Reviewed by Micah Holmquist
Wednesday, April 12 2000, 8:19 PM
Channel surf enough in the late evening and you are bound to come across the unique MTV show Undressed. In and of its self, there is nothing all that original about the show, which began appearing this past fall. Undressed has sexually charged scenes but they are little different from what viewers see on Dawson's Creek or the afternoon soaps. Still the series differentiates itself from most other TV soaps by making those scenes the only reason for the existence of the series. Like pornography, Undressed dispenses with characterization and the boring details of living so that it can focus solely on the sex lives of the attractive, but not very talented teenagers and twenty somethings that populate the show. Parents don't appear in this world and high school seniors choose colleges based on the frequency with which they had sex during campus visits. You don't hear about schoolwork or jobs unless it is directly connected to mating. Platonic friends don't exist or at least they don't stay that way for long. Stories never get much more complex than girl lusts for boy and that causes problems with the boy's girlfriend.
Felicity looks like a multifaceted and truly troubled character compared to these cutouts. Undressed accounts for the fact that viewers won't care about these characters by continually putting them in new "situations." Conflicts usually end (and begin for that matter) with a scene on a couch, or some similar locale, where more than one person puts the moves on more than one other person. To avoid wasting precious time, the characters are all archetypes. There is the slacker, the scrub, the conniving vixen, and the peppy athlete or candidate for school office. Names appear but they are largely irrelevant. The most that viewers will remember is the type of character that was involved in a particular escapade. In this sense, Undressed is a lot like Jerry Springer where viewers are unlikely to remember anything but if they do, it certainly won't be names.
To its credit, the series does regularly include gay characters but this is also the most problematic aspect of Undressed. In keeping with the media's tradition of titillating straight guys, the women who engage in same sex relationships on the show are "experimenting" and are also dating/sleeping with men. In contrast, it was a source of great conflict between two gay male lovers when one suspected that the other was bisexual. The gay men also occupy a quite limited space. They are, first of all, usually put in a story line separate from the straight and curious characters. This reinforces the idea that gay men exist in totally separate domain. Furthermore the gay men are almost all upwardly mobile, primarily white, fit, attractive, shallow, and materialistic. The following comment from one gay man to another regarding the feasibility of dating a very attractive construction worker sums up the situation perfectly. "I don't know what's worse - your shallowness or my snobbery." Pat Robertson ad Jerry Falwell will find much here to bolster their argument that gay men are not oppressed.
Still what the gay characters share with their straight counterparts on Undressed is that they never have to worry about getting a date or getting laid. And when they do have sex - which of course happens often - it is always enjoyable. The most that anybody on Undressed has to worry about is whether he or she will get to have sex with a particular person. Despite what readers of Talk magazine might think, this probably looks wonderful compared to the lives of MTV's heavily teenage viewers. But so do the lives of most young people on youth oriented dramas. The advantage that Undressed has over its competitors on the WB network and elsewhere is that it does not even attempt to be realistic. Most people have a fair amount of frustrations and mundane details in their own lives. They don't need to see these things on a TV show especially when, more often than not, television does a shallow and unrealistic job of portraying these elements.
Instead of falling into that trap, Undressed focuses on one thing that always seems to excite people - sex. In doing this, the show does not insult the intelligence of viewers by pretending that they are watching it because they have empathy for the characters. Instead it gives them what they want. You could call it pornography for those in grades 6 through 12 but it is really more of a bare bones soap opera (assuming there is a difference.) Get rid of the hospitals, generation conflicts, and other such things that populate most TV dramas but leave the tales of lust and you have Undressed. Given the mantra of downsizing and the prevalence of niche marketing, it is surprising that it took so long to create such an efficient soap opera.