February 1, 2010
Lesbian TV online: what to watch after The L Word
The L Word is over, writes Siobhan McGuirk. Long gone. After subjecting loyal viewers to the most ridiculously convoluted and ill-fitting ending to a popular TV show since Dallas turned out to be a dream, it has no credibility to return with anyway. We know it’s time to move on, but where do we have to go? Box sets and memories can only last so long.
The L Word creator Ilene Chaiken had her follow-up The Farm unceremoniously dumped by TV execs across the pond, who had presumably just to see the final season of her show before making up their minds. The void should eventually be filled with the US-remake of Bad Girls, and the BBC recently announced that Lip Service, their “bold” new Glasgow-set lesbian drama, will hit British airwaves in Spring 2010.
It seems, though, that some lesbians simply cannot wait until then. These women, and their cohorts, are picking up their cameras, shooting their original scripts and posting the results online. Switch on the computer rather than the telly and there are new series emerging, webisodes at a time, made just for you. The competition to be ‘the new L Word’, as most explicitly claim to be, is intense. Here’s a quick guide to what to watch online.
Far Out (UK)
This London-set ensemble drama wears its intentions on its sleeve. Opening outside the capital’s famous First Out café, scenes are littered with lesbian pop-culture references from Diva magazine to Stonewall t-shirts and pink Union Jack drapes. The scripts clichés are also cringe-worthy at times, but tolerable enough for the pretty likable first episodes.
Via new-girl on the scene Clare, we’re introduced to a group of friends including the lovelorn player Grace; Kat and Jen, the new couple with different hopes for their future; Emma the sensible one, and her straight, family-laden sister. Fringe characters likely to become more central linger on the sidelines. The acting is hit and miss, but at least the characters look and behave more realistically than their LA counterparts.
A cod-psychology-spouting barmaid could be dropped though, and the comedy needs sharpening. Despite its flaws it promises to improve over time and will probably garner a sizable audience, once the storylines start to develop. When this will be remains to be seen: production halted after the first three episodes and an announcement is pending regarding the future of the show.
Far Out: 6/10
B.J. Fletcher: Private Eye (Canada)
Imagine you have enough money for a good camera and a small crew. You’ve got three or four actresses and enough money for the occasional location shoot, as well as a house, a park and a bar. You’re not great at writing jokes. A perfect opportunity, you might think, to make a life-inspired drama about girls hanging out in said bar.
Why instead make a high-concept comedy with convoluted plotlines, terrible jokes and a thoroughly unappealing lead character? With a storyline recap and title credits that are as long as the episode? That is above all, somehow as dull as the title suggests? If anyone gets further than episode four, please send me an explanation.
B.J. Fletcher: 0/10
Ever heard of Guiding Light? The US daytime soap was cancelled last autumn after a 72-year run. Viewers were apparently so bereft at the loss of Olivia and Natalia, the show’s lesbian couple, that the actresses who played them felt compelled to continue the story themselves, online. The move highlights the severity of US censorship of homosexuality: the couple will only kiss for the first time in Venice.
Star Crystal Chappell wants to tell the gay communities’ stories. Her altruism is undone, however, by a website that seems more inspired by the success of L Word merchandising than the show itself. Venice is a subscription deal: $10 a season, each of which lasts around 100 minutes. A good deal?
The first episode acts as a free teaser, opening on the post-coital bedroom scene of ex-lovers Gina and Ani. They have breakfast. They are beautiful. Their hair sways in the sea breeze. Unless you know these characters it is unlikely you will so gripped by question, “will they stay together?” that you’ll pay the fee. The characters are wafer thin and despite the slick cinematography, promises little beyond a soft-porn edge to a generic soap opera. With its own range of t-shirts.
Seeking Simone (Canada)
The team behind Seeking Simone have hit on a brilliantly simple premise for their online TV show: internet dating. Simone, a semi-successful TV actress, has recently moved to Toronto to set up a new life. Her best friend Audrey is helping her settle in via Skype, and by signing her up to a dating site. Each episode features one date, recounted to Audrey, and embellished with flashbacks.
Renee Olbert, who plays Simone, knows how to deliver genuinely funny lines and the short episodes are over too quickly. The potentially limited idea hasn’t run out of steam yet, six episodes in, and another six are currently being filmed. A dedicated following has already emerged to support the show and, apparently, fall head over heels with Simone themselves. Simone’s message to over-zealous Myspace users, a stand-alone short, is hilarious enough to appease eager fans for now.
Seeking Simone: 8/10
Girl/Girl Scene (US)
Not yet released, Girl/Girl Scene has clearly set its sights on the “gritty drama” tag and is aiming to represent a breadth of lesbian life. The characters will be “unapologetically queer” and creator Tucky Williams claims the show will explore what life is like when “heteronomativity is thrown out the window”.
As the series is set in middle-America, the promise of challenging storylines looks likely to be kept. Aiming for a young crowd, Girl/Girl Scene should nonetheless attract a wide audience when it launches at the end of the month via YouTube. Its tagline? “To hell with L!”
Girl/Girl Scene: ?/10
Escaping the Legacy
Considering the difficultly and shear expense of independent filmmaking there’s a surprising amount out there to choose from. It would be harsh to judge any of them too severely on the basis of these very early episodes (aside from B.J. Fletcher which is inexcusably terrible). Far Out threatens to improve once it gets into its stride and stops attempting to reference every facet of lesbian life. Seeking Simone will most likely propel its star to lesbian icon status within the year.
The biggest test they each face is shaking off the shackles of the L Word. Only those that strike out to do something different will succeed. Seeking Simone, by setting out to be simple, digestible and funny, rather than mimicking what has gone before, is the only one really doing well. On this evidence, we should hope that the BBC’s Lip Service aims for something higher than being “the British L Word”. We’re ready for something else.
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