Sunday night, Showtime debuted three season premieres, all at different stages in their overall television life cycles. First, at 9pm, there was Shameless. After an excellent first season in 2011, the family drama returned for a much-anticipated second season on Sunday. At 10pm, it was the series premiere of House of Lies, starring Don Cheadle. Following Lies would be Californication, back for its 5th season. While Showtime has generally run 2nd to HBO over the past decade in terms of pay cable popularity, not to mention overall influence on pop culture, shows like Shameless give the network exactly what it needs to wrest some of the limelight, and ratings, away from Home Box Office. Sure, it was known for having gross out, quirky comedies like Weeds and Californication, but the common theme was that Showtime was where you went for comedies based on drugs and sex, while HBO is where you turned for meaningful, groundbreaking TV (The Sopranos, The Wire). Throw in the fact that HBO wasn’t too shabby itself in the comedy genre (Curb, Da Ali G Show) and it’s easy to see why HBO just seemed like the class of cable networks.
This is not to say that Showtime has overtaken HBO in terms of relevance and ability to release intriguing, thoughtful programs, but rather saying that it’s now a two-horse race to see which pay cabler will be the talk of the town on a given week. And this week the pay cable universe belongs to Showtime and its three season premieres on Sunday night.
I’m no critic, and won’t pretend like I am. I’ll keep things basic by just saying that I enjoyed all three shows and will continue watching each of them. I don’t count any of these shows among my favorites, and I really didn’t start watching Californication until last season. I did see nearly all of Season 1 of Shameless, and feel that it’s a really good, potentially great show that is as enjoyable as any hour currently out there.
But as I said, I’m not here to critique. Instead, we’re going to talk about the one thing these shows all have in common: sex. Using metrics like “Was there nudity, if so, how much?” and “How graphic was the depiction of sexual actions?” and “Which of these shows would you least want to watch with your parents?”, we’ll take a look at the week that was in fornication in the naked, profane, pornographic universe of Sunday night on Showtime. Let’s call it “The Libido List”
3. House of Lies
Somehow, a show that opens with an interracial nude scene in its first episode ever winds up last on this list. What must that say about the other two? From the outset, it’s made clear that this show will do its best to live up to the sexual standards of Californication, which comes before it in Showtime’s chronology and right after it on Sunday nights. The show opens with Marty Kaan, played by Don Cheadle, lying naked, face down, head-to-toe with a white woman. After briefly inspecting the woman’s undercarriage, and then looking at her face, his worst fears have been confirmed: he’s had sex with his ex-wife. Other than the initial image of two naked bodies passed out in what surely was a promiscuous position while they were awake, there’s nothing too graphic here. Cheadle cleans up the scene, comically propping up his ex-wife, Monica, to trick their son into thinking that she’s just sleeping.
From there, it’s off to New York, where Marty and his consulting team terrorize a strip club. And while there is some mild, obligatory nudity in the strip club scene, sadly, Marty’s sexual conquest of stripper April is simply implied rather than shown. The next night at dinner, however, is a different story. Right off the bat, it’s evident that April and Rachel Norbert, the wife of Marty’s “mark,” are headed towards some sort of lesbian encounter. It doesn’t take long for the two of them to go at it in the bathroom, furiously making out and undressing each other, leading to the inevitable cut away as April begins to pleasure Rachel. Our first girl on girl scene of the Showtime season: check.
Throughout the episode, Marty relentlessly badgers Jeannie, played by Kristen Bell, insisting that the two of them will sleep together at some point in the near future. While it doesn’t immediately lead to anything out of the ordinary, it does lead to repeated vulgarities from Marty as he pontificates on what kind of sex they’ll someday have, and how he’ll coax what he believes to be a hidden, wild side, out of his co-worker.
And if Marty Kaan bedding his ex-wife and a stripper weren’t enough for the pilot episode, the executive producers figured that one last, gratuitous sex scene with the mother of his son’s classmate couldn’t hurt. As the school principal begins to preside over a discussion with Marty and Alisette Kauffman about who’s child (Marty’s son Roscoe or Alisette’s “pug” of a daughter, Brittany) should play Sandy in Grease, Marty begins to lick his chops, knowing that he and Alisette will work out some sort of “arrangement.” Marty concedes Roscoe’s part to Alisette and Brittany, and if we were too stupid to realize how the bargaining went down, it’s made quite clear on opening night of the school play. As Marty’s father Jeremiah watches his grandson perform, Marty and Alisette are nowhere to be found. Of course, that’s because they’re in the parking lot, having sex in an SUV. It is here where House of Lies debuts frontal nudity in the form of Alisette Kauffman, played by Daphne Duplaix, displaying her left breast to the viewing audience. You’d think a guy with a seven-figure salary would be above parking lot sex at his son’s school play (at least get a hotel once the show ends!), but if we’ve learned anything about Marty Kaan, it’s that he’s not above anything, especially when it comes to sex.
