Jaw-droppingly kitschy; "Undressed" is your quintessential TV guilty pleasure
Network: MTV; Genre: guilty pleasure; Average Content Rating: TV-14 (for strong sexual content and suggested sex involving teens); Classification: Contemporary (star range: 1 - 4);
Season Reviewed: Complete Series (6 seasons)
There are few TV experiences I've had that match the surrealism of MTV's 'Undressed'. It's really a strange and unique case of a mountain of wrongs somehow making a right. Like most TV it is about sex but unlike most TV it is also about nothing more than sex. If you want mindless, escapist trash - this is the place to come. Although, if you hear someone say that 'Undressed' is a great drama with great stories that are "true to life" - run. Far away. There is nothing real about this show, but that is what makes it so shamefully delicious.
'Undressed' is an anthology series that peaks in on the sex lives of high school, college and young adults in a format that brings the show around once a day - like a soap opera - but has no permanent cast, oscillating us between a group of kids for 4 or 5 episodes and then dispenses with those characters, never to be seen again, for another story. Playing like a toned down version of "Compromising Situations", the stories are about all manner of sexual inclinations, deviations and corny, soft core fantasy scenarios.
Labeling it a "drama" makes it seem as if creator Roland Joffe ('The Killing Fields') and his crew actually think they are doing something of substance. But 'Undressed' has absolutely no recognizable personality of it's own making it impossible to know what exactly their goal with this show is. Most of the time it is silly, playful and hollow. Sometimes it even seems to be a mocking parody of soap operas and sex-obsessed teen angst dramas. Either way if anybody is taking it seriously the joke is on them. The show rides this fence mysteriously all the way until the 6th and final season when it falls of and just becomes an insufferable, self-important drama. However, for much of this run, if you're willing to not take it and yourself seriously, (and possibly admit that a "guilty pleasure" is a sub-genera all to its own) "Undressed" may become a nasty, embarrassing addiction. An addiction you'll hide from everyone out of fear of being exposed as not the intellectual connoisseur of entertainment that you'd like everyone to think you are.
"Undressed" works, most likely in spite of itself, because it serves a purpose that teen angst dramas, soap operas and other so-called network wish-fulfillment shows are to full of themselves to. It dispenses with tangled plots and manufactured drama and the standard who-will-be-with-who scenarios and just cuts to the chase. Thanks to that simultaneous 3-story style, it can cut to that chase over and over. At any given moment, if someone isn't having sex they are either about to have it, or are talking about it. Literally, people. The show drops the pretension to be anything more than the trash that it is. No wasting time with character development or stories or messages or banal conflicts as if knowing these are a waste of time when the audience just wants a little cathartic entertainment. It is absolutely jaw-dropping and as unbelievable as this all may be, I can honestly say I have never seen anything like it.
'Undressed' is out-in-the-open exploitation, where the actors soul purpose is to look good in their underwear. When they do, it works. When they don't, in much of the 6th season, it doesn't. The show really benefits, probably unknowingly, from network boundaries that keep it restrained. What it lacks in nudity and actual sex, it makes up for with the simple cinematic fact that insinuating something and letting our imagination do the work can be infinitely sexier than the monotony of premium cable porn. As a result it serves as a cathartic medium somewhere between the guilty pleasure failings of "Friends" and a late nigh Cinemax series.
That is why this show is so easily criticized. It proclaims itself in big bold letters to be things that the average network sitcom does, in fact relies on, but doesn't have the guts to admit, instead going using "safer", acceptable methods. Instead of subversively insinuating to teenagers that they need to find someone or have sex in order to be happy wrapped in a real-world scenario and false hyperbole about love (a la 'Friends'), 'Undressed' busts the typical TV pretension with love and depicts sex and any manner of getting it with such a cartoonish lunacy there is no possible way to take any of it seriously. It is an unbelievable, trashy and audacious - it is exactly what a guilty pleasure should be.
The show aims very low and mines every possible avenue of it's "subject" bone dry. The stories aren't the slightest bit creative (and more often flat-out stupid), the writing is amateurish and the acting is worse. By all the numbers the show is a total technical and creative disaster. But it does everything that it does with such enthusiasm and gung-ho shamelessness. And you know something else: its cheapness actually contributes to the half-assed late-night fantasy charm of it all. The whole production is high camp as good as it comes. Any show aspiring to be a guilty pleasure in the future should use this as the blueprint to springboard from.
'Undressed' is so bad it actually manages to cycle all the way back to good and is so stupid that it shouldn't do any harm to those with half a brain. And those that do have a brain, might find themselves turning it off for 30 minutes to escape into this addictive fantasy land. Before returning to a real show, of course.
* * * ½ / 4
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