October 2, 2016

Easy on the Eyes

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There’s so much sex on TV. Like, so much. Think: Game of Thrones, Sex and the City, Orange is the New Black, Masters of Sex, Skins. The list goes on. Sex is so ubiquitous on TV that you’d think the new Netflix series, Easy, is just another title to add to the list of sex-themed programs, with nothing quite fresh or new to add besides the shock value of obscenity. Somehow, however, Easy manages to move past sheer sexuality and offer something a little more novel to the sexualization of TV.

Easy observes sex and love through eight tangentially related stories that take place in Chicago’s northside. It’s an anthology; each story can satiate the viewer separately, but the unity of the collection just adds a tasty garnish on top. Easy deviates from most Netflix originals, and features several big names in Hollywood and the comedy circuit: Orlando Bloom, Dave Franco, Malin Akerman, Hannibal Buress and Marc Maron, to name a few.

Despite the title, the leggy poster and the sexy marketing, Easy isn’t really raunchy. Don’t get me wrong, Easy doesn’t flake on complicated or crude sex. In one episode a self-proclaimed “sexy couple” (the beautiful Orlando Bloom and Malin Akerman) seeks a third woman (Kate Micucci) for a passionate three-way. In another episode, done almost entirely in Spanish, a married woman has a turbulent affair of questionable consensuality with an ex-boyfriend. More accurately, the sex in Easy is neat. It’s plain and quiet. Director Joe Swanberg creates this effect by softening the sounds and colors, making scenes less sensually stimulating. This technique seems counterintuitive; why make a show about sex where all the sex is muted?

Well, Easy isn’t really about sex, but moreso how sex connects people with each other. Take the episode starring Marc Maron, in which Maron plays an aging graphic novelist named Jacob Malco, whose popularity has declined since the publication of his last autobiographical novel. At a university event for his new book, he meets a graduate student who makes “selfie art” and the two have a zesty affair. The couple is intimate on-screen for barely 30 seconds out of the entire 30-minute episode, and Jacob’s difficulties with his professional success, his age and his privacy take up the rest of it. In another episode, where a man (Evan Jonigkeit) keeps an illegal brewery a secret from his pregnant wife (Aya Cash), there is no sex shown on screen.

Easy is fresh because of its purported authenticity in its depiction of human relationships. Swanberg is a major figure in the mumblecore movement, and much of the dialogue and interactions in Easy are improvised. The improvisation makes the viewer feel more intimately tied to the action, more deeply connected to the free-flowing conversation and fluid movements. The form of the show mimics its content; just as people are interconnected, so are the episodes. When the characters get intimate, so does the viewer. The word of the day for Easy is mimesis. More specifically, mimesis that attempts authenticity.

But is Easy really as authentic as it claims to be? Jake Malooley wrote extensively for The Chicago Reader on Swanberg’s ode to Chicago being north-side centric and only following the lives of those in Chicago’s bougier areas. In one episode, a woman (Kiersey Clemons) comes to terms with her girlfriend (Jacqueline Toboni) being a vegan. As Malooley notes, “It’s a world…predominantly populated by upper-middle-class whites, stroller pushers and scores of young, vaguely creative types. Their lives intersect in high-end restaurants, cafes, brewpubs, clubs, bakeries, stores and arts centers, where they gab about such topics as veganism and Tinder.” It’s the same world parodied in Portlandia and legitimized in every other show revolving around urban 20- and 30-somethings. Joe Swanberg’s supposedly candid panorama of human relationships and sexuality is more like a snapshot of a select minority: The well-off upper middle class of Chicago.

This selective portrayal of sexuality (and, well, humanity) isn’t necessarily bad in a normative sense. After all, the Chicago portrayed in Easy is the real Chicago Swanberg and many others experience every day. What makes Easy questionable is its deceptive authenticity. Despite mumblecore and improvisation making the show feel as though it is pure, candid and representative of universal human themes, Easy leaves out narratives that don’t take place on Chicago’s northside.

Pegah Moradi is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].