The ensemble of “L Word: Generation Q” is back for another season, and this time the sapphic circle of friends is tackling all things matrimonial. But not all is wedded bliss for the often unlucky-in-love cast. The audience is treated to existential crisis after crisis, as characters weigh commitment against the perks of single life — whether they like it or not. And right out of the gate, there’s an homage to “The Graduate” that sets the stage for the many romantic implosions, and never-ending fallouts, to come. (At least Dustin Hoffman waited until the end of the ‘60s classic to throw a wrench into someone else’s wedding plans.)
Bette (Jennifer Beals) is back to shaking up the art world following an unceremonious end to her mayoral run and the affair that sabotaged it at the end of Season 1. But even with a fresh start and some new romantic interests, Bette can’t seem to shake the burden of her past infidelities, especially the one that ended things with her ex-wife, Tina (Laurel Holloman), all those years ago. If the original first season taught fans anything, though, it’s that Bette won’t be single, or at least celibate, for long. With decades of divorce and motherhood under her belt, she no longer resembles the woman once accused by Alice of being a “sex addict.” But it’s hard to imagine her ever settling for just one woman.
Tina, however, does seem to have found the one. Season 2 introduces Tina’s much-talked-about fiancée, Carrie, played by series newbie Rosie O’Donnell. The industry veteran slots in seamlessly with the original cast, though not everyone is thrilled to make her acquaintance. Bette’s saboteur tendencies seem to be rearing their ugly head early on in introductions, though it remains to be seen how far she’ll take things. Surely one derailed wedding is enough per season.
Bette and Tina’s daughter, Angie (Jordan Hull), emerges as one of the new season’s scene-stealers in an expanded storyline looking into the identity of her biological father. Newcomer Hull is a star in the making, a fresh face whose acting has a mature edge. Hull lends an air of reality to scenes that often skew melodramatic, especially when playing opposite the gaggle of veterans who act as her ever-present fictional extended family.
Another welcome addition to the new season is more lines for actor Jillian Mercado, who plays Maribel, the sister of “Generation Q” pivotal character Sophie Suarez (Rosanny Zayas). Maribel’s lovable sarcasm and deadpan delivery result in most of the season’s rare successful one-liners. It’s much needed comic relief in a series that’s never been known for being laugh-out-loud funny and has stuck closely to its original formula, from dialogue to plot. Co-creator Ilene Chaiken may have handed the reins over to Marja-Lewis Ryan, who showruns, produces, writes and directs, but the vision remains largely the same. And so, too, do most of the characters’ storylines this season.
Couple Sophie and Dani (Arienne Mandi), whose relationship never seems to be off the rocks, find themselves in more than one love-triangle — again. Finley (Jacqueline Toboni) continues to play the charming troublemaker. And Shane (Katherine Moennig), fresh off a divorce, will always be Shane: magnetic, self-indulgent and still cutting the black, precisely tailored, androgynous silhouette that defined her in the original series.
Though character development can sometimes feel trapped on a hamster wheel, there are plenty of relationship-status comings and goings to keep things moving forward. But one will-they-won’t-they scenario stands out: Alice and Nat (Stephanie Allynne), who have just ended the throuple with Nat’s ex-wife, Gigi (Sepideh Moafi). Fan-favorite Alice, played by Leisha Hailey, is often absorbed by her own drama and career as a talk show host. But this season, she has good reason to be hyper-focused on her own affairs as her love life quickly begins to unravel. Season 1’s romantic trysts have consequences, and that’s especially true for Alice and Nat.
Micah, played by transgender actor and activist Leo Sheng, also finds himself wrapped up in a messy marriage this time around. After discovering at the end of Season 1 that his romantic interest, smouldering neighbor Jose (Freddy Miyares), is a married man, Micah has to decide whether he’s capable of sharing or if it’s time to put an end to burgeoning romance.
Micah’s sexual awakening in the first season remains one of the more progressive threads of the “Q” reboot, bringing the show up to speed on current expressions of gender and sexuality. But whether Micah will be given the airtime to bring “L Word” into the 2020s remains to be seen. If not, the show runs the risk of merely checking boxes when it comes to identity politics, in a transparent bid to attract a new generation of viewers.
Hopefully, Chaiken, who also co-created “Generation Q,” will grab the much-needed second chance on trans representation. Along with the original final season’s wholly unsatisfying end, the bungled Moira-Max trans storyline remains one of the franchise’s more memorable missteps — points that the producers, which include Beals, Hailey and Moennig, seem painfully aware of.
Like most reboots, “Generation Q” struggles to live up to its well-loved if now dated forbearer, even with the commendable commitment of the original cast. For a show that made its name showing lesbian sex, which was virtually invisible elsewhere on television, there’s a noticeable lack of on-screen intimacy in the newer iteration. Updated storylines that introduce subjects beyond the cisgender-lesbian spectrum show promise but haven’t yet gotten off the ground. And often, the high-gloss Showtime production feels more like an ambitious passion project or apology tour than a much-needed update on the beloved cult show.
Despite those shortcomings, legions of fans can at least count on this: The women of the “L Word” will forever be doomed to the most daunting of quests — finding love in the glamorous world of lesbian L.A. And Showtime, in turn, can always count on those legions of fans. It’s been 17 years since the women of the “L Word” changed the face of late-night television, but it still remains one of the only mainstream shows centered on lesbian relationships. Until the rest of entertainment catches up, audiences will continue to tune in for the series’ good, bad and underwhelming.
The second season of "The L Word: Generation Q" premieres Sunday, Aug. 8, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.