TV Roulette encourages the unexpected. It creates the opportunity to give a show a chance that otherwise would be ignored, or forces you to watch a show and realize that it is far different than anything you might have expected. Admittedly, so far nothing has really come up that is that out of my wheel house, nothing I might not at least watch every once in a while, but that doesn’t mean that will always be the case. This week’s show is USA’s Satisfaction, and I really know nothing about it other than various promos I have seen for it, which are all over the place. So would this week’s roulette-chosen episode shake things up a bit? Find out right after the rundown. Not sure how much it will matter for this review in particular, but Spoilers Ahead.
TV Roulette Week 4
Satisfaction Season 2 Episode 4 ‘…Through Bondage’
November 6th, 2015
Have I Seen This Show Before?
Not really a show I felt like watching. The initial concept just didn’t look that intriguing, and the promos never seemed to understand what kind of show Satisfaction wanted to be.
Okay, USA we need to have a talk. I am not sure what is going on over on your network, but dear lord, please keep it up. Satisfaction is by no measure a masterpiece, but it is something pretty radically different than almost anything else on television, and together with Mr. Robot seems to be a sign of USA moving in a very, very different direction with the shows on its network. What exactly do I mean by that? Well, USA has always been a somewhat strange network. After all, this is the place that in the 90s aired shows like Silk Stockings (okay, I’ll admit I had no idea what this was, but it appears to be if Law & Order: SVU only dealt with sexual crimes among the rich people in Palm Beach, Florida) and La Femme Nikita, which don’t exactly fit well together.
In the 2000s, though, USA started to go in a different direction. At first it seemed to be moving more toward science fiction, with The Deadzone and The 4400, but a due to a number of factors (one of which likely being that NBC, who owned both USA and Syfy, wanted to keep its two child networks unique) USA ended up taking many of its cues from Monk. Monk helped create a USA formula: pick a popular profession to give a main character, add a reason why the character is not a normal version of this character, and then send that character through procedural cases of the week, with some sort of overarching plot serialization keeping things moving season-to-season. So in Monk’s case, Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub) is a detective (formerly police, now private), but not a normal detective, because he suffers from an extreme case of OCD; despite his condition, he solves cases each week while also looking for answers about who murdered his wife. Psych continued this trend by being about Shawn Spencer (James Roday) a detective (he is called a consultant, but once again this is more of a technicality) who wasn’t a normal detective, because he pretended to be a psychic so he could use the gifts his cop father taught him without being a cop himself. Shawn solved cases each week while trying not to get revealed as a fraud.
In 2007 both The Deadzone and The 4400 came to an end (somewhat abruptly), and the age of shows like Monk and Psych took over the network. A string of formulaic shows followed, including Burn Notice a spy show (in a lot of ways, just a slicker MacGyver), Royal Pains, a doctor show (weirdly enough, also MacGyver-esque), and White Collar, which was basically a buddy cop show (or buddy FBI show, I guess, but once again same thing). One of the buddies in White Collar is a former criminal forced to partner with the man who caught him (elements of Catch Me If You Can), and now that I think about it the show also had MacGyver aspects to it, except if one of the cops was a former criminal that is forced to partner with the man that caught him (so actually more like mixed with Catch Me If You Can), which now that I think about it had MacGyver aspects to it, so we can not only guess what ’80s show was being talked at around the USA water cooler but also that said cooler had probably been hastily constructed out of an old mailbox, a repurposed tube top, and a stick of gum. Mostly these shows followed the USA formula to a T, and the result were, procedural popcorn shows that could be consumed without much effort and were generally aired during the summer or winter lulls when most network shows were on hiatus. This proved to be a very, very successful formula, leading to a hilarious period during which USA seemed to be better at making television than NBC proper. (Honestly, that is probably still true, but NBC actually has shows that get ratings now, so it matters a lot less.)
The problem, however, is that there was really nothing distinguishable about the shows on USA. The formula is just too restrictive. The flaw with any procedural is that when a show is designed so people can drop in and watch whenever they want without really feeling lost, there is only so much character development and plot progress a show can do. As someone who was a fan at one time or another of most of the USA shows, there is just a point when you feel like you are watching the same thing every week, and then you begin to wonder why you are watching it at all. To some extent, USA began realizing this as well, and they slowly began phasing these shows out, replacing them with shows that stated breaking away from the formula like Gracepoint and Suits. (Suits is an interesting example, because it started out closer to the USA formula in its basic premise, a lawyer who, as in Psych, has talent but whose official credentials are fraudulent; after the first season, that storyline was confined to the first and/or last episode of each run, and the show otherwise became more of a simple workplace drama.) But only recently has USA really started to push the envelope. I had though that had started earlier this year when USA aired Dig, and then later Mr. Robot. Both of those shows (especially in Mr. Robot’s case) moved away from USA’s old way of doing things, but it turns out this may have actually started last year when Satisfaction premiered.
