Show has scandal, comedy without usual lesbian stereotypes

With the entire series of “Sex and the City” out on DVD, “Friends” off the air and “The OC” taking weeklong sabbaticals almost every other episode, what’s a girl to watch?

On my weekly cruise through Movie Gallery to find a foreign or indie movie to fill my free time, I stumbled upon a show I had heard only whispers about, “The L Word,” which is a “Sex and the City” in its own right. The twist: the show is about a group of Los Angeles lesbians looking for love. Curious whether this show had anything to offer the non-lesbian audience, I rented Season One. And what a ride it was.

Starring Jennifer Beals of “Flashdance” fame, the series focuses on a group of 30-something professionals and the ups and downs of their daily lives. While the sexuality of the group is a main theme of the show, after watching a few episodes you start to forget about it. And that’s a good thing. The focus is on relationships and how they progress, not how they differ from mainstream TV fare.

Skeptical that Showtime could pull off a series about lesbians without falling into stereotypes and pandering to a straight male’s fantasy, I was pleasantly surprised to find depth in the characters’ decisions. While the perfectly clich?d role of Jenny (Mia Kirschner), the new girl in town curious about bisexuality, was predictable (my friends and I placed bets on who she would hook up with five minutes into the pilot), the series allows her character to fully explore her female attraction. She is not a situational lesbian, drawn to one woman and ultimately back to men. Unlike Marisa Cooper or Samantha Jones, she does not abandon her lesbian inclinations after the girl is gone, which makes the show subtly radical.

It is not all social commentary and soap-box sexuality. The show provides plenty of scandal and comedy, from the affair of sympathetic sex-pot Shane (Katherine Moennig) with a married woman to giggly bisexual Alice’s (Leisha Hailey) relationship with a lesbian-identified man named Lisa. The material never feels preachy even if it is slightly contrived or ridiculous, and it always leaves the viewer wanting more.

In a society where same-sex relationships are constant and controversial, a show like “The L Word” is a refreshing reminder of our similarities. The show is not a true depiction of lesbian life, just as “Friends” is not an indication of the real post-college experience, but it is important regardless. The emotions and nuances of the lesbian relationships will feel familiar to any viewer because they are – the love and friendship among the characters transcends gender boundaries.

It may make some viewers uneasy, but the beauty of “The L Word” is its ability to drag you into its world. Even from the outside looking in, it is easy to relate to each character, which is a strength not many shows offer. For lesbians, “The L Word” provides long-awaited media attention. For the rest of us, “The L Word” is a little bit of perspective masquerading as drama. It may not be your first choice for a Friday night with the girls (or guys), but “The L Word” can fill the gap that the departure of Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha left in your social life.

The complete first season of “The L Word” is now available on DVD. The second season is currently airing Sunday night at 10 p.m. on Showtime.