But can it actually work as a sustainable show?
Unfortunately, for “Sex Box” to really have a future, it needs more than just an admittedly amazing title. The show has to walk the careful line of being self-aware at its ridiculous premise, yet also not gleefully falling over itself trying to boast about how “shocking” it is.
“Sex Box” had a tinge of desperation last week when the network sent out a news release plugging the premiere on Friday, and also noted that it had taken out an ad in the Hollywood Reporter. The ad was in direct response to the watchdog group Parents Television Council petition condemning the show, saying it “exceeds the limits of decency.”
“You can’t judge a book by its cover. You can’t judge a show by its name. Even if its name is ‘Sex Box,'” the ad reads. It invites viewers to watch, and if they agree with the PTC, they’re welcome to sign the petition after the premiere – hey, the network will even post a link on its web site!
Stunts like that make the show seem far too pleased with its gimmick, along with the actual production. The show starts with a view backstage, with producers watching monitors saying “First couple walking out.” We see the couple in the green room, and a camera follows them all the way out to the stage, where they’re met with a studio audience and a panel of three experts: Fran Walfish, a therapist; Chris Donaghue; a sex therapist; Yvonne Capehart, a pastor and spiritual adviser.
The experts listen to the couples talk about their intimacy problems. Though they spend a decent amount of time discussing problems, the takeaway is that they’re just killing time until Chris utters the magic words “I have one question for you: ‘Are you ready to enter the sex box?’” (The phrase “sex box” is used at least a dozen times over the course of the hour, in case you were about to forget.)
Then, the centerpiece of the show: Off the couple goes into the “privacy” of the enormous glowing blue box that ominously sits in the corner. It’s quite a prop, as the lights change and the walls turn red once the couple goes in. While the audience can’t see or hear anything going on, the panel sits on a couch and speculates. Suddenly, the box turns white and the couple walks out in satin pajamas and robes to discuss what just happened. Sometimes, they have to rate the sex they just had and write the answer on special “Sex Box” boards.
There are three couples over the course of the first episode, with more “behind the scenes” shots to really give the full effect of the production. The best are interstitial segments where the show sends a staffer outside to interview random people and utter one of the most embarrassing sentences ever on television: “Hi, I’m Danielle Stewart, ‘Sex Box’ correspondent. And I’m hitting the streets tonight, real-talking with people about sex!”
While it might be funny to laugh at that sort of thing for an episode or two, the show seems way more scandalized by itself than actual viewers will be. After viewers get over the gross premise, even the network may have to admit that viewers staring at a box, mixed with some couples therapy, is simply not a compelling long-term premise.
In his review, the Post’s TV critic Hank Stuever perfectly summed up how the series should really end:
It would be such a better show if the Sex Box, once occupied, could then be lowered onto a shipping vessel bound for the Asian continent, or shot into orbit by Richard Branson, or driven to a storage unit in West Covina and stashed away. Something, anything to make up for the time wasted watching “Sex Box.”