Running between 2004 and 2009, Showtime’s six-season The L-Word offered a Sapphic-centric L.A.-set successor to Queer as Folk. While groundbreaking, audacious, and sexy (over 110 sex scenes during its run!), creator Ilene Chaiken and her creative teams were responsible for one of the most loathed, insane (literally!) main characters on cable TV, Jenny Schecter (Mia Kirschner), whose unsolved murder served as a framework and point of contention during the show’s final season, and a well-meaning but inaccurate and cringe-worthy trans representation in Max (Danielle Sea).
At long last, on Sunday, December 8, Showtime will premiere its followup The L-Word: Generation Q. With Marja-Lewis Ryan as showrunner, it definitely makes up for past sins with its ethnic diversity both in front of and behind the camera (including Latina screenwriters Tatiana Suarez-Pico (Parenthood) and Nancy Mejía (Vida); authentic trans representation; and socially aware, hugely entertaining and dramatic storylines involving both the original’s characters and a fresh batch of new “Gen Q” faces.
Bette Porter (Jennifer Beals) is now running for mayor while raising teenage daughter Angie (Jordan Hull), who may be nursing an adolescent queer crush on her bad-influence bestie, Jordi (trans actress Sophie Giannamore). Alice (Leisha Hailey) has a new Ellen-ish TV talk show and is dating Gigi (Sepideh Moafi), a Realtor with kids and a meddlesome ex-wife. And wealthy lesbian lothario hairstylist Shane (Katherine Moennig) has just returned to Los Angeles. As for the show’s Gen Q characters, Sophie (Rosanny Zayas) is a producer on Alice’s show and lives with girlfriend Dani (Arienne Mandi), a PR executive working for her father’s lucrative (but opioid-related) business. The couple’s transgender roommate Micah (Leo Sheng) is a professor with the hots for new gay neighbor José (Freddy Miyares), while Sarah a.k.a. “Finley” (Jacqueline Toboni), an Olympic swimmer turned assistant on Alice’s show, parties hard while cozying up to her wish-list mentor, Shane. Other openly LGBTQ actors popping up in this eight-episode season include Olivia Thirlby, Fortune Feimster, and Sense8’s Jamie Clayton.
I spoke with Zayas and Mandi to get the scoop on Gen Q, how the old and new casts mixed (in July, Beals posted an Instagram photo of a cast dinner at https://www.instagram.com/p/Bz4yLkelqh1/?utm_source=ig_embed), and whether Pam Grier’s Kit Porter will make an appearance. Both women are single and identify as pansexual (“I’m open to falling in love with someone’s personality and how we connect as people,” Zayas specifies).
Lawrence Ferber: Dani is described as “complicated.” Can you elaborate, and hint at what’s in store for her?
Arienne Mandi: Dani is born into a family that she worked very hard for, and is really bound to her father. It’s just been them against the world. During the course of the season, she’s experiencing the feeling that maybe everything she assumed would be her world isn’t what she wants. I can relate to being told something your whole life, and having your thoughts change about the world and people and what drives you and what you’re passionate about. Making your own opinions and really honoring what you want and who you are as a person.
How about Sophie?
Rosanny Zayas: I believe Sophie’s a hard worker and always had big dreams and goals, and one of them is to help Alice create a show that’s relatable, queer, open, and honest about how Alice lives her life today, which is really cool. When The L-Word first came out, you saw Alice finding herself. Now Alice has her own show and she’s killing it, and Sophie is helping her step into her voice even more.
And what is Sophie and Dani’s dynamic like as a couple?
RZ: I think you’ll see the ups and downs. Dani’s character is a very strong person, and forward in what she wants. You see Sophie as the heart of the relationship, and a lot of times having to take on the emotional life and confronting things Dani doesn’t want to talk about. You’ll see how much they love each other, and how much they will be there for each other, just like any other relationship.
AM: Sophie is Dani’s anchor throughout the course of the season, and we experience changes together.
