The L Word reached our screens just as Sex and the City was tottering off the Brooklyn Bridge in high-heeled pursuit of whichever shark it could jump first. Advertised by Living TV across tube stations and on the back of heat magazine by two oiled-up, bikinied lesbians and the slogan “Same Sex, Different City”, it too came from a place of immense privilege.
Series one is the most heteronormative-friendly; later series went a bit haywire trying to please online forum überfans’ demands for more intersectional representation at the behest of believable storylines. One worry was that out of half a dozen lesbians, only one gives off Sapphic vibes distinctive enough for a straight person to recognise: urchin-haired androgyne Shane McCutcheon (Katherine Moennig) is so universally sexy that everyone, male or female, gay or straight, fancies her. She carries so much swagger and aloof charisma that conspiracy theories abound that Harry Styles’s entire wardrobe – nay, personality – was created in homage to her.
Anyway, it’s not all about the surly hairdresser. The action starts as perky mid-western graduate Jenny (Mia Kirshner) moves to West Hollywood, a neighbourhood where people drink kale, smoke incense and discuss conceptual art installations. Ostensibly there to begin her new life with her burly, sun-kissed swimming teacher boyfriend Tim, she peers into next door’s garden to see Shane having sex with another woman in the pool. Soon, through the owners of the pool – powersuited alpha art curator Bette Porter and her cutesy ex-film executive life partner Tina Kennard – Jenny gets to know the rest of the lesbians. One conversation about literature leads to a fumble in a brushed steel unisex toilet, leads to a full-on affair with an elegant Italian barista called Marina.
Of course, there’s more to it than that, as Marina’s secrets from the past bubble up. Bette and Tina’s relationship quickly diminishes due to early onset lesbian bed death, the trauma of trying for a baby, and Bette’s half-sister, beleaguered, alcoholic soul singer Kit Porter (Pam Grier). But it’s kept perky with the help of Alice Piezecki, a listicle writer for LA Magazine who will pep up any conversation with her own sex-related titbit. Having the women speak frankly around a table about sexual mores – eg “bush confidence” and the finger-digit lengths that prove you’re gay – as well as extensive sex scenes, mean all of your questions about lesbians will be answered: who’s the man? If they really want to sleep with other women why do they dress like little boys/use dildos? How can they have kids with one another? What the eff is bisexuality anyway? And, quite importantly, how do you pick up on who is gay?
Using straight girl-next-door Jenny’s eyes to peer into the world of 21st-century sapphism, the show is welcoming to outsiders, and can be enjoyed by most women, gay or straight, especially those who like breakbeat, lounge jazz and sad folk songs. There is also some focus on the heterosexual relationships of supporting characters, so the show really can be enjoyed by all demographics. And a guest spot from Rosanna Arquette in perhaps her sexiest scene since Crash is worth sticking about for, as well as the, er, cult theme tune by Betty introduced in series two.