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  • 'Outlander,' The Wedding Episode And TV's Sexual Revolution

    It would pain me greatly if critics and viewers dismissed "Outlander" for irrelevant, trivial or condescending reasons.

    Don't mistake my purpose: I'm not here to tell you "Outlander" is a perfect show. I like it, I loved a couple of episodes, but I outlined some of my issues with it in my original review.

    That said, sometimes a show on the margin of the public's attention does something radically different -- even revolutionary -- and it'd be a real shame if the show's non-trendy status prevented people from recognizing the fantastic thing it has done.

    "Outlander" has blown up a lot of the received ideas about sex on television -- how it's shot, who it's for, who it's made by and who it's about. The show's Sept. 20 episode, in which the two lead characters get married and have a lot of sex, was nothing short of revolutionary in its depiction of nudity and intimacy, and in its willingness to entertain the female point of view.

    I'm not saying other shows haven't done compelling and interesting things with sex on occasion, or even on a regular basis. As Emily Nussbaum tweeted the other day, "we are living in a dirty honest TV wonderland." I agree, and this development is tremendously exciting.

    It's a distinct relief that "Outlander" is not alone. We've now seen two full seasons of the twisted power dynamics that inform those strange, intense hotel-room encounters in "Masters of Sex." "Girls," obviously, has an honest treatment of sex as one of its main goals, and Jill Soloway, partly inspired by Lena Dunham, just unleashed "Transparent," a fantastically complex depiction of all kinds of desires. Thanks in part to streaming options and an expanding array of adventurous creators and networks, shows with sexually unapologetic women suddenly seem to be all over the place: "The Fall," "The Good Wife," "The Americans," "Orphan Black," "New Girl," "You're the Worst" and "Orange Is the New Black" are all part of a seemingly unstoppable wave of shows that treat the sexual activities of their leading ladies with refreshing matter-of-factness and genuine interest.
    Even a few years ago, it was not like this. Shows like this cropped up here and there, but they were not thick on the ground.

    To overgeneralize, you could say that the post-"Oz," post-"Sopranos" revolution in television was all about what a protagonist could do. The wave of ambitious dramas that crested in the mid- to late-'00s (and still lingers in sizable pockets of the TV landscape) explored the outer limits of the behavior of a complex individual ... as long as that individual was a dude.

    The last two or three years have seen a welcome and overdue explosion in who a protagonist could be. "Looking," "Happy Valley," "Borgen," "The Honorable Woman," "The Bridge," "Enlightened," "Broad City," "Top of the Lake," "Sleepy Hollow" and the shows mentioned above -- these and other programs often dominate conversations about adventurous television, and they aren't all that concerned with changing definitions of masculinity, the status anxiety of white guys and all that anti-hero baggage. They often feature diverse ensembles; they're often about how communities and individuals regard each other and change each other. A new set of thematic concerns has joined the big TV party, and that's also exciting. ax
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