Thursday night, USA aired the pilot episode of Satisfaction. It was pretty clear from the heavy promotion, that this show was going to be about a married man who discovers his wife is using the services of a male escort ~ and then becomes an escort himself. What I really wanted to know was how they were going to handle the issue of sex work.
First a synopsis. A wealthy married couple who, despite living “the good life”, have found themselves dissatisfied with their marriage ~ not in the dramatic, we hate each other way, but in the most typical way of just not connecting well anymore. And, yes, that shows in their sex life too.
One day, husband Neil (played by Matt Passmore) arrives home to find wife Grace (played by Stephanie Szostak) having sex with Simon (played by Blair Redford). This is right after Neil has blown a gasket and has quit his job as an investment banker.
Hot headed, Neil chases down Simon. Upon cornering the guy, Neil discovers Simon is a male escort. Simon briefly schools Neil to keep cool, that lots of lonely married ladies use escort services and it’s not worth giving up the marriage over, especially if their are children. (Which there are; Neil & Grace have a daughter.)
Neil is too shocked to absorb much, but through a comedic error, finds himself in possession of Simon’s cellphone. Not only does he take Simon’s phone calls but the escort’s gigs too. Neil’s first client, a married women, offers proof of what Simon told him about why his wife and other wives use the services of male escorts. His second client turns out to be Adriana (played by Katherine LaNasa), a madam who wishes to offer him a job; she gives him tangible tips on how to treat women. Like Deuce Bigalow, only more dramatic than comedic, Neil discovers what women want and need ~ and that this is often something more than just sex. Which is true for a lot of sex work.
At the end of this first episode, we find Neil not only getting his job back, but promoted to partner at the investment banking firm. And Neil has applied some of what he has learned to the marriage too; the family unit seems to be closer. However, it is clear from what we’ve been shown in promos for the television show that Neil will continue to work as a male escort (and that we will see more of “madam” Adriana played by the delicious Katherine LaNasa).
While the overall depiction of sex work is favorable in the show, there’s the typical play of gender issues.
It’s understandable and OK for a man to enter sex work & service women, but female sex workers must either be traumatized and/or manipulated victims or women desperate to provide for themselves. The Client List is an example of the latter. It is excusable, if not desirable, for Jennifer Love Hewitt’s character to turn to sex work in order to provide for her kids. Yeah, as we get to know her, viewers become more comfortable with her sex work (made all the more comfortable with the “softer” form of sex work, delivering happy endings to massage clients), but would they have been so accepting if her turn to sex work was due to finding her husband banging a female escort?
Neil is given permission to break his marriage vows because his wife already has done so; his is a reactionary act. At least at first. For we know he goes on to repeat performances. Whether viewers allow and forgive so many transgressions because of his wounded male ego, or simply because he is male, remains to be seen.
Also, we can’t ignore the fact that we’re talking about hetero-normative sex work here. If Satisfaction were focused on male escorts serving male clients, I’m pretty sure the show would never have aired.
I for one will continue to watch Satisfaction. Along with the rather positive depiction of sex work, and sex positivity in general, the show has enough going for it to make it worthy of watching. It is especially lovely to enjoy seeing mature men and women on TV again. I get so tired of teens and twenty-somethings. *sigh* With more mature people, we get to explore meatier issues.