When The L Word debuted on Showtime in 2004, it was the only show focused specifically on the queer community that didn't also center on gay men. But The L Word wasn't just revolutionary for the fact that it was an in-depth narrative about the modern lesbian scene in Los Angeles; it also featured frank discussions about sex, love, and found family in a brutally honest way. For this reason, it netted a loyal fanbase that clamored for more long after the show went off the air. Now, a decade after The L Word's series finale aired, the series is returning for an eight-episode revival, The L Word: Generation Q, and it couldn't be coming at a better time.
"So much has changed and so much hasn't," said Marja-Lewis Ryan, who took over as showrunner for series creator Ilene Chaiken, an executive producer on the revival. Speaking with TV Guide of the decision to return to the seminal show now, Ryan said, "People keep asking me now, 'What are you going to do now that there's all these queer shows?' There really aren't actually."
While in recent years queer representation has been higher than ever before — GLAAD reports that in 2019 there were 488 series regular and recurring queer characters across broadcast, cable, and streaming shows — Ryan pointed out that only a handful of series actually focus on the queer community and the evolutions of subcultures happening within them. Joining shows like Pose and Tales of the City, Generation Q aims to center not just on queer characters, but the myriad ways people live queer lives.
Three of The L Word's original characters — Shane (Kate Moennig), Bette (Jennifer Beals), and Alice (Leisha Hailey) — are returning for the revival, joined by a new group of queer friends whose lives are quite different from theirs. The trio will act as the guiding hands for this new generation, but their stories take a bit of a backseat, allowing new ideas about queer identity to flourish.
The series' new characters include Dani (Arienne Mandi), a determined careerist who gets pulled into Bette's orbit, and Sophie (Rosanny Zayas), her long-term girlfriend, who produces Alice's show. Meanwhile, Micah (Leo Sheng), their roommate, is a trans man returning to dating, and their friend Finley (Jacqueline Toboni) is a charming PA from Alice's show who somehow ends up crashing on Shane's couch.
The radical differences in race, gender identity, sexuality, age, and wealth disparity between the generations allowed Ryan to address many serious issues affecting the queer community that still aren't given regular airtime. Those issues, like the fact that queer teens make up 40 percent of the youth homeless population despite only being 10 percent of the population, are things that Ryan still has difficulty wrapping her mind around.
"There's still something wrong here, there's still a lot of shame that exists in our culture," said Ryan. "I think that seeing more of [queer culture] is one way [to change this], and it's the only way I personally know how to affect change. I'm really delighted to have the opportunity to do so."
"[Marja] knows things that have passed me by — not altogether, but still, she's got a perspective from her generational point of view," said Chaiken, who knew Ryan from another project. "I think there are possibly new things about queer life... there are words and conventions that evolve, and what the show is going to talk about is where we've been, where we are now, and what we're navigating."
In order to showcase how the queer community is constantly evolving, Ryan focused on highlighting a broader range of perspectives to show how multiple generations can still learn from each other. The new episodes feature several trans actors in trans roles, already a marked improvement on the original show's painful-to-watch trans storylines, which were infrequent and unfortunately featured trans people as the butt of jokes.
Sheng, the only trans actor who is a series regular, told TV Guide that while "there's some slow, but happening, representation of Asian trans, masculine, nonbinary folx" on TV, in Generation Q, viewers are "going to see it in a new light." Sheng also added that he's "really excited to explore what it's like to be a trans person who loves somebody, who grows close to people, and what that looks like."
Meanwhile, Zayas is looking forward to the new series furthering the conversations around race and dating the original show started a decade ago. "The things [Bette and Tina] had to go through, and the struggles and the love and the heartache inside of that — you know, being in an interracial relationship and how they've navigated through that world — what it looks like today, that's something that's gonna look different. It's 10 years later," she said. "There's so many new stories to bring up."
But while there is a diverse and wildly empathetic cast of new characters in the revival, it wouldn't be The L Word — or even a show that accurately accounts for queer history — without the OGs. Hailey teased that a lot of lingering questions from the original show will be answered in these new episodes, while Moennig said that even though the trio are supposed to be older and wiser, it is "interesting to see how [the new characters] then mesh with [the older ones], the similarities, the differences."
"We're always learning from each other," added Beals, a gentle reminder that there's no age at which one really has everything figured out. "It was so much fun to have these new characters, and also to have these new actors who had this fresh take on this whole world. A lot of the people who knew this show, it was interesting for them to enter into this world they already know about through ... this generation's viewpoint."
Although we might not be quite sure where the revival is actually heading, as Zayas noted, if Generation Q is about anything, it's about being brave. "It takes a lot of courage to do what these beautiful people did in the past. Being able to be a part of that now and hopefully try and bring up other things that haven't been spoken about is something that's really exciting," she said. "To be brave like that is something I'm definitely excited to keep doing and striving to do."
The L Word: Generation Q premieres Sunday, Dec. 8 at 10/9c on Showtime.
Additional reporting by Sadie Gennis
(Disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of CBS Corporation.)