Here’s an idea for a TV show: find a comedian who – by his own admission – knows next to nothing about sex. Then have him wander around talking to expert after expert, but in a shock twist they all give him rubbish or ludicrous advice and because of his lack of experience he takes it all at face value. Oh wait, that might actually be funny: forget we said anything.
What exactly did we learn from three hours of Luke Warm Sex? For one thing, maybe don’t get the documentary department to make a comedy series? Come on, the only joke on offer here was “ha ha, an awkward guy is going to be put in awkward situations” – even the worst “awkward” comedy series knew to at least vary the build up to that kind of joke, but here it was just “oh look, now Luke’s in a bondage dungeon. Now he’s looking at people in full-body suits demonstrating sexual positions. Now he’s licking a fruit”. And it all led up to what? “Hey guys, I’m way more comfortable about sex now”? ORGY OR GTFO.
[just back to our first idea for a moment: done right, it’d be a great way to point out just how funny real sex actually is. C’mon, most of the antics involved in real sex are totally mental – how could purposefully stupid sex advice be more funny than the real thing? Oh wait, that’s probably what the makers of Luke Warm Sex thought]
Yeah, it was informative: who watches television for information? Even the nightly news knows it has to tell a compelling story or people will tune out. This was a show that figured its audience would be so obsessed with sex they simply wouldn’t give a shit that everything else going on in a seemingly endless succession of late-Victorian front rooms was as boring as, to coin a phrase, fuck. Okay, we know: when it comes to sex on television, it’s either instructional or pornographic with nothing in between. But couldn’t they try a little? “Sexy” is actually a big part of “sex” last time we checked.
This show was a failure, and not just in the ratings sense (though dropping down to 303,000 viewers in prime time is not a good look); we predicted pretty much everything wrong with this show in our original review and lo, it came to pass:
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?
But the one thing we have learned from all this is to never under-estimate the ingenuity of Australia’s TV critics. Sure, you can just come right out and say a show is crap:
McGregor’s goofy boy-next-door personality couldn’t possibly cater for that sort of edge, and nor should he have to. His style is deliberately meek, a milquetoast we can all to some extent relate to.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but great television it does not make – at least not in this form. Padded out into six derivative episodes (the central conceit, that he wants to get great at sex, is in no way realised), Luke Warm Sex has as much kick to it as a joint with oregano substituted for weed. The ABC are broadcasting it at 9pm; that time slot feels off by at least a handful of hours.
But where’s the fun in that? You won’t score an invite to the ABC Xmas party with that approach. Better to follow the lead of a far more experienced critic:
Hopefully if someone as nervous and gormless as this young man can get better at sex, defined in the show as any activity undertaken for pleasure between two or more consenting adults, then everyone can. (School, he tells us, taught him that sex was something that happened only between a man and a woman and at some point involved a banana and a condom.)
The style of the show is what’s known as docu-comedy, a charming example of how TV genres these days play with each other and how so much factual programming is based on multiple generic participation, the term reality TV simply a convenient container.
The first episode, directed with lots of cinematic invention by Hayden Guppy, is a disarming, idiosyncratic excursion into some painful truths for McGregor as he confronts his fear of being nude.
Notice how, while there’s a generally positive vibe to the article, there’s actually very little positive that’s being said? If the show helps people with their sex lives, that’s good; it’s “charming” the way today’s television mixes up genres; the show itself is “disarming” and “idiosyncratic” rather than, you know, “entertaining” or “funny”. It’s not damning with faint praise – even the praise has bugger-all to do with the show that’s supposedly being discussed.
There’s a real art to writing a positive review that doesn’t actually say anything positive. The author can’t be nailed down to any specific claims – saying McGregor “comically undertakes weekly challenges” doesn’t exactly promise laughs – yet gives the impression that the show being discussed is worth your while. If we were wearing a hat, we’d take it off in salute.
Luke Warm Sex was still a fucking huge waste of time, mind you.
I never watched it but I was always amazed when I’d see yet another promo for the show: “Is this *still* going?” I would ask. It just seemed to be an idea for maybe a cute one-hour special padded out to a freakin mini series.
While I agree that Luke Warm Sex was not much of a comedy series (actual laughs were pretty non-existent), it wasn’t that bad as a documentary series. I learnt a lot about Luke McGregor, and that’s the part I found most interesting about the show (but I agree the tired trope of sticking an innocent into a bondage dungeon, sex shop, etc was a low). That visit to his parents very early in the series was very revealing (his parents certainly gave the impression they were anticipating an announcement), for example.
So, for me, while Luke Warm Sex was typical ABC fare (uncooked, bit tired from the get go, somewhat shambolic), it was redeemed by Luke McGregor (an interesting comedian) and the obvious struggle with his own sexuality (which was a partly submerged but interesting thread in the series). It’s hard not to root for Luke, and while Luke Warm Sex was a lacklastre comedy vehicle for him, at least it had some redeeming features because of these factors (which can’t be said for a lot for what’s on the broadcast channels these days).