Primetime TV Is Getting Away With More Explicit Sexual Content. Good.


In an article today titled “Fisting, Anal Sex, Penis Pictures: Broadcast TV’s Ratings Grab Gets Raunchy,” The Hollywood Reporter rounds up a recent onslaught of sexed-up jokes and plotlines on network TV.

Just to be clear about the title, “fisting” refers to jokes on New Girl, “anal sex” refers to jokes on The Mindy Project, and “penis pictures” refers to a widely circulated moment on the new ShondaLand legal drama How to Get Away With Dick Pics — er, Murder. Also mentioned in the piece was a sex scene on Scandal that followed a Charlie Brown special. Hold on while I find a string of pearls to clutch.

None of these incidents, from jokes to sex scenes, has snagged the notice of the FCC yet, notes THR, although the Parents Television Council, perennial voice of prudish viewers, is not pleased.

Are network sitcoms and dramas alike competing with curse-word-and-canoodling-embracing cable shows? Are they just trying to pep up those sluggish ratings? Will fines begin to be levied, as the PTC hopes? There’s no straightforward answer to any of these questions, but they do suggest another, overarching one: Should we all just lighten up? Answer: Yes.

As cable TV goes further and further down the road of exploring emotional verisimilitude and weirdness in sex scenes (see Showtime’s Masters of Sex and The Affair, Cinemax’s The Knick, and yes… Girls) cast in pleasing shades of moral gray, why shouldn’t broadcast TV get a little more libidinous with its jokes and storylines?

We’ve always had a weird hangup in this country about sexual content on our screens, except of course when it’s soaked in blood and torture on an episode of Law and Order: SVU. Normalizing everyday humor around sex, and making light of sexual miscommunication (as The Mindy Project does), sounds more like a breath of fresh air than a disturbing trend.

If the capitalist race for ratings and profit gets more writers’ rooms to experiment with prurient jokes, I’m all for it. Particularly (and perhaps this is far too much to ask) if it’s not just done for the purposes of shock and titillation, but also advances plot and characterization, and broadens conceptions of healthy sexuality.

I’ll add this: much like anyone who has traveled abroad and flipped idly through the channels on a hotel room television, I can vouch for the highly carnal content of television in other countries. I almost fell off my chair when I saw the British version of Jersey Shore, dubbed Geordie Shore. They do not employ nearly as heavy a “blurring effect” as our MTV does during certain scenes, let’s just say. Far less imagination is required.

American television has a long way to go before we’re even in the same orbit as such shows. So let’s hope the FCC continues to stand back as TV shows bring forth the raunch — and the conversations.