How 'The L Word' Is Using the Original Show's Playbook to Harness 'Generation Q'
In the first of new regular column LGBTQ View, new showrunner Marja Lewis-Ryan brings her cast and crew to surprise patrons at West Hollywood's Hi Tops bar as the Showtime revival embraces watch parties to reach a new generation of viewers.
Those were among the chants Jan. 12 at West Hollywood’s Hi Tops bar, where diehard L Word fans gather on the regular for watch parties of Showtime's recently renewed The L Word: Generation Q. On this particular Sunday, patrons included showrunner Marja-Lewis Ryan and the new stars of Showtime's revival, who made a surprise appearance to be on hand when an old favorite Tina (played by Laurel Holloman) made a surprising return in a scene with her ex-wife, Bette (Jennifer Beals). Fans in attendance at the watch party — like the rest of the internet — went crazy.
"I was screaming so hard,”
Much like Ilene Chaiken's original Showtime series did, watch parties in West Hollywood (and beyond) have popped up to support the return of of the ground-breaking show. Only this party has a tongue-in-cheek host who is not only part of the community but has a history with the franchise: Whitney Mixter. Mixter is best-known to L Word fans for her appearance on multiple seasons of Showtime's The Real L Word — the unscripted series that delved into the actual community that Chaiken's drama depicted.
“The L Word family has spanned so many years that the fact that Whitney from The Real L Word is putting it on is pretty amazing,” says Generation Q star Jacqueline Toboni (who plays Shane protege, Finley). "It feels like you’re part of a lineage.”
Lewis-Ryan — who was selected following a long search for a member of the LGBTQ community to serve as showrunner on the new series — used to attend watch parties in West Hollywood at East-West for Chaiken's original L Word that drew stars like Kate Moennig (Shane) and Leisha Hailey (Alice) more than a decade ago.
"That’s actually what made me want to come to them with the cast and crew,” said Ryan, who pointed out that Sunday's event drew a larger crowd than any of the former watch parties for the original ever did.
Watch parties for the original were a way to bring the community together to help support the show, which marked the first series in history that specifically was about lesbians. That Generation Q is doing them, too, is a nod to that and a way to help increase awareness about the series in a Peak TV landscape that last year alone featured more than 530 scripted originals.
The small bar — nestled between a taco shop and nail salon along West Hollywood's iconic Santa Monica Boulevard, the LGBTQ hub of L.A. and the same stretch where the city's annual Pride and Halloween celebration draw hundreds of thousands of people — was brimming with people during Sunday's watch party. Every TV at Hi Tops was screening Generation Q as the room flowed with laughter and excitement. Joining Ryan in a reserved section tucked into the corner of the bar were all four young stars Arienne Mandi (Dani), Leo Sheng (Micah), Toboni and Zayas.
For the franchise newcomers, this wasn't their first watch party as many have gone to some in Silver Lake — where Generation Q takes place. Zayas, too, has also attended a few in New York. Mandi, meanwhile, made her watch party debut the night fans were reunited with Tina. "It’s really cool to see how everyone reacts to it," she says. “It’s really nice to see everyone with their partners cuddled up watching it together.”
L Word fans new and old have been quick to welcome the new cast into the community, the same as Beals did on set. "I remember Jennifer being like, 'This is our show; this is all of ours, together,” Tobani recalls. "This no longer just The L Word original cast, we share it."
Ryan and the cast attending Sunday brought an added dose of levity to the weekly watch party, bringing their inside jokes and pranks to the bar and injecting an already celebratory mood with more humor. "As you can see our relationship with our bosses is very good,” Tobani quipped after she caught the crew making faces at her through the window.
While the cast and crew were in awe over the turnout, fans were equally enthralled by the event and the surprise appearances as throughout the hour the four new stars were constantly approached by viewers who praised their work and wanted a quick snapshot with them. Ryan was nearly moved to tears when she caught a glimpse of Sheng taking a selfie with an Asian-American fan. “That was the whole point,” she said. “That gets me choked up.”
Beyond the four walls of the bar, the impact of Generation Q has been far-reaching as many viewers have reached out to Ryan and the stars directly to share how their new iteration has affected them. “I have been getting messages and comments from people who have trans sons,” Sheng said. “It’s heartwarming. Folks that say, 'It makes me want to be a better parent,' or 'I am learning so much more about being a parent to a trans child.' It makes me really happy.”
The show’s impact, and the responses from it, are exactly what the cast wants, too. “I hope some little girl in Missouri isn’t as scared to go to church after she sees this,” Tobani says. “You just hope somebody’s story is up there, because it’s ultimately ours that are up there.”
Timing of the gathering proved to be a bit serendipitous as just a few days prior, Ryan found out that the series snagged a 10-episode second season order. The showrunner used the experience of watching fans take in the new episode as source material for future episodes. “It helps me to understand what people respond to and what they don’t respond to,” Ryan said. “And there is no real way for me to know that unless I’m sitting here.”
As the episode inched toward its end, the reactions grew stronger as Zayas and Tobani ended up taking to the center of the room to dance to Tegan and Sara's "Closer" as they re-enacted their dance scene from the episode.
At some point during the evening, the velvet rope that blocked off the cast and crew reserved section was knocked to the ground and never restored. After all, everyone is family anyway.