If you thought that last year's TV shows were scandalous, the ones lined up for this year are going to make your eyes burn. It's going to get so bad, in fact, that even the mainstream media is calling it out. On Jan. 20, USA Today ran this article on their front page: "Sex on TV: It's Increasingly Uncut - and Unavoidable" written by Gary Strauss.
"Viewers are about to see," Strauss warned, "full-frontal male nudity, heterosexual, homosexual and group sex, and graphic scenes rarely - if ever - seen on mainstream TV."
The most "fornication-heavy" show this year, Strauss said, will be pay-cable's "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" starring Lucy Lawless. He described it as "a 300-meets-Caligula epic about the Roman Empire's notorious slave/gladiator."
"Lawless," Strauss continued, "portrays a conniving social climber who is nude in some scenes, commits adultery in others and uses sex to manipulate frenemies and family. One episode shows Lawless' character and her gladiator-camp-owner husband (John Hannah) manually stimulated by slaves before having sex. Upcoming episodes feature orgies and a gladiator whose large endowment ultimately leads to his downfall."
"Spartacus'" co-executive producer Robert Tapert (who's also married to Lawless) bragged to Strauss that the show pushes the boundaries on "pretty much every level." And there are those that agree with Tapert that pushing the vulgarity envelope is not only expected but good. Paul Levinson, for example, a Fordham University media observer, argues that TV simply depicts reality.
"It sounds radical," Levinson told Strauss, "but this is healthy for popular culture. Mainstream TV has been frozen in a very puritanical position by Congress, the FCC and the Supreme Court - all who don't seem to understand the First Amendment. Sex is part of life. If people are offended, there's a simple remedy: Don't watch."
Critics, however, such as the Parents Television Council say that the sky-rocketing level of crudity on TV is an assault on traditional American values.
"It's become downright ubiquitous," council president Tim Winter said in an interview with Strauss. "Families are under siege, teenage girls are under siege. You don't know what the cultural impact will be down the road."
Well, one thing's for sure. Watching TV is no longer a family-oriented activity. Remember back in the 1950s when TV couldn't even show married couples sleeping in the same bed? And the 1960s weren't much different; as Strauss pointed out, "exposing the bellybutton of I Dream of Jeannie's Barbara Eden was verboten." But all that's just kiddie play now. Here's a summary of the other new or returning shows Strauss warned his readers about:
- MTV's "The Hard Times of RJ Berger": a new scripted comedy about a "nerdy 15-year-old whose cool quotient heats up when his anatomical gift is accidentally exposed"
- Basic-cable network Spike's "Blue Mountain State": a new college-sports comedy show about a football team obsessed with scoring (and we're not talking about during a game)
- ABC's "Cougar Town": a raunchy comedy about a sexually desperate 40-something that has done things like flashed her son's schoolmates and performed oral-sex on a much younger man
- MTV's "Jersey Shore": a "reality show" that focuses on nothing but hooking-up, back biting, and getting drunk
- HBO's "Hung": a "dramedy" about a "a well-endowed teacher moonlighting as a prostitute"
- Showtime's "Secret Diary of a Call Girl": a drama about a hooker looking for "source material for another book through new sexual experiences with clients"
- FX's "Nip/Tuck": a drama that will be wrapping up its final season with "boundary-pushing themes centered on its often sexually compulsive plastic surgeons"
- Showtime's "Californication": the title just about says it all
Five of those eight shows are on either basic cable or a broadcast network, and it will only be a matter of time before the bar is lowered even more. As MTV's president Doug Herzog explained it to Strauss: "The line moves every day, so you got to move with it. You can't put the genie back in the bottle."And this time around you'll be seeing much more than just the genie's belly button.