In an omnibus review of new books about Sappho in the January 8 issue of the London Review of Books, Emily Wilson not only tells us that the Greek verb lesbiazein means “to fellate” but also suggests that, although John Donne may have written the first poem in English to describe what Sappho did with her girlfriend, “it is only a slight exaggeration to say that Baudelaire . . . invented modern lesbianism, and Swinburne brought it to England.” Whether this is true or not, I am struck with how fascinated men seem always to have been at what women get up to without them. It is prurient voyeurism that doesn’t seem to work any other way around. And Showtime may very well be counting on it to increase the audience for The L Word (Sunday, January 18, 10 p.m. to midnight; Sundays thereafter, 10 to 11 p.m.), its new series about a lesbian community in Los Angeles.
Thus, for the broadest possible demographic, many, many breast shots. While Jennifer Beals, Pam Grier, Holland Taylor, Ossie Davis, Anne Archer, and Julian Sands may be the closest to star power that The L Word gets, a dozen or so heretofore mostly unknown female actors are ingratiating and impressive. (I especially like Erin Daniels as a professional tennis player whose coming out could cost her a Subaru commercial. Mia Kirshner as a short-story writer who goes both ways but isn’t happy in either direction, and Leisha Hailey as a journalist who hasn’t entirely escaped an old abusive relationship and is forced to write an article on “vagina rejuvenation,” are also absorbing.) And the dilemmas they face—finding partners and/or jobs, having children, being African-American or Jewish, finding the time to read Borges on a beach—are real enough, even at times dramatic. But when in doubt, between Exercycles, cell phones, laptops, sperm banks, and spry ideas or even lame ones, The L Word goes to bed.
Make ’Em Dance (January 13; 10:30 to 11:30 p.m.; Channel 13) follows America’s oldest performing band, the Hackberry Ramblers, as the 90-year-old fiddler Luderin Darbone and the 93-year-old accordionist Edwin Duhon play Cajun, country, rockabilly, and swamp pop.
Growing Up Grizzly 2 (January 18; 8 to 9 p.m.; Animal Planet) lets us take a second look at the orphaned bear cubs Bart and Honey-Bump, as well as at Jennifer Aniston, who hugs and mugs.
Citizen King (January 19; 9 to 11 p.m.; Channel 13) celebrates the 75th birthday of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. with a special edition of American Experience focusing on his last five years, when he took on the war in Vietnam as well as poverty across the color line. Besides his widow, we hear from the likes of James Baldwin, Taylor Branch, David Halberstam, A. Philip Randolph, Dan Rather, and Roger Wilkins.
Barbarians (January 19 and 20; 9 to 11 p.m.; History Channel), with the usual scholars and hundreds of extras in full costume, explores 1,000 years of uninvited guests, with the Vikings and Goths up first on Monday, the Mongols and Huns following on Tuesday. You will notice that none of these people ever worked on a relationship.
Chasing Freedom (January 19; 9 to 11 p.m.; Court TV) stars Juliette Lewis as an ambitious corporate lawyer who, if she wants to make partner, must take on the pro bono case of an Afghan woman (Layla Alizada) seeking political asylum from the Taliban. They both end up taking on the INS. Think of this as a pro bono TV movie, and a pretty good one.
The Forgetting (January 21; 9 to 10:30 p.m.; Channel 13) tells us almost everything we need to know about Alzheimer’s except why—unless it’s because so many more of us live so much longer these days—there are ten times as many victims of the amnesiac disease today as there were fifteen years ago—5 million and counting. To be followed by Alzheimer’s: The Help You Need, a half-hour panel discussion directing viewers to helpful organizations and resources.