For many reasons, Season 5 was a complete and utter delight for Laurel Holloman fans. Not since the Pilot and the latter half of Season 4 has Tina been written with so much force, and – dare we actually say it? Sympathy.
Tina was written with complexity, too, and there were things she did where she wasn’t always on her best behavior. However, most in the audience understood where she was coming from, because she was finally written with her own voice and point of view. She was no longer dependent on the storyline of another character to survive.
When viewers understand a character’s behavior, they will not turn away even if that character’s behavior isn’t always stellar. They will embrace and sympathize with that character, and grow to love him/her. This is what happened to Tina because of how she was written. Some who were never fans became passionate ones, and others that didn’t, at least understood her better. Still others came to like Tina and thought she was fun, wicked smart, and hot. We’re happy so many more have come to see what we have always seen in Tina.
This was a very pleasant development … and for some of us, a shocking one. Some of us have been waiting a long time for an independent and fully-realized Tina to emerge. Given the history of this character, we didn’t think Ilene Chaiken would have the wherewithal to make it happen. We were wrong. We’re appreciative that she developed Tina in this way, and we realize that Tina and Jenny remain the lone two characters who’ve had significant character growth since the series began. We just hope she continues to write Tina at least as well in Season 6.
Where to begin? It’s hard to decide, because this was Laurel Holloman’s season. (It was also Mia Kirshner’s season, but more of that in a bit.) Tina was involved in three storylines in S5. Count them: three! Two of them were actually without Bette. This is not to complain about Laurel’s being paired with Jennifer; on the contrary. But as noted before, too often Tina was written in conjunction with Bette. Very rarely was she the main feature.
That changed in Season 5. Laurel was featured with Mia in the Lez Girls storyline, with Leisha and Kate in the short-lived but hilarious Tina party-girl storyline, and in the Triangle storyline with Jennifer and Marlee. It was an embarrassment of riches for those of us who hoped for something of this magnitude for a long time.
Not since the Pilot had the writers penned comedy scenes for Laurel, which is a shame because Laurel is a talented comedienne with great timing. Why the writers underused this part of Laurel’s talent for so long is mind boggling to us. We hope they continue to mine Laurel’s natural flair for comedy in S6.
Because this was Laurel’s season, it wasn’t a simple task selecting only three scenes. So we’re going to cheat a little and focus on the comedy first.
Laurel’s scenes with Mia Kirshner and then with Leisha Hailey, Kate Moenning and Rachel Shelley were the highlights of Season 5. In these comedic scenes, Laurel was reminiscent of a young Madeline Kahn, with her precise comedic timing, smarty pants/sarcastic delivery, tone of voice, and hilarious facial expressions and body movements.
Tina and Jenny
Laurel’s scenes with Mia are particularly memorable, because not only are Laurel and Mia in sync as performers, the comedy is enhanced by their adversarial relationship. Pairing Laurel with Mia was a great move on the part of the producers/writers, because they complemented each other very well. Their scenes together and their evolution from adversaries to supportive allies and friends were a standout aspect of the season.
Before we begin with the funny scenes between Tina and Jenny, we want to briefly mention how we not only loved this fictional pairing, but that we feel they were always meant to be paired as they have been in the last two seasons. Since S1, we saw the beginnings of budding friendship between Tina and Jenny. Tina was the one who welcomed Jenny into the fold when the others (except Marina, who had a romantic/sexual interest) really didn’t want to have anything to do with her.
Tina’s and Jenny’s journeys have been two of the most interesting of the ensemble. One big reason Jenny was so vehemently against Tina in S4 and into S5 was not only because of the bad blood that had developed between them because of Kate and how Tina wanted Jenny fired, but because Jenny held it against Tina that she left Bette for a man. Jenny’s childhood trauma left an indelible mark on her, and men were never easy for her. Tina, on the other hand, could take men or leave them. Hers was an easy breezy attitude towards men. Women were actually more difficult for Tina than men were. Jenny was new to the lesbian fold, and with the zeal of a new convert, Jenny laid into Tina for going back to men.
It was delightful that, given their brief but interrupted history, the writers breathed life into this interesting and entertaining pair.
In the opening episode of S5, Jenny rewrites the sperm donor party from the Pilot and impishly turns Tina into a predator who tries to hit on her. This opening salvo set the tone for their scenes for the rest of the season. Laurel’s portrayal was so funny, because we know Tina would not behave that way – at least not with Jenny. But Nina would. She moved, panther-like, towards an “innocent” Jenny: voice low, suggestively offering a “Dyke-iri” and looking Jenny up and down while raising her eyebrows like Groucho Marx. Laurel was hilarious as predator Nina, and it was a stellar start to a truly memorable season for her fans.
If this weren’t enough of a treat, we were soon in for another one with Laurel and Mia. In fact, everyone in this scene was first rate, including the very funny William Shawn. Even Sounder 2, in the wrong-colored ribbon, was funny.
