February 13, 2006 12:00 PM

Showtime (Sundays, 10 p.m. ET)


Felicity Huffman has been getting a lot of praise, attention and awards for her winsome, touching portrayal of a man anatomically committing himself to womanhood in the movie Transamerica. But for gender-bending androgyny, nothing comes close to this glossy, engrossing soap opera about lesbians in Los Angeles. The most intriguing fresh plot strand in this season, the show’s third, follows the shifting sexual identity of a young woman named Moira Sweeney (new addition Daniela Sea). Moira describes herself as a “butchie,” and indeed she could casually be mistaken for male—maybe even a male drifter, like one of those Richard Avedon portraits of dusty, dangerous American outsiders. But she’s also angularly beautiful and sometimes looks like a young Charlotte Rampling. Only as a boy, sort of.

At any rate, Sea plays the part with unpretentious transparency, a welcome lack of fuss. This is tricky, given the growing murkiness of Moira’s situation: A club manager (Alan Cumming) begins encouraging her to become a man—mostly, it seems, because he’s turned on by fantasies of what a handsome male partner she would make. Could get complicated, no? Meanwhile, the other women continue to tumble along, managing to maintain their glowing attractiveness and flowing sociability while being nettled by troubles: Alice (Leisha Hailey) can’t get over Dana (Erin Daniels); Bette and Tina (Jennifer Beals and Laurel Holloman) deal with career issues while raising the baby. Then illness comes.

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