Tele­vi­sion Graeme Blun­dell gets to grips with Luke Warm Sex

Co­me­dian Luke McGre­gor is on a mis­sion to help him­self — and his view­ers — be­come bet­ter lovers

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Graeme Blun­dell Luke Warm Sex,

‘My one re­gret in life is that I am not some­one else,” Woody Allen once said. It could be a line from the very Allen-es­que Luke McGre­gor, the young comic you may re­mem­ber from Rob Sitch’s pop­u­lar political satire Utopia. He was the dorky red-headed and freck­led pro­ject su­per­vi­sor called Hugh, side­kick to Celia Pac­quola’s scene-steal­ing Nat. He now has his own show and very amus­ing it is too. It’s based, it seems, to some ex­tent on his award­win­ning stand-up rou­tine My Soul­mate is Out of My League, which won the best new­comer award at the Mel­bourne In­ter­na­tional Com­edy Fes­ti­val in 2013.

The se­ries, as ex­plained by its 34-year-old star (he be­gins the first episode with charm­ing hes­i­tancy), is a crash course in great sex. McGre­gor com­i­cally un­der­takes weekly chal­lenges and gives us plenty of take-home tips from the sex­perts, ther­a­pists, sci­en­tists, na­tur­ists, tantric prac­ti­tion­ers and sex­ual em­pow­er­ment coaches he en­coun­ters. But it’s not just about “do­ing it”. Luke Warm Sex ex­plores sex­ual con­fi­dence and per­sonal iden­tity, the na­ture of plea­sure, the prob­lems of in­ti­macy and cre­ativ­ity in per­for­mance. There’s a lot go­ing on.

“The main rea­son I chose to do this se­ries was be­cause I wanted to get bet­ter at sex,” he says of the show, as its writer as well as cre­ator. “I thought I was ter­ri­ble at it, I re­ally didn’t like talk­ing about it, and the act it­self al­ways ter­ri­fied me.” But, hav­ing fin­ished work­ing on this se­ries, he says al­most with bravado that sex is no longer some­thing that makes him anx­ious. “I fi­nally find sex fun. I can talk about it openly, and I don’t even feel em­bar­rassed buy­ing con­doms any more (still do with toi­let pa­per, though, for some rea­son).”

The mes­sage seems to be 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 taught him 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 for­mat the BBC calls “fac­tual en­ter­tain­ment with pur­pose”, a charm­ing ex­am­ple of how TV gen­res th­ese days play with each other. The pro­duc­tion comes from North­ern Pic­tures, a com­pany that is in­creas­ingly be­ing feted for film­mak­ing as en­ter­tain­ing as it is en­light­en­ing, its cin­e­matic and jour­nal­is­tic sen­si­bil­i­ties on show in se­ries such as Kakadu, Ice Wars and the re­cent Chang­ing Minds.

Its lat­est ven­ture is sim­i­lar in some ways to Ju­dith Lucy’s pop­u­lar ABC shows, Ju­dith Lucy is All Woman (de­scribed as be­ing suit­able for any­one who has “ever been a woman, been in one or come out of one”), and Ju­dith Lucy’s Spir­i­tual Jour­ney (“Why are we here; is there a God; what hap­pens when we die?” ).

Like Lucy’s come­dies, McGre­gor’s se­ries is im­bued with the per­sonal while doc­u­ment­ing a wider cat­a­logue of ex­pe­ri­ences; comics, af­ter all, are fond of us­ing their craft for so­cial ob­ser­va­tion, forc­ing us to look dif­fer­ently at the world. And just as Lucy does, drop­ping lac­er­at­ing self­dep­re­cat­ing lines out of those red-painted lips in that sandpaper voice, McGre­gor tells us things about him­self with seem­ingly lit­tle re­gard for his own dig­nity. Some­times they seem too per­son­ally cruel — too hon­est — to be funny.

Luke Warm Sex is an­other clever ex­am­ple of the way re­al­ity TV is able to re­make it­self in the con­tem­po­rary en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try. What di­rec­tor Hay­den Guppy, pro­ducer Anna Bate­man (who was be­hind Ju­dith Lucy is All Woman) and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Ka­rina Holden give us is a clever hy­brid of non­fic­tion and en­ter­tain­ment el­e­ments in which “real” sit­u­a­tions are cre­ated for the pur­pose of the show. This is a con­structed for­mat that still al­lows the peo­ple McGre­gor en­coun­ters to be­have nat­u­rally for the cam­eras and the hu­mour to emerge or­gan­i­cally from the sit­u­a­tion, even though they have ob­vi­ously been briefed by pro­duc­ers.

