The Onion's 'Sex House' At 10, Still A Dark Miracle
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Reality TV, like some former presidents, seems almost beyond parody. Its excesses are so over the top, its ‘characters’ so archetypically idiotic, that any attempts to hold those tropes up to the funhouse mirror seem beside the point. The craziest comic scenarios seem almost plausible, like, “wait, didn’t that threesome in the back of an ice cream truck actually happen on Floribama Shore?”
By those standards, Onion Digital Studios’ Sex House, a 2012 dead-on parody of reality shows like Big Brother, Jersey Shore, and Real World, was kind of a miracle. The premise (as observed above) seems like it could actually be on MTV next week -- six sexy singles share a house to see how much coitus they can accomplish before the season’s end.
The show’s cast is made up of reality show staples, each with a twist:
Jay, the 24/7 workout bro who can’t seem to couple with anyone
Erin, the naive virgin who’s pregnant before the end of the first episode
Tara, the bossy sorority girl who rules at Settlers of Catan
Derek, the black gay man who can’t understand why the show’s producers put him in a house full of heterosexuals
Alex, the “polysexual princess” who wears desperation like perfume
And the show’s best character, Frank, the middle-aged father of two who won a spot on Sex House through a Tombstone Pizza promotion.
Not surprisingly since it comes from The Onion, Sex House gets dark -- and fast. By the second episode, the horny housemates discover there’s no way out of what is essentially a sex dungeon. Soon food and other supplies are dwindling, with the only human contact a voice from a loudspeaker imploring them to have more sex. Which is pretty tough, considering the lack of nutrition and the creeping white mold that’s taking over the house.
While it’s fun to ridicule the fame-hungry meatheads on shows like Jersey Shore, Sex House points its finger at the real villains -- reality show producers who’ll do anything to provoke TV-friendly drama, especially if it involves sex, conflict, or both. And if we’re watching that crap? That makes us the bad guys too.
Somehow, this all finds a way to be hilarious. Like The Onion itself, Sex House plays it with a straight face, never winking at the camera no matter how absurd things get. (At one point, the roommates are forced to play sexy games in order to win a stash of soon-to-be-rotting bananas.)
By web standards, especially those of 2012, the nearly forgotten Sex House was a hit, with its first episode at nearly 34 million views. So why hasn’t The Onion produced more satirical web series?
“The answer is money. From what I understand, there was this brief, flush moment when ONN (Onion News Network) got all this dough from YouTube,” says former Onion writer Jen Spyra. “They made these amazing series, like Sex House and Porkin’ Across America, and I don’t know why, after they produced these hits, that they didn’t get more money. It fills me with rage and despair.”
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Top image: Onion Digital Studios