At what point does a TV show that deals with sexually explicit material itself become sexually explicit material? It’s a fine, thrilling line and one that Alice Levine’s new series Sex in fact (Channel 4) struggling with a sometimes ridiculous effect.
In the first episode, devoted to couples filming each other on live chat sites for cash, some of the camera angles used to avoid showing a breast or dong were Bafta-worthy in their ingenuity. There was a scene in Austin Powers where Mike Myers did a similar dance to hide his modesty with a watermelon.
This only underscored some of the difficulties encountered when making sex TV shows. The first of these is the good old British embarrassment. Levine must have convinced viewers that she was interested in what young couples were doing behind closed doors – but not that interested.
It’s important, the show said on the one hand, that people are open and honest about their sexuality and what turns them on. This way we can learn about ourselves.
But how open and honest? Levine spent most of the episode either in the room with people banging or just outside the door listening. She squirmed throughout, far more than any of the friendly young couples bumping into each other (which, by the way, is now known as “content creation”). “You have to remember that it’s work and it’s a service people pay for,” said Nikita from Bournemouth, one of the show’s attendees. I don’t think that’s how Levine saw him two yards away as she handed out another handkerchief.
The premise for doing another sex TV show – they don’t tend to do well for the reason described above – was the pandemic. The lockdown and leave have left many people at home sitting in front of laptops wondering how they are going to make ends meet. There you go, sites like Chaturbate with the inimitable name have come up with a quick fix.
If people chatting while rubbing, performing appropriate Cirque du Soleil contortions for tokens and likes, it all seems a little odd to the twice-monthly crowd, Levine’s conclusion was that in the end, it was not a bad thing. Why wouldn’t people make money by “living in the moment” (NB: those are not my words) and spending time with the person they love the most?
However, she had already offered an answer as to why they shouldn’t do it right before the commercial break, when a tearful Kayla from Newcastle admitted she was ashamed when her father found out what she was doing. Callum and Cole, two nimble young Scots, nearly fell out after a session when Callum said he didn’t like her very much. Financial gain does not always compensate for emotional cuts.
Likewise, there was no mention of the eternal shadow of the Internet, and the fact that each of these “live” shows is being recorded somewhere for children and family to dig up, if they are. wish. Which could be embarrassing. But then, that was symptomatic of the show as a whole – faced with the reality of nude sex today, she didn’t know where to look.