Custom Screening: ‘Burning Love’ and TV hook-ups

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I pulled the sheets over my large double bed, dislodging enough crumbs from last night’s dinner to excuse me from washing my sheets this week. I was busy counting sheep when I heard a voice from the pillow beside me: “If I was still in my experimental phase, I’d rip your clothes off and get into you.”  Clearly, I was not alone. I looked to my left. There, mysteriously hovering above Kimiko (my Japanese love pillow) was Lena Dunham’s disembodied head. This might have been kinky, in a sort of Ichabod Crane kind of way if I were not in fact alone in bed streaming HBO’s “Girls” off my laptop while eating my (still mysteriously absent) roommate’s long-expired ice cream.

This week, as on many episodes of “Girls” we got to see a lot of Lena Dunham. Yet again, we caught a weird sexual encounter with her and her maybe-creepy, maybe-cute boyfriend, Adam. The sex in “Girls” is far from glamorous. It might even be realistic. It could hardly be called sexy. After I completed my weekly contemplation of Adam’s oddly emotive abs (henceforth called the Burbage Beer-Gut), I wondered whether this style of on-screen sex was new or whether I was just new to notice it. Where has television’s realistic sex been hiding?

The unsexy and almost gross style of sex in “Girls” is its selling point. Dunham draws attention to how awkward and isolating sex can be — especially when you have to compete with the Burbage Beer-Gut. It’s a far cry from the more glamorous predecessor of “Girls,” “Sex and the City,” in which Samantha Jones got down and oh-so glamorously sexy with some new high-flying chap in every episode. Shagging a mysterious advertising billionaire beside a rooftop pool in Manhattan — no problem, just don’t ask her to call in the morning.

Dunham’s preference for warts-and-all sex recalls the attempt “Skins” made to depict the act realistically and honestly. Sadly, viewers this side of the pond got a program that fell far short of what it promised. The American version, while marketed as the raunchy counterculture show of Glenn Beck’s nightmares, was in fact quite tame.  The swearing was toned down, as was the sex. The shows’ ratings — perhaps picking up on the overall tenor of the show — were modest.

By contrast, the British version’s sex scene between Tony (played by Nicholas oh-my-God-you-grew-up-so-hot Hoult) and a tattooed projection of his subconscious in a North England school dormitory still ranks as perhaps the steamiest scene committed to television. Tony wanders into a mysterious dorm room unannounced. Through the haze of pot smoke, he can just make out two strange figures that give him a mysterious tattoo. Before the ink is even dry he’s at it with female-subconscious-Tony — that’s right about where my parents turned the TV off. It was sensual and somewhat erotic, but hardly realistic.

Perhaps I’m missing something. It would hardly be the first time sex has passed me by. Indeed, it was with the jejune fascination of a wide-eyed tweenager that I read about the exploits of my fellow students in the news section’s recent ‘hook-up’ culture feature.  Where is this culture?

What if the best, most realistic sex is to be found online?’s “Burning Love” in which a host of women compete for the affections of a somewhat dim fireman bills itself as, “the most romantic web series that will ever be.” It sounds like the Disneyland of televised sex.  To help identify each contestant, the producers conveniently subtitle the women with descriptive epithets like, “The Pretty One” or “The Damaged One” — or my personal favorite, “The Homeless One” — who is competing for true love and a place with running water. It’s only when Ben Stiller’s producing credit flashes up at the end  that you realize the whole thing is a hoax and therefore unlikely to yield up any decent TV sex.

“Burning Love” is far from being the strangest sexual concept on television. That title must surely go to Tina Fey and James Franco’s threesome with Kimiko-Tan, a Japanese love pillow with whom Franco is in love. In my late teens, I found that episode so influential that I scouted Bed Bath & Beyond outlets on three continents for a similar soul mate. Sadly, my search only yielded a three restraining orders and the assurance that genuine love pillows can only be ordered online — fact.

Perhaps there is no ordinary sex on television. Come to think of it, I’ve never lain opposite someone with a Burbage Beer-Gut, nor has my own lover squashed me into my mattress. Television is the dream factory. Whoever said it was supposed to be representative of real life anyway? Maybe identifying more with weird boyfriends than hot Nicholas Hoult fantasies has more to do with our natural suspicion of anything that seems too good to be true. Fortunately, even when producers can’t get it just right, Kimiko and I can enjoy their attempts.