After one episode of Lies, it looks like the sex is here to stay. Nothing overly grotesque in the pilot. There’s intercourse, frontal nudity, and in what’s actually the most passionate scene of the half hour, a bathroom stall lesbian scene. But for the first week of these rankings, it sits in third. The question is, which will be the first to reach a #1 ranking: Galweather & Stern in the consulting hierarchy, or Lies’ spot on the “Libido List”? With Marty Kaan at the helm, either his company or his sexploits are bound to climb the charts soon enough.
Where Shameless has an advantage in these rankings is in its hour-long format. The sickos on Lies and Californication only have about 30 minutes to get it on, while the grimy fiends of Chicago get a full hour. We won’t go as far to disadvantage Shameless by judging the sex based on scenes per hour, or some advanced metric, but rather, just keep in mind that if there seems like a lot of nudity in the show compared to the others, it is twice as long. By many standards, Shameless should be number one this week. Only the graphic nature of Californication keeps the Chicago-based family drama from the top spot, but not by much, as the Gallagher clan was all reared up and ready to go for Season 2.
Season 1 left off with Ian trying to figure out his relationship with Kash, which is complicated because, you know, Kash is married with kids, and his wife is pregnant. Not good a good time to be Kash. Ian has gotten over Kash, but Kash hasn’t gotten over his problems, namely, being a married family man who’s actually gay. Throughout Sunday’s episode, he repeatedly went into the back room of his store with another Muslim man, who would show up in a full robe and headdress, and as far as we know, they were having sex. We didn’t see anything specific, except for the final time that Kash emerged from the back room, he too decked out in the Islamic garb, bags packed, ready to abandon his family. Speaking of which, remember in Wet Hot American Summer when Marguerite Moreau, who plays Kash’s Muslim wife, was attractive? Or at least made out to be some sort of sex symbol? Well, let’s just say that if Michael Showalter’s character really did come back for her once they matured, I’m pretty sure he’d just turn around and say “Oh well.” But back to the show, which leads us to believe that Kash is taking off for who-knows-where with his boyfriend, leaving not only his family behind, but whatever relationship he had with Ian as well.
In last year’s pilot, Fiona, played by Emmy Rossum, went topless and fornicated on the kitchen floor with Steve. Having spurned Steve’s invitation to run away to Costa Rica at the end of last season, she’s now seeing another young, handsome hotshot, this time played by James Wolk (not sure what the character’s name is). Who knows, assuming the series is picked up again, if it’ll be a yearly thing, but Sunday night made it two for two in terms of Fiona being topless during season premieres. As the sun came up, she and Wolk were having sex by the shores of Lake Michigan. While that was acceptable, what was unacceptable was Amy Smart’s character, Jasmine, having awkward, multi-generational sex with her geriatric man of the month, a mere 30 yards away. It was a strange sight, watching her “sugar daddy” try to figure out having sex with a much younger, livelier woman, despite the fact that, disgustingly enough, it probably happens often. But the story here is Fiona, back on the hunt after her breakup with Steve. And while the jury is out on his character (he was kind of a tool), James Wolk is a good looking guy, so props to Fiona.
Let’s look briefly at the members of the Gallagher clan who’s relationships weren’t based on sex this week. One, Frank and Sheila, never has been, and barring a miracle (or Sheila undergoing extensive therapy), there won’t be any relations taking place in the Jackson household. That is, unless, Lip can break through and try to get together with Karen again. While she gives him some hope in the episode, it’s not quite to be just yet, as she is, after all, a recovering sex addict. But even as a sex addict, she’s still always a threat to wind up in this space, and in the season opener, she was galavanting around with a man twice her age who she met in sex addict therapy. She insists they’re just friends, but if we know anything about Shameless, it’s that Karen Jackson will be having sex soon. Whether it’s with sex addict guy or Lip (I think Frank was a one-and-done), I’d count on Karen Jackson breaking her group vows and experimenting once again.