Do you relate personally to your respective characters and their relationship?
AM: Yeah. I pulled a lot from my own life, and some things from my mother. I grew up in L.A. My mother is Chilean and my father is Iranian, and Dani is mixed ethnicity, too. The cultural upbringing is very much me. And I think I’m a lot like Dani. She keeps a lot of things very close to her, and I’m the same way. I’m not quick to divulge. It was really visceral to go through some of the things she does.
RZ: Well, I’m a Dominican from New York, and Sophie is, too, and I think that Sophie’s heart is my heart. The writing has been so amazing. They created a specific relationship between these two people, and there have been moments they went through that I can remember [going through with] a woman I was so hurt by. I’ve also felt so incredibly loved by another person; I can bring this into my relationship with Dani and Sophie.
Is there a correlation between the Gen Q newbies and the original’s characters? Is someone “the new Shane,” “the new Alice,” etc.?
AM: I think what’s great about the new Gen Q is that we’re so diverse. But if I had to relate Dani to somebody else, it would be Bette. We’re very different in our backgrounds, but we struggle with family issues and we’re both powerful and calculating in the same way. But all the new characters sort of speak for themselves and are very original and fresh.
RZ: I think Sophie’s a new creation. There were Hispanic characters on the show before, but I don’t think they’ve been as specific as being Dominicans from New York. Even when it comes to the ethnic food she eats, that’s something that wasn’t specifically in the show before, but you get to see it now.
How did the new and original casts go about getting to know each other? Was there a lot of bonding?
AM: We call them “The OGs”—Kate, Leisha, and Jennifer. They really extended themselves to us and actually organized a dinner during the first week of shooting. We sat at dinner for hours and talked. We make it a point to hang out outside of work, and they really opened their doors to us and made sure we felt super-comfortable. They also let us experience things on their own like they did. It felt like a family.
RZ: As just a fan of the show, you don’t get to see how the OGs are in real life, but it’s been so awesome to see how well they connect. They actually do love and take care of each other and fight for each other during the process of making the show. It’s been a learning experience for me, and I’ve been admiring them every day, wanting to be more and more like them.
Would you ever bring up Jenny and how she died, or is it like Candyman, Beetlejuice, and Bloody Mary—nobody dares intone that name for fear of summoning her?
AM: Oh my God—she wasn’t my favorite character, that’s for sure. I do like the actress, Mia Kirshner, but Jenny’s character was definitely not my favorite! I feel like there are online forums just for bashing poor Jenny. She definitely pumped up the drama.
RZ: All of us are fans of the show, so there are always questions about Jenny and what happened. I think I’ll leave that up to the writers.
Will we see Pam Grier’s Kit Porter again?
AM: I don’t know. I can’t answer! There will definitely be special guest appearances. I’m not saying from the past [series], but a lot of guest appearances, which is really exciting.
How accurate is the show’s depiction of modern Los Angeles’ lesbian and queer life, and how would you describe it?
AM: Very edgy. Very competitive sometimes. Loving.
RZ: I feel it’s changing every day—the way the world is. I can say that everyone is working as hard as they can to make sure it’s as accurate as possible. The writers, creators, actors, and costume designers. We want to make sure this relays what we see today.
AM: Our set was incredibly queer—our directors, producers, our showrunner. It’s still a lesbian show, but it’s branched out so much more now. We had everyone on the spectrum. It’s pretty wonderful.
Of course, I have to ask about the original show’s infamous “Chart,” which mapped out the characters’ sexual and emotional connections. Is there one hanging in the writers’ room this time, too? Are there already too many lines to fit on the chart?
AM: Not so much, but I see so many Post-Its and arrows. They have the overview of the season, and where things go. All these things are subject to change, but it follows each person’s drama.
The L-Word: Generation Q premieres Sunday, December 8, on Showtime. Pearl Bar Houston hosts a watch party for the show’s release at 6 p.m.
This article appears in the December 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.