From Wanderlust to Bodyguard, everyone’s having sex – so why is it all so miserable?

Women aren't being objectified in TV's latest hit dramas — but does all the sex have to be so worthy, asks television editor Alison Graham

Toni Collette (Wanderlust, BBC)

Every now and again the country goes a little bit bonkers. It’s currently clutching its pearls and running into the street, hailing a passing hansom cab, to escape all the sex on telly.

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The fact that everyone seems to be At It has led to the kind of “Flipping heck, what do we have here?” newspaper features that use the words “cavort” and “romp”. Words, incidentally, that no one actually says to anyone in real life.

There are saucy scenes all over the place as papers screen-grab the juicy bits in Bodyguard and Wanderlust and write about how it’s the women who are now calling the sexy-time shots in television dramas.

This is all true, but then we know that telly doesn’t tend to wake up to the zeitgeist until the zeitgeist has wrapped a blanket around its knees as a pan of milk warms on the stove (see diversity in casting, which was a looooooong time coming).

But, oh dear me, does it all have to be so joyless? It isn’t too long since the so-called destructive, “angry sex” in Doctor Foster. And much has been made of the supposedly boundary-breaking adultery drama Wanderlust (Tuesdays on BBC1), where married couple Toni Collette and Steven Mackintosh decide (at the wife’s suggestion and initiation) to sleep with other people.

There’s lots of sex, but it’s all so miserable – everyone sounds as if they’ve trapped a hand in the car door. After two episodes I decided I couldn’t waste another second on any of them – and God knows I love a bit of middle-class angst.

In Bodyguard (Sundays on BBC1), doomed Home Secretary Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes) came on to her bodyguard David Budd (Richard Madden), but she was in charge. He even bridled and referred to himself as “room service” when she offered to knock on his hotel-room door for a bit of booty after she’d finished her paperwork.

Keeley Hawes in Bodyguard, BBC Pictures

It was a good scene: Julia was in control, he was the BLT and pot of coffee from the 24-hour menu. But it’s impossible to gloss over the fact that he tried to strangle her during a waking nightmare shortly afterwards, because he had a Damaged Soul. Then she was blown up by a terrorist bomb. Women, they aren’t allowed any fun in dramas. (See also Apple Tree Yard, where a woman’s adultery was punished in every possible way when she ended up in court after her lover murdered her rapist.)

Still, at least these women, all of a certain age (refreshing!) get to keep their vests on. It’s good to get away from those nonsensical scenes where a naked woman in a drama never got out of bed without tucking the duvet under her armpits and hobbling to the bathroom. It looked ridiculous and cumbersome, like a ferret dragging a sideboard. In Bodyguard it was Richard Madden’s bum that did a lap of honour while Keeley Hawes kept her modesty.

I assume these cover-ups (Toni Collette remains clothed, apart from that hideous underwear thing she wore in episode one that looked like the nicotine-stained net curtains from a 1950s dockside pub) are a statement, that women are no longer being objectified.

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That’s absolutely right, of course, but that doesn’t mean this all has to be so miserable and worthy, does it?


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