Bad Sex debuts tonight on Logo at 9 p.m. Eastern.
Logo’s addition to the therapality genre (yes, that’s a term I’ve coined for this review), Bad Sex, disclaims that star and resident life coach Chris Donaghue is “a registered associate social worker working under the supervision of a licensed psychologist.” Or in other words, he’s less qualified, but much better to look at, than the person with an actual doctorate who’s consulting him about the casts’ predicaments. In clinical terms, it’s like asking a student-resident to lead an international conference seminar while their highly credentialed supervisor advises during breakout sessions. Or by way of a much less relevant analogy, the concept is akin to Matt Flynn taking snaps behind center in a Green Bay Packers game while Aaron Rodgers monitors a clipboard from the bench.
Of course, all shows need a charismatic, attractive central presence, even ones designed to help others cope with addiction. Especially if they’re part of the Viacom family. Dr. Drew isn’t exactly difficult on the eyes, and Tough Love host Steven Ward is probably fetching to a certain audience share that’s into that sort of thing. Donaghue, depending on his attire of choice, generally appears to have just attended a hardcore show inside a pride parade for young professionals. He’s bulky, covered in tattoos, and prone to clashing colorful button-down shirts with simple, monotone ties. In other words, he’s kind of ridiculous. He’s also much less convincing in his authority than the aforementioned Dr. Drew. As a result, the actual therapy portions of Bad Sex feel like humdrum fly-on-the-wall sessions with a support group moderated by an only rarely intrusive leader. This is in fact how much of real therapy works, but it doesn’t make for compelling television. Even the excellent scripted series In Treatment features an unusually chatty and confrontational doctor.
The show’s conceit is unique. Each episode examines the eight-week recovery process of an individual suffering with everything from sex addiction to middle-aged virginity. Group sessions and individual time with Donaghue are edited alongside scenes from the person’s success or failure implanting their lessons at home. In that way, Bad Sex allows each cast members’ therapy and onscreen presence to be interactive from week to week, but provides the storytelling intimacy and focus of addressing one person’s needs and progress à la MTV’s True Life series (hey there, Viacom).
The first patient, Ryan, is a gay man originally from a small town in Illinois living in West Hollywood. He's addicted to sex with other gay men, but also habitually manipulates straight men into homosexual encounters. The sweetest part of Ryan’s journey is the instant bond he develops with fellow outpatient and 37-year-old virgin Stella (whose episode should be one to look forward to). They exchange a glance within the first few minutes that you can tell is an immediate connection, and she’s with him both in and out of Donaghue’s office as he relapses and regains his strength. The final two weeks of his treatment prove to be really touching and powerful stuff. Ryan discovers that his behavior is rooted in a traumatic personal loss, and Donaghue is very gentle but insightful about exploring the ways in which Ryan’s outgoing personality is a force field that protects people from getting in closer. And, when necessary, stern about the implications on himself and others if he keeps up what Donaghue deems predatory actions.
The tradeoff is that weeks one through six of his therapy get glossed over, and that’s where a lot of the hardest work was invariably done. It would have been gripping and cathartic to see him and Donaghue truly get into the tough middle of recovery, and have made the eventual pathos more dramatic. A&E staples like Intervention and Hoarding are particularly effective and unflinching at this. Alas, there’s a different missive for the Logo network and its sibling stations, and much of that initial first month-plus is exposited through stagey segments of Ryan bowling with a straight friend he wants to enrapture or a debauched party he threw to mark the beginning of his therapy, which mostly functioned to superficially liven up the episode.
The biggest reasons for tuning into Bad Sex in the coming weeks are threefold: There are some unlikely and unusual participants whose stories should be harder to glam up; the continued interaction between castmates will only deepen and grow more complex as we get to know each of them better; and it is important that someone on TV has frank discussions about the distinctions between proud, spirited sexual behavior and self-abusive exploitation, which the première does quite well during many moments. When you think about the fact that Viacom once broke ground by airing specials like Sex In The ’90s and merely acknowledging alternative lifestyles exist, it’s a pretty good sign that we can even casually discuss Bad Sex as much for its production values as its once-taboo subject matter.
- Ryan did crack me up when his friend Jacob, while bowling, commented, “I’m just going to suck all day” and Ryan replied, “I hope so.” For all his sadness, Ryan’s probably a pretty funny guy.
- Joel, the focus of next week’s ep, looks like a dick. Not literally or anatomically. As in a douchebag.
- Who doesn’t have sex right after therapy?
- The one thing that Donaghue brings from his background working with sexually dysfunctional clients is an attitude of embracing all sexuality, so long as it’s responsible and doesn’t harm anyone.
- Do you guys plan on continuing to watch? I’m on the fence, but will check back in for Stella and a couple of the older loners.