The BBC announced last week that Lip Service—its L Word knockoff drama about the lives and loves of a group of lesbians in Glasgow—would not be returning for a third season. The cancellation was almost certainly due to Lip Service's flagging ratings—its audience declined by half from the first season to its second—which makes sense from a business' perspective. The show was on, and people didn't watch it, so now the show is off. TV 101 right?
Well… maybe. Or perhaps it wasn't that people weren't watching the show. Maybe it was just that straight people weren't watching it.
This hypothesis is, I admit, held together by a mix of anecdotal evidence and educated guesswork (the blogosphere's superglue!). But allow me to explain:
I watched Lip Service. I watched Lip Service despite the fact that it was—let's face it—a terrible show. I watched Lip Service despite the winding, tangential storylines, and the often bizarre, uncomfortable sex scenes. I watched Lip Service, and my girlfriends all watched Lip Service, and my best (gay) friends watched Lip Service, and my favorite (gay) cousin watched Lip Service. We all watched Lip Service because, simply, it was about gay people, and we're gay people. Frankly, we're usually so starved for representations of queer women that that's enough. (Remember Tila Tequila? We watched that. South of Nowhere? Classic. The Real L Word? Every week.) As a group, we lesbians already have desperately low standards for viewership—despite our complaints about the way we're represented, in the end, we're beggars, not choosers. But when it came to Lip Service, neither our desperation nor our begging could keep it around. We may wonder why this strategy doesn't work on our favorite TV shows any more than it does on our dates (zing!), but it seems that in this day and age, gay shows just can't survive without straight audiences.
In the comments of Wednesday's post, Anita pointed out that Queer As Folk is not the only Showtime program that struggles in its depiction of bisexuality. When discussing depictions of biphobia in the gay community, one can't avoid The L Word. The difference between the shows as I see it, however, is that if Queer As Folk suffers from bi invisibility, The L Word suffers from straight-up bi loathing. Rather than giving you a play-by-play of every epic bi fail (if you're interested in that, After Ellen has a comprehensive list), I want to focus on one particular episode—one that deals with bisexuality and straight privilege.
Today, I thought I'd turn our attention to Showtime's The L Word. I'll admit that the Los Angeles-based ensemble dramedy created by Ilene Chaiken was marred by over-the-top situations, uneven character development, hackneyed writing, a bevy of skinny femmes, and racially problematic casting decisions. It also featured one of the worst theme songs ever, which was written and performed by BETTY.
However, until the final season I was hooked. I started watching with my girlfriends in college toward the end of Sex and the City's run on HBO (L Word fans may recall that the show's original tag line was "Same Sex, Different City"). I was invested in many of the L Word's characters and their long, interconnected histories with one another. I appreciated the incorporation of lesbian icons through dialogue or cameos, and the attention drawn to lesser-known cultural practices like Dinah Shore Weekend or the prevalence of lesbian nuns. I liked the sex, even though it was often of the lipstick variety. Most of all, I enjoyed the role music played in the women's lives.