It’s still a form of com­edy, one that emerges from a con­fronta­tion with the “re­al­ity” of con­trived sit­u­a­tions and in­duced crises. The im­mer­sive doc­u­men­tary scenes are cutely jux­ta­posed with sketches, some in­volv­ing pup­pets and some cool an­i­ma­tion from Nick Simp­son, which gives this se­ries a novel look.

It’s re­lated stylis­ti­cally to what is some­times called “the life in­ter­ven­tion” for­mat of some fac­tual ob­ser­va­tional shows. Th­ese pro­grams mo­bilise pro­fes­sional mo­ti­va­tors and life­style ex­perts to help us over­come ob­sta­cles in our per­sonal, pro­fes­sional and do­mes­tic lives.

They use dif­fer­ent forms of self-man­age­ment tech­niques or life-chang­ing in­ter­ven­tions, or sim­ply re­solve spe­cific prob­lems, such as how to sell a house in a for­eign coun­try, how to lose weight by find­ing the most ap­pro­pri­ate diet, or how to man­age fi­nances bet­ter. Think: Fran­tic Fam­ily Res­cue, which ex­plores the good, the bad and the ugly of mod­ern child rear­ing, or Mak­ing Fam­i­lies Happy and the way it uses sci­en­tific method­ol­ogy to con­front failed par­ent­ing tech­niques, bro­ken pat­terns of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and the in­evitable lost parental ro­mance, both of which ap­peared re­cently on the ABC.

The aim is a se­ri­ous one, too, the hu­mour a way into dis­cus­sion. “Sex is al­ways on tele­vi­sion, yet never re­ally dis­cussed,” says Holden. “When was the last time you saw erec­tile dys­func­tion or male sex­ual iden­tity se­ri­ously tack­led head on?”

She and her col­leagues take us into what is a com­plex, so­cial dilemma — as she says, ev­ery month the word “sex” is googled at least 24 mil­lion times, and for young peo­ple in par­tic­u­lar there’s a whole new set of rules and a whole lot of mis­in­for­ma­tion. As Bate­man says, “The aim of the se­ries is to pro­mote pos­i­tive change in the way we think about sex, prac­tise sex and, im­por­tantly, talk about sex.”

In cre­at­ing this se­ries, she was in­spired by the per­sona McGre­gor pre­sented on stage at his stand-up gigs: a young man in his early 30s who per­son­i­fies the high anx­i­eties and hang-ups many of us have about our sex lives, our bod­ies and de­sir­abil­ity. “The only per­son who gets em­bar­rassed around Luke is Luke him­self, and by watch­ing his awk­ward­ness we ap­pear to shed our own,” she says in her pro­duc­tion notes. “That’s why he’s the per­fect per­son to ed­u­cate a wide au­di­ence on the sub­ject you pre­vi­ously couldn’t have watched in the same room as your teenagers (and vice versa).”

The first episode is a dis­arm­ing, idio­syn­cratic ex­cur­sion into some painful truths for McGre­gor as he con­fronts his fear of be­ing nude and his dis­like of his own body, the mix­ture of com­edy and pathos per­sua­sive and af­fect­ing. With the help of sex ther­a­pist Cyndi Dar­nell, an em­bar­rass­ing Q&A ses­sion with his mum and dad, re­la­tion­ship coach Jared Os­borne and a bunch of middle-aged snooker-play­ing na­tur­ists, McGre­gor goes from some­one who wears bathers in the sauna to some­one who can play nude ten­nis with few in­hi­bi­tions.

As a comic McGre­gor is ner­vous and anx­ious to please, and like most of the prover­bial “lit­tle man” clowns, he is fated to serve as the butt for life’s ig­no­minies. But no mat­ter how he’s pum­melled by the phys­i­cal dis­com­fort or em­bar­rass­ment, his ea­ger­ness re­vives him. His sav­ing grace is his gal­lant re­solve to suc­ceed and some­how bring sex­ual nir­vana to all of us.

He’s the per­pet­ual vic­tim of un­re­quited love, the slightly pudgy, red-haired guy who doesn’t like him­self; the tum­ble­down clown with the toothy smile and dou­ble chins women want to be­friend rather than bed, his sex­ual pock­ets thread­bare. The con­tin­ual ur­gency on his part for fresh ex­pe­ri­ence drives him, adding depth to his comic lik­a­bil­ity. There is some­thing hap­pily child­like about him, able to act out im­pulses an adult would sup­press, and it makes him per­fect for this role.

Wed­nes­day at 9pm, ABC.

Luke McGre­gor puts him­self in all sorts of em­bar­rass­ing sit­u­a­tions

for Luke Warm Sex

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