“This is so not the old L Word,” my friend Rachel says on Sunday night at Brooklyn bar 3 Dollar Bill, nudging my shoulder as we stand in a throng of excited fans of the early aughts Showtime series. In front of us, the first scene of the show’s reboot, The L Word: Generation Q has just come on the screen. Two women of color are engaged in orgasmic sex. There’s no introduction, no easing in (in a manner of speaking)—just two women going at it as one finds out she’s on her period. The L Word was always fairly generous with its queer sex scenes, but right away, we see the representation that new showrunner Marja Lewis-Ryan promised.
Within the first few minutes, the audience, all gathered at a watch party thrown by Brooklyn-based monthly queer film series Bush Films, sees—and cheers for—an Asian trans character named Micah (Leo Sheng). Then they meet Micah’s roommates, Dominican-American Sophie (Rosanny Zayas) and Chilean-Iranean Dani—once they stop having passionate sex, that is. It’s immediately clear The L Word, which was often criticized for its lack of gender and race representation, is doing better in its reincarnated form. The room of 500 people in attendance on Sunday night are audibly excited to meet the new characters, but it’s the three old favorites—Bette Porter (Jennifer Beals), Alice Pieszecki (Leisha Hailey), and Shane McCutcheon (Katherine Moennig)—who get screams from the crowd.
Having seen the first episode and Shane’s glamorous, charismatically butch walk down the stairs of a private plane, I was bracing myself for this level of response. Nearly 16 years ago, on January 18, 2004, the first images of Shane, Bette, Alice and their queer chosen family first aired on Showtime, and the ensuing six seasons deeply affected audience members in the queer community. Most likely, if you were at that watch party—one of several happening around the world—on Sunday, you have some kind of connection to The L Word.
For Kaina Dominguez, founder and producer of Bush films and host of Sunday’s watch party, The L Word was a form of rebellion when she was 22 and still living in Venezuela, where she was born and raised. “I remember that one TV channel was screening it, but at the time the TV was in the living room,” she tells ELLE.com. “I didn’t want to watch that in front of my family, so I had to buy pirated DVDs, so I was a little behind the seasons. I didn’t mind. I was in my bedroom watching it on really low volume.”
Dominguez, who admits to the crowd of eager fans that she had gotten a sneak peek of the first episode before it aired, was not the only attendee whose first brush with The L Word was outside America.
Carmel Shalev, who attended the party with her spouse, Nate, says the show only started playing in Israel, where she’s from, toward the end of the series. By the time she encountered the show, she was in the process of coming out. She’s since revisited it as an out queer person. “It was cool coming back to the show before I came out, coming out, after I came out,” she says. “I kept coming back to the show as I identified with my own coming out. You always see yourself reflected in a bit of a warped way.”
Everyone I talk to Sunday night seems to echo this sentiment. No one wants to say they are exactly like one of the characters, because they’re all pretty flawed. But that’s also why The L Word still resonates with its fans. “It’s like an old friend,” one person tells me after the show wraps.
So, when the last few minutes of the first episode reveal that Bette Porter still can’t kick her adultery habit, the groans were almost celebratory. Our old friends are back, just with a 2019-approved makeover. It’s nice to have them.