Sad Sex, Sailor Hats, and Silly Phrases: “Earthlings” Points to Ponder

Most lesbians are so delighted a show like Earthlings is finally being produced — so excited that television is finally going to show something that even faintly resembles our lives — we’re tempted just to accept whatever characters or storylines they throw our way.

To be critical of the first real attention we get seems, well, downright ungrateful.

But I have to admit to some nagging questions. Some serious concerns, even — like what is up with that sailor hat?

I know producer Ilene Chaiken indicated that it was intended to be a symbol of Kit’s wisdom and “role as group mentor,” but give viewers a little more credit — we don’t need to be hit over the head with a corny, cliched prop every week to get the message. I can already tell that after the second episode I’m going to want to grab that thing off Pam Grier‘s head and throw it in the wash. Have we learned nothing from the “Ross’ monkey” debacle on the first season of Friends?

Next, what lesbians actually use the phrase “is she an earthling?” that supposedly inspired the original title? I dare them to find any lesbians under 30 who have even heard that phrase, much less actually uttered it. Now, if they called the show “Toaster Oven,” it would at least make sense — even if that title would make the show sound like a bad Emeril comeback attempt.

Or how about “the same team?” Again, it would probably attract the wrong crowd (die-hard male sports fans), but at least it would make some sense.

I won’t even bother to ask why Leisha Hailey is the only bisexual woman in the group (um, then what do you call Mia Kirshner‘s character?), or why most of the actresses are white, or why all the women are adherents to conventional standards of femininity (i.e. lipstick lesbians). This is Hollywood, after all, where “risque” series have to play it safe in order to appeal to as a wide an audience as possible, and even butch lesbians have long hair (e.g. Gina Gershon’s character in Bound).

But given this is a show entirely about lesbians, couldn’t they throw the community a bone and at least give one of the women short hair? We can lobby for chain wallets and combat boots later.

Also, what’s the deal with not casting any out lesbian or bisexual actresses besides Leisha Hailey? I know this is a tricky issue, because not a lot of young actresses are out, and those who are might be afraid of being typecast — but it’s not like Tammy Lynn Michaels has had any new work since she came out as Melissa Etheridge‘s girlfriend a year ago. They couldn’t give her a call?

Finally, why has everyone interviewed about the series emphasized how much “sad sex” will be in it? Are we going to need Prozac just to watch the show? They seem to be trying to position the series as ground-breaking in its approach to lesbian sex because of how emotional and sad it will be, as if they are counteracting some kind of myth that lesbian sex is too happy and care-free.

I hate to break it to them, but there is no such myth sweeping the nation, I don’t care what they were told by the lesbian “sexpert” they hired.

And furthermore, they don’t have to portray the sex as “sad” to be ground-breaking — just showing any lesbian sex on a regular basis on TV is ground-breaking enough. That is the sad part.

I’m sure as more information about Earthlings trickles out, and the series finally begins, there will be many more decisions, dialogue, and characters to make fun of, for the series’ role as a pioneer virtually guarantees it will make mistakes.

This is a situation we should welcome both because it means we finally have a show to make fun of in the first place, and because when we can constructively criticize shows like Earthlings, it will mean we have finally moved past gratitude to expecting more.

Meanwhile, I’d settle for getting rid of that sailor hat — before we have to start calling it “Marcel” and watch it star in its own commercial.

April 2003 Update: Earthlings has been retitled The L Word, the sex in Showtime’s new promo for the series looks anything but sad, Pam Grier’s character has been rewritten to be a straight woman, and Tammy Lynn Michaels has been cast in a small role in three of the first four episodes.