Picks and Pans Review: The L Word

updated 01/26/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/26/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

DRAMA

Showtime (Sundays, 10 p.m. ET)

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In 1999 Ally McBeal got Americans talking by sharing a kiss with a woman and finding the sensation curiously enjoyable. Ancient history, folks. Now Showtime bids for buzz with a new series peopled by beautiful, libidinous lesbians who actually have sex. A lot of it.

The L Word (premiering Jan. 18) is hot, to be sure. You can feel the erotic charge every time cafe owner Marina (Karina Lombard) renews her campaign to seduce Jenny (Mia Kirshner), a young midwestern writer who has just arrived in L.A. and moved in with her boyfriend Tim (Eric Mabius). But there are problems with this plotline. Jenny's approach-avoidance dance with Marina is protracted almost to the point of absurdity, and Tim's blindness to the women's mutual attraction is not to be believed. Wake up and smell the coffee, fella.

The series' other main focus is on Bette (Jennifer Beals) and her partner Tina (Laurel Holloman), who are trying to have a baby through sperm donation despite some apparent strains in their relationship. This situation has potential, as does the dilemma facing tense tennis professional Dana (Erin Daniels), who fears that coming out as a lesbian will hurt her career. And then there's Alice (Leisha Hailey), the gabby cynic who thinks everybody sleeps with everybody else. On this show, she may be right.

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