31 March 2013 | jneedleman
A Humanizing Drama about Seemingly Invisible Beauty
In the first episode of Lip Service, you'll notice a great deal of self-conscious dialog about political correctness -- what not to call people, how not to characterize them -- that suggests the writers are regurgitating their research and/or being didactic. At that moment, you might wonder whether you ought to keep watching.
But at the same time, the acting and characterization offer a connection to a group of friends whose real-life counterparts are often low-key and underrepresented, partly to allow for survival and a minimum of harassment.
So if you're like me, you'll so want to know and spend time with those characters that you'll keep watching. And if you do, you'll find the verbalized clichés become fewer from the second episode on, and the writing keeps getting better.
Some critics have complained of an absence of "butch lesbians" in the series, which they say favors the "lipstick" kind, but I think they're wrong. I wonder whether the people who say that understand what television representation is or what the culture really involves. First of all, not everyone is the same; some deliberately androgynous female wooers do wear lipstick (sometimes rock stars can be better role models than, say, truck drivers for a player -- if you doubt it, ask Joan Jett). Second, the figures whom one recognizes from real life, and who are often called butch by the very people who desire them, seem lovingly represented on this show -- though, like characters on all TV shows, they are of course conventionally attractive. That's only to be expected on any show: Heather Peace might have broad shoulders, but she also has an angelic face.
As in The L Word and many novels like *The Well of Loneliness* by Radcliffe Hall and others by Ann Bannon, the butch types often seem haunted and emotional behind self-restraint. One of them, Frankie, must come to terms with her life as she tries to care for the woman she loves in the way in which she herself was not cared for. The damage has just as much to do with prejudice, and others' rejection of her as a person, as it does the aftermath of childhood. Perhaps you can relate.
I was very happy to see butch women represented in Lip Service by two of the main characters, just as I was to see classically feminine characters suffer for being themselves as well. You feel for them, but you also understand that it's better to understand pain than overlook it.
There are infinite variations and additions to archetypes in any community of individuals, as anyone with an imagination will have guessed. But I would support any TV show that presented *any* of the wonderful lesbians I've met in real life, so that everyone can have the chance to love and admire them. Lip Service seems to present them to the general public without insulting the demographic it represents. I did find the show titillating as its creators intended — "let's excite our gay audience in a way that also excites straight viewers" — but I see that as a way to introduce the idea of shows like this, so that women in relationships that exclude men — even when they aren't gorgeous and in their 20s and 30s — can become accepted and included more often in mainstream shows over time.
Pity there were only two seasons. I'd have loved to see a third.