So when I first heard about Satisfaction, it basically seemed like some weird, more dramatic version of Hung, and I thought nothing much of it. But then it got renewed for a second season and received generally positive reviews. Well, after hitting it on the roulette I finally see why, because this show is delightfully crazy. I don’t particularly know exactly is going on, but watching the different journeys of the two leads, estranged husband and wife Neil (Matt Passmore) and Grace (Stephanie Szostak), in this episode was fascinating. Grace begins a journey into BDSM culture after Adrianna (Katherine LaNasa) introduces her to it. Meanwhile, Adrianna is trying to trick both Grace and Neil into signing legal separation papers by convincing each that the other had already signed. Adrianna has already used a forgery of Neil’s signature to get Grace to have sex with her, and is now trying to get Grace to sign the papers for real. Also, before you ask, I have no idea why Adrianna is trying to do this, other than it seems like it is all a game to her. (It is also possible she is in love with Grace, but there is not enough in the episode for me to determine that.)
Meanwhile, Neil is trying to get a new male escort service up and running along with Simon (Blair Redford), but first Neil needs to help Simon deal with Simon’s estranged father (Grant Show). Also, it must be mentioned that Simon and his stepmother Emma (Nicky Whelan) are in love and sleeping with each other behind Simon’s father’s back, because, you know, why the hell not? This show does whatever it wants, and in the process pushes the limit on what can be shown on basic cable (which is probably why it airs at 10 PM on Fridays). Compared to traditional television treatments of sex, it’s kind of a breath of fresh air.
The show approaches sex in such a matter-a-fact, yet personal way. Sex is part of our lives, but for whatever reason film and television has decided that talking about it too much is simply the worst thing possible, which has always been a misguided notion. So while it’s not like I need a show like Satisfaction in my life, I am so glad to know that it exists, because it is a show about adults that treats sex as a topic worth discussing and exploring, and not something that needs to be spoken of in hushed tones or used as a constant source of scandalous behavior.
Even more important for USA, though, Satisfaction shows that the network has figured out how to evolve its formula. I did not need to see a single episode of the show previously to know at least at a basic level what was going on, but I got the sense that if I had watched the previous episodes everything would be even more intriguing to watch. The old formula made shows that eventually stopped incentivizing the audience to tune back in next week, but a show like Satisfaction definitely gave off the aura that it would be even more, well, satisfying to watch if you had seen the previous episodes (without making that a strict requirement). This is important. Not every show can be Mr. Robot (oh Lord, I wish they could, but that is not even close to realistic), and shows like Satisfaction are needed to fill in the gaps. My only hope is that this show will continue to embrace how bonkers it is, and will not stop pushing the envelope, because who knows if another show like it will get made.
Notes and Observations:
- I cannot stress enough how much this show doesn’t care about conventional thinking. To try and help you understand, I will just say that after Grace and Neil discover Adrianna has been deceiving them, Grace locks Adrianna in a S&M cage, and then they have sex in front of Adrianna to show her that she can never break them apart. Seriously, that happens.
- USA has long been a network that actually cares about its shows having distinct cinematography (especially in recent years), and Satisfaction is no different. The framing of shots is particularly good, as it is used to help get into the different characters’ headspaces–and to help get things past Standards and Practices.
- The race between Neil and Simon in this episode is a lot of fun, but it felt like a wasted opportunity, too. This is probably because it is too short, and doesn’t really feel like a race, since there is no real tension. It’s clear the point of the race wasn’t actually the race, but I wish the episode had figured out how to make it feel a little less boring (a statement that applies to most of Neil’s story in this episode).
- The show seems to be setting up Neil coming into conflict with his partner Victor (Spencer Garrett) at their money management firm. I say “seems” because Victor came off as the least threatening person of all time, so it was hard to take his vague threats seriously. Still, this is probably going to be a thing later in the season, as inevitably Victor will discover that Neil is running his own male escort service, and make a ruckus about it.
Episode Grade: Honestly, I am not even sure what scale to grade this on, but here goes nothing. The show is rather clumsy in the way it cuts between the investment banker half of the episode and the BDSM half of the episode, and so a lot of the Neil stuff just feels really pedestrian, while the Grace parts of the episode seem to actually be trying to explore and push the envelope. This gives the episode a really weird flow, to the point where it doesn’t work nearly as well as it could have, so it has to be docked for that. Overall, the episode is super entertaining so I would probably give it a B.
Would I Watch More?
Hmm… honestly, I don’t know. I did enjoy the episode, but in a lot of ways I respect the show far more than I like it. I could see myself checking in on the show again, or even at some point in the future binge watching it (this show really gives off a binge watching vibe), but for now there are just too much other things to watch for me to try and keep up with it week-to-week.
That’s it for this week’s edition of TV Roulette. The roulette wheel delivered the goods this week, and made me reconsider a show that I had written off as not worth watching. Will next week’s spin do the same or am I destined for disappointment? Find out next week. Until then, I think I need to make sure there aren’t any S&M cages hidden behind the walls of my apartment.