Showtime has put out some fantastic TV shows over the past few years. Series such as Dead like Me, Queer as Folk and The L Word, push the boundaries of writing and overall quality. Originally airing in 2004, The L Word premiered and quietly worked its way into the light with critical acclimations and a decent amount of viewers tuning in each week.
The show follows the lives of a group of friends living out in Los Angeles and breaks the boundaries of the stereotypes that society places on lesbians. Created by Ilene Chaiken who previously worked on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Barb Wire, The L Word is quite a different show with a lot of drama, tension and of course, sex. The show is currently in its third season and the first season has been out on DVD for some now, though the second has just been released.
In the first season we were introduced to all of the characters that the show is based on and grew to know them over the course of the year. Jenny (Mia Kirshner) had just moved out to L.A. and Bette (Jennifer Beals) and Tina (Laurel Holloman) were here neighbors. We also got to know Alice (Leisha Hailey), Kit (Pam Grier), Shane (Katherine Moennig), and Tim (Eric Mabius). The cast is what really makes this show and everyone has perfect chemistry, so it makes the formula work wonders.
Things pick up with the second season pretty much where they were left off in the first. Tina is pregnant and Bette has to come to terms with her infidelity, which is a continuing story throughout most of these thirteen episodes. To make matters worse for the two, a woman named Helena Peabody (Rachel Shelley) pops up and relentlessly pursues Tina. It adds a more complicated element to an already complicated storyline, but increases the tension surrounding Bette and Tina getting back together.
Those of you that have returned and are looking to see what happened with the Marina (Karina Lombard) and Jenny plot, well, you're going to be slightly disappointed. Karina is no longer a member of the cast, therefore Marina's character was written off the show. The questions of Jenny's sexuality that were raised thanks to the character have been kind of left in limbo and she tends to ping-pong between being gay and straight. It's something that is explored more this season, but without Marina around to help things out, it's a story that feels a little lost.
Ossie Davis appeared in the first season as Melvin Porter and returns again for a few episodes this season. In case you need to have your memory jogged a bit he was Bette and Kit's father. This time around he's actually a subject of failing health so his daughters have to come to terms with his passing. It's an arc that further develops the characters and brings with it some very well acted and emotionally charged scenes.
Season two also sees the introduction of a character named Mark (Eric Lively) who will mostly appeal to male audience members thanks to what his character represents. He starts off as an amateur filmmaker who is making a documentary that is living with Jenny and Shane but eventually gets into taping them secretly. This story continues for a large majority of the season and even though I thought it added some depth to the show, I would imagine the core audience will be up in arms about it. Everything about this show breaks stereotypes and raises the bar, but the inclusion of this sub-plot seems to be a little low-brow and stereotypical of the voyeuristic male.
There's plenty that goes on this season and I have only just barely scratched the surface, but sufficed to say if you enjoyed the first season, you'll love this one. The thirteen episodes here are wildly entertaining and just beg to be watched consecutively thanks to cliffhanger endings and interesting storylines. There's still plenty of humor, drama and of course raunch, but the real draws of the show are the writing and acting. It's those two things alone that really lend credence to the quality of this series and the reason that so many people tune in every week.
Life, Loss, Leaving
The L Word season two comes with four discs, each with their own case. The first three discs contain four episodes each while the last is reserved for the final episode of the season and the bonus content. Each episode has only four "scenes" to select so your ability to find a particular part of the show is rather limited. As far as artwork is concerned, the cover is pretty bland with some empty space and facial shots.
This season of The L Word is presented just like the first was with a 1.78:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen. Also just like the first season there are some issues with the overall video quality. The image jumps back and forth between being brilliantly clear and cluttered with compression artifacts. It really seems to be a matter of where the location was shot, but a lot of it also seems to be a fault of the DVD itself. There're scenes that are sharp and ripe with contrast and others that are dull and muddy looking. It's really hit or miss, especially with some poorly compressed content, but for the most part the picture looks great and is pretty comparable to the broadcast of the show.
The set comes with three distinctly different audio options that depending on your set up, all sound very good. There are 2.0 stereo tracks for English and Spanish as well as a 5.1 English channel mix. The stereo tracks provide some palatable sound quality and evenly distribute the volume between subjects so as not to flood the soundstage. Then again, it's not like The L Word is full of sound effects since in the end, despite some great music, it is a dialogue driven show.
The 5.1 selection offers up a greater degree of directionality and the rear channels really kick in at the right moments, but again this material isn't going to be anything that pushes your system to the limit. The discs also claim to have captions for the hearing impaired, though strangely enough I couldn't get them to come up with two different players.
The L Word season two contains quite a few notable extra features. For starters there are two audio commentaries found throughout the season. The first is for "Land Ahoy" and features Erin Daniels, Leisha Hailey and Katherine Moennig. The second is for "Lacuna" and includes Ilene Chaiken as well as member of BETTY, Elizabeth Ziff. Both of these commentaries are more entertaining than informative as the commentators tend to narrate and poke fun at what's on screen. Generally, this is more the case with "Land Ahoy" than with "Lacuna", but both still prove to be worth watching for fans of the show.
In "L Word Girls on the Record" there are a handful of interviews with the cast of actors. They talk about some stuff from this season, what it was like to work with some of the guests, haircuts, and of course sex. These interviews are pretty short and really are just blurbs about a couple of topics, so there's nothing too enthralling here. The girls also play some balderdash and get some L words tossed their way. It's a five minute diversion that I found to be kind of boring, but there were a couple of funny bits.
"Playing with the Girls: L Word Shorts" is a fun little Q & A session filled with silly questions like "how would you describe your first kiss" or what the worst pick up line they've heard was. A music video is included for "Some Kind Of Wonderful" by Pam Grier & BETTY, which features some clips from the show set to the song. There are some letters from fans available to read as well as a bunch of information about some contests to enter.
The L Word season two offers up just as much quality as the first season did with tons of character development, drama and twists. If you've been into the show since the first season then the second one is an easy purchasing decision, but if you're not sure if this is your thing you may want to try to check out an episode on Showtime first before taking the plunge. As it stands though, the writing and acting for this show is a cut above the rest and there are many strong statements here that break the stereotypes of what it means to be a lesbian in today's society.
The set contains some questionable DVD quality and some severe compression issues pop up frequently. I found myself having to pause or fast forward through a part in order to get the image right again, which needless to say got a little old after a while. When the DVDs don't bug-out, the image quality is fair and is paired nicely with some decent audio selections. The extras are more for fun than anything else so don't look for anything too informational. Overall this is a strong season for the show and it's easy to see why it is so well received among audiences. If you have the first set already then you'll love this one, otherwise check out the show and see what all the fuss is about. Recommended