For Jacqueline Toboni The L Word was a guilty teenage pleasure. "The only out girl in my school—I was not out—gave me a present sophomore year of high school. It was the season one box set of The L Word*," she said. "She was like, 'Just until you figure it out.' I was so embarrassed, but then I watched and watched. It’s not the most appropriate show, so if my parents came downstairs I’d have the 'previous channel' button on the remote set to cartoons. Sneaky sneaky."
If only they knew she was immersed in serious career prep! Nearly a decade after Toboni first encountered the series, the 27-year-old actress is now playing Finley on The L Word: Generation Q , a reboot that picks up ten years after the original series left off. Bette Porter (Jennifer Beals) is launching her mayoral campaign; Alice Pieszecki (Leisha Hailey) now hosts her own talk show; and Shane McCutcheon (Katherine Moennig), the lothario heartbreaker, is back in town after opening hair salons in Europe.
Toboni plays Finley, a bro-y production assistant on Alice's show who finds herself crashing at Shane's place in exchange for fixing things around the house. Like most viewers, Toboni said she gravitated towards Shane when she watched the original series. "Shane had influences on me as a person," she said. "I was like, ‘Oh god, I just want to be Shane.’ Just the swagger! She’s cool."
While the promo trailers would have you think that Finley is a sort of goofy Shane 2.0—the least pragmatic of the bunch, always showing up late, clad in a style that might be described as "scumbro"—she's actually much more multi-faceted. "I think Finley is definitely in this skater fashion zone, but you do see her style develop throughout the season," Toboni said. "As the character develops, her style grows to be more...we’ll say work appropriate."
Finley finds herself at a crossroads when she meets a new love interest named Rebecca (Olivia Thirlby) at a bar and wakes up the next morning to discover that she has unwittingly become romantically entangled with a devout religious leader. "I grew up Catholic and I try to think about what it would have been like seeing Finley on the original series," Toboni said. "I think I would have been red hot embarrassed because it would’ve been like, ‘Hey, you!’ You know when something hits that’s so relatable to your experience?"
"I’m happy that Finley is Catholic because whenever you go down the sexuality and religion rabbit hole, it’s always about conversion camp or strong Christian ideas that say being gay is absolutely wrong," she went on. "I think seeing Finley, an adult dealing with shame like this is something that I hadn’t seen before. An adult reckoning with her identity and her religious upbringing in this way."
In fact, Toboni said she had a sneaking suspicion that the Generation Q creator Marja-Lewis Ryan, with whom she had worked with in the past, wrote the character of Finley with her in mind. "When I’m biking in the show as Finley, I’m biking pretty close to where I live," she said. "I’m in my spots. I’m living in my world, so it feels pretty similar to my experience."
The 2005 debut of The L Word was watershed moment for queer representation on television, but there has been (at times, quite deserved) criticism about the way the show handled a variety of topics, from bisexuality to transgender identity. Still, in the decade since it went off the air, says Toboni, "I think nothing has stepped up and filled its place."
When Toboni and her cast mates prepared to make the reboot, she said, "we had a big sit down dinner and [the creators] were like, ‘First of all, this show is under a microscope and always has been. People love to love it and love to hate it, so take everything with a grain of salt.’ And then they were basically like, ‘It is your show as much as it’s our show, so let’s do this together. We’re in this as a family now.’ They gave us permission to create with freedom, and that made all the difference."