When it debuted in early 2004, The L Word was the first drama to tackle the lives of lesbians. Considering the television precedent, this was a bit of a risk: Back in ’97, Ellen DeGeneres made TV history when she—and her eponymously named sitcom character—came out as a lesbian. Ratings promptly plummeted, and her show ended up being canceled. Not that things are much better today: Last fall, Brooke Smith was fired from Grey’s Anatomy—shortly after her character began a torrid love affair with another woman on the show.
The L Word ended without anything to fill the gap it leaves behind. (The series co-creator Ilene Chaiken is reportedly trying to get an “L Word” spinoff off the ground, supposedly set in a women’s prison, so perhaps we will find out then who killed Jenny Schecter.)
Yes, it’s only cable, but there were moments, watching the The L Word, that I cried, great, hiccoughing tears. Dana’s dying of breast cancer certainly did a number on me. But Ossie Davis’ exit at the end of season two hit harder. As TV fathers go, he was crotchety and close-minded, blatantly favoring the light-skinned Bette over darker-skinned Kit, while at the same time refusing to accept Bette’s lesbianism.
But when he got sick with prostate cancer, refusing any and all treatment, the sisters brought him home. There, they sang to him and read Langston Hughes’ poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” And then, ever so quietly, he slipped away. No formal pronouncements of a father’s undying love. He just checked out, turning his head to look at pictures of his girls.
The camera homed in on his vacant eyes, pulling in tighter and tighter, until it faded to black and the screen was filled with these seven words: “DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF OSSIE DAVIS.” It was to be the final performance of Davis’ very long career.
Now The L Word itself has come and gone. And I, for one, will miss it.
Teresa Wiltz is the senior culture writer for The Root.