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In Showtime’s new documentary series, Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) acts as host (or really, master of ceremonies) for a parade of individuals whose lifestyle quirks and fetishes fit into the categories of lust, greed, wrath, envy, gluttony, pride and sloth. Or, as they are more commonly known and outlined in Catholic doctrine: the Seven Deadly Sins.
Unlike many of Spurlock’s other projects, like Super Size Me and 30 Days, Spurlock does not put himself front and center when it comes to exploring these vices in 7 Deadly Sins. Instead, he sits (or lounges) on a baroque-style set while introducing each of the three segments that fill the half-hour program’s episodes. Though Spurlock’s tone has a playfulness to it (he has said he was hoping for a Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents effect), the series’ examination of its participants’ lives takes on more serious theatrics.
In the first three episodes — “Gluttony,” “Envy,” “Lust” — viewers are introduced to people like Jon Basso, the owner of the Heart Attack Grill (the name says it all), as well as Darling Nikki, a 716-pound woman with a boyfriend who actively encourages her overeating, and Kyle Jones, a 31-year-old who only has relationships with women three times his age. 7 Deadly Sins presents each story as both spectacle and portrait, chronicling people with an alternative lifestyle practice through sumptuous visuals: Nikki and her boyfriend are seen in a smoky embrace (plus a cupcake), Jones and one of his paramours are captured in highly stylized still shots and Basso is lit from underneath like a silent-film villain.
There are terms tossed around like “feederism,” “bestiality” and “pretenders and wannabes” (the latter describing a group of people who envy the disabled and feel the most comfortable living their life in a wheelchair, even though they lack any physical problems), all of which show Spurlock’s desire to shed a light on some of the more shadowy corners of extreme behavior. But the point behind it, besides revelation, is unclear. The series essentially boils down to pointing a finger and exclaiming, “Look!”
“Who am I to judge?” Spurlock says with a wry smile as each episode comes to a close. But Spurlock is exactly the person one would expect to judge, given the focus and content of his other work. His distancing himself from judgment does not absolve him; 7 Deadly Sins is about as pure an exhibition as can currently be found on television. Its proceedings are purposefully carnival-esque, with Spurlock playing ringmaster, goading rubes into tents to see the strange and the forbidden. (In fact, TLC, cable’s current head curator of the strange, would probably do well to give any of these individuals his or her own TV franchise).
There will be many viewers who enjoy the stories behind sound bites like “brothels save marriages” and “denture wearers are the unicorns of oral sex,” and those who relish a look behind the curtain at these peculiar individuals and their desires (like dressing up in a full-body silicon woman suit or casting adult toys from live animal genitalia), and many others who prefer to leave the curtain just where it is. “If you don’t like it, it’s ok,” Nikki says. But “like” has nothing to do with it; it’s about a fascination with otherness, which Spurlock indulges in but never manages to make significant. Basso turns the tables back on viewers, though, commenting matter-of-factly, “I’m just reflecting society […] giving people what they want.” Gooble-gobble, gooble-gobble, one of us, one of us.
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