chaiken and starring (among others) a post-Flashdance Jennifer Beals, Uh Huh Her/Gush musician Leisha Hailey, a post-Foxy Brown Pam Grier, and a slew of familiar faces in various guest spots (Snoop Dogg, Ugly Betty‘s Eric Mabius, Holland Taylor, and Anne Archer)-is now entering its fifth season and is more popular than ever.
The first season was equal parts comedy and drama, the second season started to take itself too seriously, and the third season-despite seeing some of the show’s biggest tragedies-was a return to the flashes of hilarity that got us all hooked in the first place. Why, you may ask, do I find myself able to lump together all three seasons? Because that’s how I watched them: in an addicted, obsessed fashion.
When my current girlfriend, Jackie, and I started dating, we rented seasons one and two. She had only seen season one, and The L Word had fallen off my radar after a nasty breakup with the ex-girlfriend who saw the billboard with me in L.A. It started calmly at first, with only an episode or two per night. But as the plot started shooting us toward shocking, oh-my-God moments and revelations, we quickly jumped to four or five episodes a night.
For the uninitiated, that’s a hell of a lot of TV. I became a regular at Video Visions on the Mesa, and few friends and coworkers could engage me in conversation about things not related to how Bette and Tina were doing, if Jenny was really crazy, and what would happen with Alice and Dana. The day season three came to video, Jackie and I went to Blockbuster immediately after work, only to find that the entire season had already been rented-by 5 p.m., no less.
Why the rabid behavior? Yes, these ladies are lovely to look at, but they have relationships that are real and relatable. Most of the characters may be gay, but straight audiences can connect to the problems and joys of what each person is experiencing, too. It’s gay-themed, but not gay-centric-the idea is that people love in the same way, no matter what their orientation; it’s the human experience.
When season four was getting started, I asked around if anyone had cable and was interested in watching a weekly show with Jackie and me. My good friend, Erica, and her boyfriend, Devon, stepped up, and so began our Sunday tradition of dinner and The L Word. We were excited at the prospect of season five together, but alas, Humboldt State University called and Devon and Erica are relocating to Eureka, where there isn’t even a Trader Joe’s (an example of an argument I tried to get them to stay in sunny S.B.).
Erica and Devon are bummed about leaving, too. It’s not just that the four of us like the show; rather, it was an excuse to get together with friends, and a time to enjoy more members of our created family. As Erica and Devon embark on this new and exciting chapter, Jackie and I are left to wonder: Should we get Showtime?