Frank’s deranged domestic partnership with Sheila may not be based on sex, but that doesn’t mean Frank is celibate. In this episode, he was quite the opposite. Unfortunately for Frank, though, he was involved in the kind of encounters he’d prefer not to be. Desperately in need of $10,000 after losing an ill-fated bar bet, he resorts to visiting what seems to be a gay bar. Upon insisting to the bartender that he needs cash, the bartender suggests that Frank offer his “services” to the patrons of the bar. And so it begins, with Frank performing some unseen sexual act in a bathroom stall with one man. As he emerges from the latrines, Frank suddenly has a line of customers, and, needing the cash to get back his semi-kidnapped son, obliges them. We see virtually nothing, but the difficult nature of the action is implied in Frank’s face. For all his screwups, which are endless, the fact that Frank was willing to stoop so low in order to get the money to get Liam back shows how much he values his family. The meaningful part here is that Fiona, Lip, Ian, and the rest of the kids who are always (rightfully) judging and scorning Frank for his missteps will likely never find out just how far he went in order to retrieve Liam.
Other than continuing to be outstanding television, Shameless continues to be filled with sex. Gay, straight, you name it, Shameless has it. Looks like the Gallaghers brought their sexual appetites back with them for Season 2.
The inaugural top spot in the Libido List goes to Californication. This was sort of Showtime’s response to HBO’s Entourage: Set in Los Angeles against the backdrop of the entertainment industry; not too much happens from week to week; it’s permeated by sex, drugs, and alcohol; each protagonist has a middle aged, balding, Jewish agent (Jeremy Piven clearly has hair plugs, dude would be damn near bald otherwise). In terms of sex, however, Californication is much more graphic than Entourage ever was.
Season 5 opens with Hank in New York, de-committing from a potential relationship. Of course, the woman he’s trying to gently put down is none too pleased, mainly because she allowed Hank to have anal sex with her. She (justifiably) took that fact as a show of good faith from Hank that he was committed to her, and understandably freaked out in the middle of a crowded restaurant when she found out the Hank just wanted to keep things casual. She launched into a loud, angry tirade about Hank being an ass hole who violates and sodomizes women, and then leaves them. Welcome to Season 5, everyone.
On the airplane back to Los Angeles, Hank is seated next to a gorgeous African American woman. After some smooth talking, he manages a bathroom rendezvous with her. Were not entirely sure what happens, other than Hank referring to it as a “makeout session,” but he certainly seems smitten by the beautiful, seemingly classy woman he’s met.
You’re saying to yourself now, that doesn’t seem so bad, how is this show the most graphic show of the three? Well, the sex scene between Marcy and Stu (played by the hilarious Stephen Tobolowsky) puts this episode over the top. At the beginning of this piece, I discussed criteria like “How graphic is the sex?” and “How uncomfortable would you be watching with your parents?” Suffice to say, the vivid cunnilingus scene between Stu and marcy is wildly graphic. As Marcy screams obscenities, we, along with Hank and Charlie, see Stu performing oral sex on her in a very aggressive manner. Sorry, but no young person would ever want to watch that scene with a family member, teacher, religious leader, or co-worker. It would be unbelievably awkward to watch, as it’s essentially porn. It’s not even really a nude scene, as we just see Stu’s bare ass. However, it is a sex scene, and for non-Cinemax TV, it’s as graphic as they come. What’s worse is that Charlie and Marcy’s toddler was watching (although that provided some comic relief). The interruption by Hank and Charlie leads to Stu giving a naked hug to Hank, explaining that his “Niagara” is hours away from wearing off. Stu explained why he calls it “Niagara” instead of Viagra, something about flowing and wetness, surely things I won’t elaborate on right here.
In addition to that scene, we get to witness Charlie having sex with his 100th woman. By the way, Evan Handler played a character that landed Kristin Davis in Sex and the City, and now has had sex with 100 women in this show? Maybe I should embrace going bald too. Anyways, as he’s “crossing the finish line,” Hank appropriately walks in. Upon finishing, Charlie happily takes a naked victory lap around his house for all to see. Well not all, more like just Hank, but that’s all the audience that Charlie needs.
With that, our first week of the “Libido List” comes to a close. None of our Sunday night trio of Showtime shows disappointed in Week 1, and if they even come close to retaining the sexual activity in subsequent weeks, we won’t be running out of material here anytime soon. Let’s hope these shows continue to entertain, and that their characters continue to, um, express themselves. Until next week.