‘The L-Word’ reboots with a more inclusive ‘Generation Q’

Airing for six seasons starting in 2004, Showtime’s The L-Word offered a Sapphic-centric L.A.-set successor to Queer As Folk. While groundbreaking, audacious and sexy (more than 110 sex scenes during its run!), creator Ilene Chaiken and her creative team were responsible for one of the most loathed, insane — literally! — main characters on cable TV: Jenny Schecter (Mia Kirschner), whose unsolved murder served as framework and point of contention during the show’s final season and a well-meaning but unflattering, inaccurate, cringe-y trans representation in Max (Danielle Sea).

But redemption is a theme in America. On Dec. 8, Showtime will premiere a follow-up series, The L-Word: Generation Q, with Marja-Lewis Ryan as showrunner. And boy! Does it acknowledge and make up for the sins of the past with 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, drama-filled storylines involving both the original’s characters and a fresh batch of new “Gen Q” faces.

Today, Bette Porter (Jennifer Beals) is running for mayor while raising teenage daughter Angie (Jordan Hull), who may be nursing an adolescent queer crush on a 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 L.A.

As for the show’s Gen Q, 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 yet opioid-related business. The couple’s transgender roommate, Micah (Leo Sheng), is an adjunct professor with the hots for a new gay neighbor, Jose (Freddy Miyares), while Sarah (Jacqueline Toboni), an Olympic swimmer turned assistant on Alice’s show, parties hard while cozying up to her wishlist mentor, Shane. Other openly LGBTQ actors popping up in this eight-episode season include Olivia Thirlby, Fortune Feimster and Sense8’s Jamie Clayton.

We got some scoop on Gen Q, how the old and new casts mixed and whether Pam Grier’s Kit Porter will make an appearance. We spoke with Zayas and Mandi, both of whom are single and identify as pansexual (“I’m open to falling in love with someone’s personality and how we connect as people,” Zayas says).

— Lawrence Ferber

Dallas Voice: 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 and thought 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.

Arienne Mandi

And what is Sophie and Dani’s dynamic like as a couple? Zayas: I think you’ll see the ups and downs, and Dani’s character is a very strong person, forward in what she wants, and 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.

Mandi: 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? Mandi: 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.

Zayas: 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 think about and can remember a woman I was so hurt by, and also felt so incredibly loved by another person that I can bring this into my relationship with Dani and Sophie.

Rosanny Zayas

Is there a correlation between the Gen Q newbies and original’s characters? Like is one the new Shane, the new Alice, etc.? Mandi: I think what’s great about the new Gen Q is 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.

Zayas: 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 Dominican 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 now.

How did the new and original casts go about getting to know each other? Was there a lot of bonding? Mandi: We call them the OGs: Kate, Leisha and Jennifer. They really extended themselves to us and actually organized a dinner the first week of shooting. We sat at dinner for hours and talked. We made it a point to hang out outside of work, and they really opened their doors to us and made sure we felt super comfortable but also experienced things on their own like they did. It felt like a family.

Zayas: 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 and nobody dares intone that name for dread of summoning her? Mandi: 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 for just bashing poor Jenny. She definitely pumped up the drama.

Zayas: 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? Mandi: 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? Mandi: Very edgy. Very competitive sometimes. Loving.

Zayas: I feel its 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, costume design — we want to make sure this relays what we see today.

Mandi: Our set was incredibly queer — our directors, producers, our showrunner. It’s still a lesbian show, but it’s branched out as 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 writer’s room this time, too? Are there already too many lines to fit? Mandi: 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.