Since the start of the 21st century, TV series as a whole have stepped out into a brave new (or should I say nude?) world.
Gone are the days of ‘wholesome’ family viewing (or rather, no one really bothers to watch ‘family-friendly’ series anymore, although they’re still out there… somewhere, I think…) or even just relatively ‘tame’ adult programming – and shows such as: Sex In The City, South Park and The Sopranos – with their simultaneously controversial and explicit content and language that, before the turn of the new millenium at any rate, once set tongues wagging, seem almost ridiculously temperate when compared to the latest and greatest ‘sexed-up’ TV series of today.
In the past thirteen years, TV series have utterly smashed the previously held social norms, which were once used as the measuring stick for ‘acceptable’ TV viewing.
In fact, nowadays most series are far wilder, both visually and verbally, than their bigger, entertainment ‘brother’, the Hollywood movie, which was once more heavily age-restricted.
Granted, there are very different rules and restrictions set in place for films and series, as there are for broadcast and cable TV series respectively.
As Neal Garber said in an April 2010 article – entitled ” Cable vs” Broadcast TV’s Different Mindsets” – featured in the L.A. Times: “Cable TV and broadcast TV purvey different worlds and cable’s is darker, bleaker, more complicated and less forgiving… broadcast TV trades in a world filled with good people – a world in which evil is an abherration and not a condition of life… On broadcast TV, cops exist to fight evil, doctors to save lives, Moms and Dads to love their families and twenty- and thirty-somethings to love their friends.”
So yes, the TV medium of choice does affect things in a big way, as does the broadcasting network.
There’s no question that HBO, which is unquestionably risque, and NBC are worlds apart… as network channels, that is. In fact, if you had to compare the content of their programmes, as well as their broadcast ‘rules’, it would no doubt be a bit like comparing a stripper’s view of right and wrong against a nun’s views…
Nevertheless, perhaps the content of said shows is simply yet another indication of global society’s supposed fall from grace – or maybe we, as a mass-media consuming world, have simply ‘grown up’, thus leaving our former, purported moral standpoints behind, like children that have outgrown their kiddie toys…
Whatever the cause for this highly-popular, new breed of series – with its ‘lose-your-clothes’ ways – is, there is no question that the louder and kinkier, the better.
Shows that one might say ‘got the ball rolling’ in terms of the increased sexually explicit (and, to me leastways, often shameful) content on our screens – be they in the form of TV, PC or iPad – in the new millenium could run as follows: Nip/Tuck (2003), Rome (2005), Weeds (2005), Californication (2007), Mad Men (2007), Tell Me You Love Me (2007), Tudors (2007) and especially, True Blood (2008).
Then from 2010 to 2013, things got hot and heavy fast with the release of the likes of: Spartacus: War of the Damned (2010), Broadwalk Empire (2010), Game of Thrones (2011), Shameless (2011), Girls (2012), Masters of Sex (2013 – pretty much a given, really) and House of Cards (2013) – to name but a few.
With certain series, we tend to know what we can expect simply by looking at the title alone (e.g. Californication and Masters of Sex) or by the plot (such as: Tell Me You Love Me, which revolves around three sets of couples, each with intimacy problems in their relationships – or Broadwalk Empire, which chronicles the life of politician and gangster, Nucky Thompson), time setting (think: Rome and Spartacus) or even simply by a show’s broadcast means and/or channel – yes, here’s looking at you, HBO…
Rome, for example, revolves around Ancient Rome and its inhabitants, infamous for their debauchery and other animalistic excesses – or Spartacus: War of the Damned, which, as a review by IMDb states, has: “graphic violence and explicit sex. This is Spartacus.”
True Blood is yet another such series – and one which is otherwise aptly known as: ‘Vampire Porn for the Whole Family’.
So yes, a little common sense and viewer discretion might go a long way to helping adults decide what they will or will not endure or warily select to watch but there is no such option readily available to children and, in some instances, teenagers.
They don’t really take into account the full implications that rest behind such simple, though still important, symbols like: S, N or R-Rated and their accompanying age restrictions – and, even if they do, often they still don’t understand the damage or impact watching such shows, even just for a few moments, might have on their pyschological state of mind or general well-being.
Sadly, sometimes neither do their parents. Certainly, they might have ‘Parental Guidance’ settings on their home TVs and even laptops but they cannot really know or control what their children will choose to briefly access, watch or even accidentally chance upon on their cellphones or on screens and devices away from their own homes.
Many of the aforementioned series have, at times, almost given porn sites a run for their money and when one looks at a series like Californication (yes, it openly centres around a sex addict of a writer, who also has alcohol and drug problems but that is besides the point), which saw its protagonist, David Duchovny, formerly of The X-Files fame, check himself into rehab with a sex addiction in 2008, it is clear that certain shows have in the past – and often continue to – overstep a few possibly serious but largely ‘invisible’ boundaries.
Should viewers and critics be questioning the need for so much sex and nudity in their favourite shows? No doubt, yes, they should be… but instead, they devour episode after episode and follow these shows with a kind of blind loyalty and quiet acceptance.
As Charmaine Williams of UK-based online magazine, WhatCulture, wrote, in an article most appropriately entitled, “4 TV Shows That Are Just Basically Porn”, when describing Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love (yet another rather self-explanatory title, don’t you think?): “Given the subject matter, of course we’re going to see a butt or a set of boobs at some point. But considering how often it happens, it reminds me of late nights on Cinemax. After watching the first episode, I figured critics were going to lay into it about just how sexual it is. Nope, they loved it…”
There is a huge difference between sex and/or nudity that is justified (for example, when it is used to explain or contribute something meaningful in terms of the plotline or a character’s personal story) and plain ol’ gratuitous sex or nudity.
When it is necessary and does not seem excessively dirty, like some wild fantasy taken straight out a teenage boy’s mind, then I can understand and even accept the need for it to be there, although, personally, I still don’t condone excessive nudity or sex… I wish to watch actors, not porn stars.
Still, whether it is justifiable or not, it seems that the days of such scenes being intimately or even tastefully filmed are gone, as is the classic fade-out effect, once so carefully employed to cut away from characters before things could become too serious.
Charmaine Williams goes on to say this in her review of Game of Thrones, which ranked in at No. 1 on her list, “Incest, prostitutes, various boob shots, (and) more than one sex scene. That’s all in the first episode. If you’ve read the books, you knew this wasn’t exactly PG-13. The rest of us, myself included, did not know that was going to be HBO’s first major venture into borderline hard-core porn.”
That said, the following questions remain:
How, where and when (if at all) will TV producers and scriptwriters draw the line from here on out..?
When will sex and nudity generally stop having even the faintest significance to a storyline and merely exist as yet another ‘fix’ for those of us living in the 2000s, with its troubled ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll’ world climate?
Will we still occasionally pause to wonder if it’s acceptable, necessary or ‘right’ in a few years’ time – or will we all simply have adjusted to it by then?
Whatever one’s views on these TV series may be, one thing should be crystal clear to us – be we TV enthusiasts or no – and it is this: the time of the Noughties or is it Naughties? is come.