For nearly 20 years, HBO’s Real Sex franchise made audiences squirm by graphically exploring middle-aged American couples’ sexual crises (among other issues relating to human sexuality). By comparison, Lifetime’s attempt at a bold therapeutic experiment with 7 Days Of Sex feels almost cute— and conservative. So it’s only fitting that one of tonight’s couples, Marilyn and Galen Tipps, struggles with overcoming prudish attitudes about intimacy.
Poor Galen. He’s just a mild-mannered Christian divorcé, remarried and raising a blended household with feisty, uninhibited Marilyn, who was also previously married. The Tipps illustrate that, in general, opposites attract during courtship, but can wreak havoc in the bedroom, especially when there’s baggage from previous relationships, well-defined personal values, and even more stubbornly entrenched roles as familial caretakers.
That latter bugaboo represents the primary rift between Derek and Chantal James, who are far more entertaining and relatable, and have genuine romantic spark. As Derek so delicately puts it, “We get in where we fit in.” They’ve just gotten stuck in a bit of a Mad Men-circa-season-one rut: Chantal struggles for respect as a housewife and mother of three young children, while Derek wants to come home from work, deliver the bacon and then service his sausage—if you get the incredibly tasteless, adolescent double-meaning.
If only the ensuing hour were anywhere near that indulgent. Or, alternatively, insightful. Rather than introduce a professional mediator—be it a coach, couples counselor, what have you—7 Days Of Sex (tantalizingly produced by the folks behind All-American Muslim) lays down its titular gauntlet and essentially leaves the duos to their own devices. One of those devices being the ol’ night-vision booty camera, long a pop-culture staple thanks to The Real World and 1 Night In Paris. In this case, Marilyn uses it to humiliate Galen rather than titillate viewers, a running theme in the footage that was cut together. Throughout, she is portrayed as the belittling, unsympathetic, selfish diva, while Galen is mostly captured floundering outside his comfort zone at lingerie stores or meekly suggesting his wife initiate sex one of the seven nights.
And since every story needs a hero as well as a villain, and no two stories should be alike, Derek is depicted as the insensitive male chauvinist, incapable of putting his childish needs aside in deference to supporting Chantal’s difficult adjustment to Mrs. Mom. There’s also a bit more room for producers to have fun with the relatively free-spirited James’ by sending Chantal for a lap-dance class, which is also the episode’s lone truly sexy moment. Their actual self-recorded, post-coitus diary reflections, all of which curiously seem to be lifted from one confessional, fail to seize on that heat. Then again, it’s pretty hard to feel steamy after Derek gloats to Chantal, “I even shaved down here for you.”
In fairness, this show is called 7 Days Of Sex, not Hotel Erotica. Any married couple understands how difficult it becomes to compartmentalize sex from the rest of a shared life together, and how easily confused pleasure can get with the stresses and politics of relationships. We are still individuals, and we long to connect with that as we get deeper into commitment, yet sex requires being totally in sync and unselfish. It’s a conversation that’s long overdue on mainstream, primetime television, but 7 Days Of Sex is a bit too content relying on the conventions of reality storytelling.
- A good example of what happens (i.e. flat TV) when noncompelling reality characters are expected to carry the dramatic heft: Galen, describing his marital dynamic, observes, “I’m a little modest, and Marilyn’s kind of the opposite of that.”
- Seriously though, Marilyn, we know you’re having fun busting his chops, but you’re making it too easy for them to posit you as being really, really mean and vapid.
- Likewise, Marilyn, cool it on the pie jokes. We get it, you’re comfortable with sex.
- “I’m not the guy you’re supposed to tear down. I’m not the guy you’re supposed to mock.” You go, Galen!
- Is Galen not a dead ringer for D.W. Moffett, a.k.a. Friday Night Lights villain Joe McCoy?
- Why bring in your nosy, needling friends as mediators? How is that objective or constructive?
- Speaking of which, Marilyn’s friends were quite Designing Women-chic.
- Really, Derek, no ring, no wedding? Nothing?
- Derek: “The meat wasn’t tough was it?” Chantal: “No, it was tender.” Um, that’s what she said?
- Chantal, the man asked you to stop pinching his nipples!