In this scene, Tina goes to a meeting at the studio, and Jenny’s presence is completely unexpected. Tina walks into the room and immediately spies a suntanned Jenny, looking very healthy and chatting away with a bald man who has become her benefactor. The look on Tina’s face was priceless as she sees Jenny, and she slowly walks to the conference table and sits down, again startled at the turn of events. After the introduction to William, who turns out to be the person bankrolling the Lez Girls film, Tina and Jenny greet one another with all the phony niceties and underlying hostilities each has reserved for the other. So far, perfection. Could it get any better?
Yes it could, and it did. Jenny and William are like two characters out of Alice in Wonderland, who by some dint of fate find themselves on the human side of the pond. Listening to them chat and carry on, Tina is like Alice, not sure what the hell is going on but wanting to get the hell out of the mad tea party. Just when she thinks things couldn’t get any worse, Tina finds out that Jenny is going to be directing the Lez Girls film. Laurel digs into her vast inventory of facial expressions and comes up with one where she cannot hold in the laughter any longer, and exhales a large amount of air after she blows up her facial cheeks to contain it. Hilarious.
It doesn’t stop there. As Jenny interacts with her assistant and dog, Tina’s and William’s reactions to her outlandish behavior are side-splitting funny. Laurel has almost no dialogue in this scene, yet she plays it to comedic perfection.
At the wedding of William’s daughter, there is another encounter between Tina and Jenny where we get another welcome taste of the Tom and Jerry cartoon aspect to this pair. The wedding is out on the lawn of William’s mansion, and we see people seated and waiting for the bridal party to arrive.
Wait, is that another Alice in Wonderland character? No, it’s Jenny again, in a black dress that could only have been designed by a hot balloon enthusiast. She’s skipping along in the balloon dress, knocking into people while trying to get to her seat beside Tina. Tina makes a waving motion with her hand, as if swatting a fly. She looks at Jenny’s getup and says to her sarcastically, “We were all waiting for you.” Jenny replies in a girlish whisper, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you wait.” Tina shoots back: “Nice dress.” Jenny answers as if Tina really meant it. “Thank you, Tina.” Laurel’s delivery, with a low voice, the expressions on her face and a sarcastic tone were priceless. She and Mia played off each other perfectly.
The comedy between Tina and Jenny was entertaining, but the drama was compelling too. Jenny came to trust and rely on Tina as her go-to person, and it was lovely to watch. It was both heartbreaking and uplifting when Tina was there for Jenny after Adele’s betrayal. It will be interesting to see this storyline played out in the final season next year, and we hope to see more of Laurel and Mia together. Their chemistry is too good to waste. Their connection as fictional characters was there from the beginning , and there were missed opportunities to bring them together before S4. Better later than never. Hopefully it will continue to flourish next season.
Tina and her friends
Another memorable aspect of Tina’s story in S5 was her interactions with her friends – another welcome change after Tina’s isolation from the group in the recent past. The first taste of this new dynamic comes when Tina, Alice, and Shane visit Helena in jail.
They enter the prison with Alice holding onto Tina for dear life as Tina looks like a lost puppy, not even trying to check out the women because she doesn’t think she attracts them as Shane does. Tina is still suffering from a little lack of self-esteem and confidence when it comes to women, and we know why, but fortunately she snaps out of it as the season progresses. After Shane flirts with the prisoners, the new three amigas hold on to each other, with Alice and Shane being Tina’s bookends. They promise to be her gay wingmen , and help hook her up. It was a threesome that delivered some of the season’s best moments: in prison, at the pot brownie party, and in Tina’s tent during the Pink Ride. This first group scene, including their conversation with Helena, produced that instant classic: “Don’t drop the soap.”
In episode five, Angela Robinson wrote and directed one of the most entertaining TLW sequences ever: the pot brownie party. It features a stoned and drunk Tina, dancing on the table with Alice and Shane. How delicious it was to watch Tina lose her inhibitions after a painful and disturbing conversation with Bette, dancing her blues away and having a great time with her friends. The comedic expressions on Laurel’s face and her body movements were so funny and cute, as were Tina and Shane hanging onto each other as Dawn Denbo and Her Lover Cindy create a ruckus.
Laurel is very good at playing stoned and drunk, which is a hit-or-miss with some actors. There are too many performances in which the actor will go overboard in portraying someone stoned and drunk, and it comes off looking like they are having a medical emergency. Laurel’s stoned/drunk imitation was a perfect simulation of the real thing. Her voice was modulated precisely to capture the sound of someone inebriated, and Tina’s laughter and body movements when Jodi comes to help her as she is looking for her cell phone to call a taxi were spot on.
This continued as Jodi helps Tina into Bette’s house to put her to sleep on the couch. The way Tina held onto Jodi was exactly how someone under the influence would move. It was heartwrenching to see the change in Tina once she realizes where she is, as she starts to sober up at the prospect of sleeping in the house that was once hers.
This scene was powerful because it started out funny and ended on a very somber note, with Bette incredulous at what had transpired, watching Jodi bring Tina a glass of water and covering her with a blanket. Bette watches Tina longingly as another great scene comes to a close. Hats off to Laurel, Jennifer and Marlee for playing a very uncomfortable scene realistically and convincingly.
Next: Producer Tee and more selections from the Season 5 banquet.