How Shows Can Navigate the Golden Age of Full-Frontal Nudity on TV
Oh, you know, no big deal, just junk and boobs out in the open air...not that you noticed.
You’re watching your favorite show, engrossed in a scene, when all of a sudden, a dick swings into your line of vision. There’s nothing particularly notable about it, it’s your average everyday dick, but now that it’s there, your attention is diverted. No matter what your stance is on full frontal nudity, when it’s introduced into a room, it’s distracting.
We are in the golden age of TV; an age where everyone and their mother watches a prestige drama or two. And a curious effect of that is the age of Casual Full-Frontal Nudity. There’s nothing wrong with it, except that it’s kind of an oxymoron: It’s really tricky to make full-frontal casual. There’s something inherently funny about naked bodies — just ask Jason Segel, who based Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s infamous full-frontal scene (in which he’s dumped while naked in his living room) on a real-life incident. When a show is aware of the humor in full-frontal, it works. Consider how a season of True Blood used full-frontal nudity in its cliffhanger finale: Viking vampire Eric Northman is lounging naked on a glacier, because of course, but then his anti-vampire sun repellant stops working and he bursts into flames while shrieking “nooo!”
Full frontal nudity absolutely fits into any sentence that includes “viking vampire” and “casual glacier lounging” and “bursting into flames while shrieking.” The scene is so full of mind-bogglingly batshit ridiculous things that the full-frontal nudity barely registers in the big picture.
But lately, more sedate dramas have joined the kibbles-and-bits bandwagon and have been adding it into scenes that aren’t supposed to be showstoppers.
Take The Affair, for instance. The Showtime drama recently included a random dong shot in an otherwise mundane scene, consisting of two people in a hotel room. There was no vampire glacier lounging or pirates digging themselves out of graves (like in the show Black Sails, which also did full-frontal right). The characters were just talking — post-coital, yes, but the random dick thrown in there was distracting enough to prompt many to wonder, “was that necessary?”
The Affair isn’t the only drama that has tried to make full-frontal unnecessarily casual — we can’t forget Game of Thrones, which has improved but often can’t resist including floating vaginas in the background of conversations because otherwise how would the audience pay attention?
We’re in a cultural moment when it’s common practice to have mixed-company full-frontal nudity discussions, about whose parts are on screen and more importantly, how they’re being shown. It’s not just critics who are having these conversations; actors are, too, with the likes of Kit Harington and Natalie Dormer publicly commenting on their show’s male/female nudity ratio and whom the camera tends to linger on. Viewers are also offering their take on how who it erotically caters to. All the buzz has underscored the fact that women are overwhelmingly the ones on display.
So instances like The Affair evening out the playing field are not bad at all. It’s good that writers are putting more thought into moving beyond the floating vaginas of yesteryear, like in True Detective or in all of Littlefinger’s brothel monologues in early seasons of Game of Thrones.
But, as Spider-Man’s uncle said, with great dick comes great responsibility, and not everyone can handle it. Shows considering Full Montying us should look to two different models: the True Blood and Black Sails “go big or go home” method or the Leftovers method.
True Blood was aware that full-frontal nudity tends to make scenes unintentionally silly, and its use was consistent with the tone as a batshit crazy vampire show. Just look at its opening credits — they practically announce “this show contains exploding vampires, heart-ripping, vampires crashing Ted Cruz rallies, former pastors proclaiming ‘I’m a gay vampire American!’ and dangling dongs.”
When serious shows go commando, it often jars with their tone. But “Off Ramp,” a recent episode of The Leftovers, stands as an example on how to navigate this tricky terrain. The show didn’t try play camera-tag with a disembodied dick during a serious scene. Instead, they wove it into a scene that was neither as ridiculous as vampire glacier lounging or pirate resurrection nor as casual as talking in a hotel room. It was a bizarre scene where both the guy and the girl were shown, and it that wasn’t trying to be erotic or sly about slipping it in.
As a result, The Leftovers managed to accomplish the impossible: it made full-frontal nudity feel casual. It didn’t distract from the scene any more than the character’s hair or clothes did, and when I spoke to the actor about it, he was equally nonchalant about how it fit into the scene. Casual full-frontal is only possible if everyone involved is onboard with the nonchalance. As in real life, there’s nothing wrong with full-frontal, but if you’re going to let it all hang out, just make sure you own it.