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Looking for love

Will fans dumped by 'Sex and the City' hook up with 'The L Word' on the rebound? Showtime hopes so.

January 09, 2004|Carina Chocano | Times Staff Writer

Any doubt that "The L Word," Showtime's new series about the lives and loves of a group of young lesbians in Los Angeles, hopes to fill the void left when "Sex and the City" goes off the air in February should be dispelled by the show's tagline: "Same Sex. Different City."

Splashed across a glamour shot of eight beautiful women (and one beautiful man), the promotional copy invokes the spirit of its predecessor so plainly, it can take a moment to catch on to the double meaning. The sex is not the same at all; the sexes are. And just for good measure, the "L" of the title equivocates too.

The line is a transparent, almost predatory come-on to a demographic that knows it's on the verge of getting dumped. Clearly, "The L Word" has no compunction about hitting on Carrie Bradshaw's many vulnerable, soon-to-be broken-hearted TV-land exes. But it's hard not to admire the bravado. (Why should it?) "Sex and the City" has inspired plenty of pale, anodyne imitations. "The L Word" at least comes close to it in spirit, cheerfully presenting urban promiscuity as a generally well-intended process of trial and error, punctuated by choreographed sex scenes, spirited post-game analysis and an overall view of the city as a bright, gorgeous grown-up romper room.

Putting the moves on anyone, no matter how wide-open they are, is always a risk, and the question of whether "Sex and the City" fans will be receptive to "The L Word's" wooing is anybody's guess. Still, for all of its flaws (most of them, incidentally, stemming from Carrie's lamentable pun habit), "Sex and the City" proved that the audience for an unsentimental look at the mating habits of single women in the city extended well beyond their real-life counterparts. Fans were willing to take barriers to identification and departures from reality in stride in return for the kind of relationship dissection that Carrie and friends indulged in on a weekly basis.

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Seeking straight viewers

The general absence of male-female trouble in "The L Word" could prove a slightly harder obstacle than Carrie's fairyland shoe budget for the average Payless shopper to surmount. Indeed, the little bit of it that there is still has a lesbian theme -- the female half of a couple worries about her sexual orientation. The show is clearly courting an audience well beyond its built-in niche. The straight world parallels are as highlighted and prevalent here as lesbian stereotypes are absent. "Sex and the City" was at least partly predicated on the axiom that women dress for other women; on "The L World," there's no such thing as a lesbian without lipstick.

As if to underline this point, "The L Word" takes the "Sex and the City" concept to its furthest, if ultimately logical, extreme: doubling the players, ratcheting up the raunch factor (even introducing, God help us, new areas to wax) and relegating men -- particularly the straight ones -- to the role of Charlotte. With toxic bachelors safely out of the way, the show is able to turn its attention almost exclusively to the problems inherent to dating women and finds that, hey, girls are impossible, too! This perspective -- not to mention the obvious titillation factor -- may help "The L Word" double as that elusive beast, the male "Sex and the City."

The story centers on two couples living in West Hollywood. Bette (Jennifer Beals) and Tina (Laurel Holloman) have been together for seven years and have decided to start a family together. Tina and Bette's next-door neighbor is Tim (Eric Mabius), a women's swim coach who is anxiously awaiting the arrival of his girlfriend Jenny (Mia Kirshner) from the Midwest. While Tim devotes much of his time and energy to feathering the nest (converting the garage into a writing studio and presenting Jenny with a ring within days of her arrival), Bette, the aloof, short-tempered, workaholic director of a small museum, is prone to patting her lover condescendingly on the knee and fending off requests to make it home in time for dinner. Tina, a warm, friendly blond, has quit her job in order to "prepare her body for pregnancy." (In other words, she starts funneling her energies into full-time codependency on Bette.)

When their original sperm donor -- an artist whose excitement at the idea of handing Bette and Tina his DNA in a cup rivals that of every cigar-dispensing waiting room daddy in movie history -- turns out to have a faulty product, the couple embarks on a quest for a new donor. The search turns out to be harder than they expected. With the exception of a single (European) man, the boys of "The L Word" won't put out on demand, and instead cautiously puzzle through all the endgame scenarios of reproduction.

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