October 15, 2008 Jill

Thanks to the whole cable phenomenon there’s a lot more sex in TV drama than there used to be.  There’s a lot of craft to writing a sex scene.

A good sex scene does what any good scene does; it moves the story forward, tells us something about character and resonates with theme.

Like action, violence or comedy, sex brings a scene an extra oomph.  It gets the audience a little closer to the edge of the chair and invokes a visceral response.

When well written, most sex scenes are over when the sex act starts.  That’s because a scene needs tension and by the time they’re boinking the tension is pretty much over and what’s left is pretty much porn (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  But that’s not always the case and in the list below, you’ll find a few scenes where the writer took us right to the happy ending

Sopranos: Richie points a gun at Janice while doing the dog
Sopranos sex was always about power and self-gratification.  For Tony and his cohorts it was never about their partner.  Women were sort of an incidental necessity.  And doggie-style was practically the standard position, probably because it’s easy to see both actors’ faces.  But the scene with Janice and Richie on the couch had to be the most shocking and violent of the Sopranos’ sex scenes.  Mind you, Janice and Richie were sicker than most of the other characters and their relationship was fabulously disfunctional. Richie’s need to feel powerful was so enormous that he had to have a gun in his hand to get off.  And Janice was so desperate for a man and so totally fucked up by her mob upbringing that she was willing to let Richie put a loaded gun to her head.  Unforgettable.

Mad Men: The finger fuck
Is that even sex?  I’m not sure but you can’t forget it. Sex definitely equals power in that relationship, but I think Mad Men sex has more colours than just power.  On the other hand, it’s for sure not girl sex even though the writers have written Bobby as a sexual predator, but I find her a hard character to believe.  She seems like a male fantasy of a woman to me.  Like a lot of things about the show, Mad Men sex is about the times; a time when men were kings and women were housewives with shellacked hair.

Shameless: Lip gets Karen to blow Ian
Lip gets upset when he discovers his little brother Ian’s gay porn.  Figuring he can ungay him, Lip takes Ian to see Karen, a high school girl who Lip tutors in physics.  Karen gets under the table and tries to give Liam a blow job.  Then her father walks in.  It’s very funny and it takes on so many sexual taboos at once it kind of blows your mind.  Shameless was especially good with sex that first season.  The sex between Steve and on the kitchen floor in the pilot episode was pretty hot, but the Lip/Karen/Ian blow job had me laughing for a long time.  The whole episode is pretty great.

Californication: Nun gives Hank a blow job
Who knew two blow jobs would make it onto the list? Californication has been masterful at breaking taboos: Hank dropping his cigarette into the holy water font as he enters the church, the whole accidental-sex-with-an-underage-girl thing and this season’s onscreen vasectomy, but a nun giving head takes the cake.  Hank may be fairly adolescent in his attitude toward sex and the series almost always features guy fantasy sex, but it’s the fun, funny, desperate sex of a man in a mid-life crisis.

Saving Grace: pilot opening of Grace naked, wild and on top. 
Saving Grace sex is that rarity in television: sex from a woman’s pov.  Grace Hanadarko’s sex is full of a kind of desperate joy.  She’s on a self-destructive tear while clinging to another human for dear life.  Grace was sexually abused as a kid and so sex has a weird dynamic for her.  She owns it, but she is totally out of control.  In that oh-so-memorable opening scene of the series, we come upon a naked Grace straddling Ham.  She’s into it and so is he” until his conscience gets the better of him — he’s a married man.  Grace tries to seduce him back into the act but fails.  Nothing like starting a series off with a bang.

Secret Diary of a Call Girl: The four-way 
This is a terrific little series with the most effective story telling sex I’ve ever seen.  The writers manage to embue their sex with multiple emotional levels.  The sex scenes are often turning point in the episodes so the story really hinges on them.  It’s not just a tittilation break or a character moment, Call Girl sex is integral to the story.  This fourway scene is not just a fourway (and who’s ever seen a fourway in series TV before?).  It is a huge emotional moment for Hannah, even though she’s busy being Belle and making sure a married couple get the perfect anniversary celebration they’ve paid for.  Belle wasn’t’ able to find a professional fourth — a male prostitute to work the gig with her.  She ends up hiring her best friend instead and they act out their complicated non-romance even as they service the other couple.  Just about every sex scene in the series deserves to be on this list, but the four-way is the best of the best.
You can watch the whole episode here, because unfortunately the clip has been removed from YouTube.

Comments (8)

  1. Jode

    Also the closing sequence of the latest True Blood with its uniquely disturbing climax. Sexy, creepy, gross.

  2. admin

    Yes indeed and quite a cliffhanger it makes. In fact, True Blood has had quite a lot of intense and disturbing sex scenes that probably could/should have expanded this list to seven. Horror genre sex.

  3. J

    And don’t forget about Buffy and Spike, literally bringing down the house.

  4. admin

    But that sort of predates the in your face sexuality of cable, doesn’t it?

  5. Now and then, Jill, I raise a Spockian eyebrow at the stuff you get up to over here at your place.

    My favorite sex scenes are the ones in which something else is going on. My recent fave was Dexter losing his virginity during the first season of “Dexter” — one of those moments where you thought Rita just might’ve permanently cured our hero of his other addictions.

    But my favorite sex on TV as it relates to real life moment came from “The Sopranos” and also involved Richie and Janice.

    I’d been invited to see an AC Milan game at a local Italian (ahem) Social Club where the guys were watching a pre-game episode of Tony and the boys with wrapt admiration — until Richie asked Janice to tuck her vibrator up his butt.

    You have never seen a room full of macho guys go so silent and turn so darkly against a once beloved character.

  6. Is it just about the in-your-face sexuality of cable? If the point is to talk about the unforgettable TV sex scenes, then Buffy and Spike are a great example, especially as a turning point in plot.

    I think, by the way, that sex scenes are becoming more and more turning points in plots, and not as often just acting as climax moments (pun intended) because the camera no longer just fades off into nothingness – so something can be said with the sex more than just saying ‘and then there was sex. Cut scene’.

  7. admin

    You’re right, Rich. It is about the turning points in plot. I didn’t mean to discount Buffy at all.
    And good point about how the culture changes that allow us to show more also allow us to tell more.
    Ricky and Lucy Ricardo had separate single beds… that offered a very different context in which to tell a story.

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