Lip Service: The Greatest Glaswegian Sapphic Soap Opera Ever Made

Curator's Note

 Lip Service has frequently been termed a Scottish version of The L Word, but the differences are as profound as the similarities.  The L Word had an expansive idea of its own significance; in its six-year run, it continually engaged controversial topics: coming out, gay parenting, bisexuality, transgenderism—and on and on.  Lip Service is more modest, both in its scale and its claims.  Where The L Word initially offered six central characters (Bette, Tina, Jenny, Alice, Dana, Kit), Lip Service makes do with three (Cat, Frankie, Tess).  The L Word was set in the global metropolis of Los Angeles; Lip Service takes place in the peripheral town of Glasgow.  The ghost of the after-school special at times hovered perilously over The L Word; Lip Service aims more to entertain and engage viewers than instruct them.

Whatever Lip Service lacks in scope, however, it more than makes up for in depth and texture.  Britannia’s empire may have waned, but her actors still rule the airwaves, and the Lip Service cast is (almost) uniformly stellar.  The dance between Ruta Gedmintas's Frankie and Laura Fraser’s Cat, the one magnetic and destructive, the other buttoned-up and industrious, hardly breaks new ground, but is given vivid life by Gedmintas’s charisma and Fraser’s nuanced intensity.  Fiona Button, with her huge, perpetually astonished eyes, leavens the sturm und drang of the Cat and Frankie relationship with an endearingly awkward humor.  Where Jenny Schechter, in her hectoring self-pity, became the true voice of The L Word, Tess, carrying on as an actor despite backstage mishaps and rehearsal nightmares, often seems the character closest to the hearts of Lip Service’s creators.  On The L Word, the writer reigned with a supreme and oft-abused authority; Lip Service, in contrast, highlights the performer.

BBC Three has shown Lip Service oddly little love.  Audiences were apparently strong for the first season, but the network delayed greenlighting a second; the show premiered 12 October 2010, but the second season didn’t air until 20 April 2012.  One wonders whether that delay is connected to the “prior commitments” that dictated the catastrophic plot twist that blindsided viewers early in season two.  Sometimes, one doesn’t know whether to be more grateful to a network for creating a wonderful show in the first place, or more angry with them for their poor stewardship of it.


Between the BBC and Channel 4, U.K. television keeps proving itself at worst neuterable (in the case of The Office) and at best inimitable (in the case of Skins). Alongside Lip Service, my contenders for most winning British series of late are Gavin & Stacey (an alternately sweet and ribald romance between a posh mama’s boy and a scrappy Welsh lassie which ran from 2007-2010 on BBC One) and Pulling (a bawdier, thirtysomething Girls that aired from 2006-2009 on BBC Three); both are available through Netflix-by-mail.

For all its debt to The L Word, I find the comparable lack of didacticism that Vernon ascribes to Lip Service particularly refreshing for its acknowledgement of sexual fluidity. When an intoxicated Frankie spontaneously sleeps with a male mate in season 1, for example, neither she nor the show’s other leads respond as if there’s been a lesbian security breach. That Frankie, figured as the longest term lesbian and certainly the least gender conforming among the core ensemble, occasionally exhibits bisexual behavior suggests a fluidity and lack of judgment about identity far from the policing that characterized later seasons of The L Word and continues to characterize so much of American television (not you, Kalinda Sharma!). Speaking as another devoted Lip Servant, here’s hoping that BBC America makes Lip Service available stateside, and without letting it devolve into Turkish oil wrestling…



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