Look on your works, ABC budget cuts, and despair. That’s our big take away from Luke Warm Sex, the ABC’s latest effort at conjuring television out of thin air using nothing but the idea that if it happens in front of a camera then it’s worth broadcasting to the nation. Yeah, as they say, nah.
Forget all the talk about its brave examination of an edgy topic: all we could see was a show where a host and a camera crew (two people? one?) wandered around doing a bunch of interviews where only the guy asking the questions was getting paid. How much further can the ABC distill down the idea of a television show before there’s literally nothing left to show? How much longer until their “comedy” line-up is just a picture of the cover of a VHS copy of Mother & Son?
The formula for this kind of show is firmly established, cheap as chips and as dull as fuck: our comedian host, wearing a hat that reads “I’M BEING SERIOUS YOU GUYS” sets out to explore via endless interviews a topic that has some tenuous link to their personal life. John Safran checked out religion in John Safran vs God; Judith Lucy checked out religion in Judith Lucy’s Spiritual Journey; now Luke McGregor checks out religion in Luke Warm Sex. Oh wait.
The first two shows on that list worked well; why doesn’t this one? For starters, both those shows came from a place of (mild) cynicism: their smart-alec leads wanted to explore a topic they were drawn to but skeptical about. The result: comedy as they recoiled from / mocked the extremes of their subject, while still treating it seriously enough for them to avoid coming off as dickheads just stirring up shit for a laugh.
Luke Warm Sex, on the other hand, often veers pretty darn close to Luke McGregor’s Personal Sex Therapy Half-Hour. McGregor is not skeptical about sex, nor is he confident about it; he is not in a position to laugh at it and walk away. This is a show about a likable but generally unsettled guy hanging around a bunch of more confident people going through a series of mildly interesting approaches to getting a handle on this whole sex thing. It seems to be doing him some good. Good for him.
We all know the angle here and the angle here is the only reason this show was made: a comedian who’s built his career around getting laughs from being awkward explores the extremely awkward topic of sex. That’s the hook. That’s the selling point. That’s the deal. That’s why we’re all here. If they wanted to inform people, they’d have the sexperts explaining things to a regular host. If they wanted to entertain people, they’d have made a completely different show.
McGregor can’t make comedy out of the extremes of what’s being served up to him because the whole point of the show is that he doesn’t know what the extremes are – and even if he did have firm boundaries that he’d set for himself, who’s to say many (or any) of his viewers would agree with them, what with sexuality generally being considered in 2016 to be “hey, whatever works for you”.
Obviously sex is totally hilarious. But it’s hilarious because of how it makes individuals act – it’s not funny in and of itself (unless, you know, you want to laugh about people putting stuff in their butts or that kind of thing, and this isn’t that kind of show). Luke McGregor, nervous neophyte, is not Alvin Purple having wacky sex adventures; we’re supposed to take his quest for sex knowledge seriously. The comedy is meant to be coming from the fact that it’s Luke McGregor, professional awkward guy, dealing with sex. And sex is awkward! He’s awkward! This is going to be awkward!
(whoops, awkward stopped being funny around 2012. Unless you have an actual sense of humour, then it was never all that funny in the first place outside a handful of shows. Curb Your Enthusiasm, this is not)
Crazy religious nutters are funny because we as a society have a generally agreed view of what is and isn’t acceptable religious behaviour. Cults: if you join one, you’re going to get laughed at. They’re also worth mocking because religious nutters often have an outsized role in the power structures of our society – just look at the Federal Senate. Put it together, you’ve got ripe territory for comedy, which is why both Safran’s and Lucy’s shows worked. But sex nutters? What’s funny about what two or more people do in the privacy of their own dungeon?
You can’t make fun of sex in 2016 because only uncool creeps have hang-ups about sex. In fact, the entire point of this show is meant to be that McGregor wants to get rid of his hang-ups about sex; if they’d made this show with an unrepentant prude as the host then all the comedy would come from sexperts mocking his or her foolish inhibitions. And you can’t make fun of a guy wanting to educate himself about sex because that would just be straight-up cruel. So the only possible source of comedy here comes from having an awkward guy put in an awkward situation and then realising he’s got nothing to be awkward about. Awww. Wait, this goes for three hours?
This isn’t a show about exploring sex; this is a show about one man exploring what sex means to him. And last time we checked, exploring sex on your own was a bit of a wank.