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HOWARD ROSENBERG

A Lusty Show and Tell : HBO's comedy 'Dream On' is highly provocative and sexually explicit. How do they get away with it on television?

June 02, 1993|HOWARD ROSENBERG

Martin and his girlfriend, Kate, are in bed watching something on late-night TV that, judging by their shocked expressions, is not Jay Leno's monologue. It's obviously appalling, terrifying, too scary even to define.

Kate: "Oh, this is disgusting! Tell me when it's over."

Martin: "Oh, my God!"

Is it Hannibal Lecter dining on human entrails? No, something infinitely more startling.

Cut to the TV screen, where a humping, pumping, grunting, grinding-in-unison nude couple are making hot, noisy love.

Her: "OH! OH! OH!"

Him: "OH, YEAH!"

Her: "OH! UH! OH! UH! UHHHHHH! IT FEELS SO GOOD!!!!!!"

Because this is the age of camcorders and home videos, it turns out that the interlocked lovers that voyeurs Martin and Kate are watching on the screen are . . . themselves.

Martin: "Do I always make that face?"

How utterly foul and odious--precisely the stuff of the Playboy Channel. Except this is HBO's "Dream On," one of the funniest comedy series ever, and easily the sexiest. It was R-rated "Dream On" that gave TV the humorgasm.

The explicit sequence with Martin and Kate is from the "Dream On" season opener titled "Oral Sex, Lies, and Videotape," a double-sized episode premiering at 10:45 tonight, following the 10 p.m. season's start of HBO's other stratospheric comedy series, "The Larry Sanders Show." Future "Dream On" episodes air at 10:30 (with repeats Saturday at 10 p.m.).

Directed by executive producer John Landis and written by supervising producers Jeff Greenstein and Jeff Strauss, "Oral Sex, Lies, and Videotape" finds Martin Tupper (Brian Benben) facing a moral dilemma after videotaping a street hooker performing oral sex on the man who portrays Uncle Bouncy, the beloved clown on a popular kids' TV program. Should Martin keep mum about Uncle Bouncy's bouncing or sell his footage to TV for a fancy sum? The episode is typically hilarious, the sex typically vivid.

"Dream On" at times artfully meshes its wit with sober topics (Martin and Kate break up next week after clashing on abortion, for example), and not every episode depicts sex. Yet sex has been cosmic for divorcee Martin ever since the 1990 debut of "Dream On," when a female urged him to smear her with whipped cream and lick it off. Martin: "I'm a little concerned about the cholesterol."

One problem the show has is that it's so crack-up funny that it doesn't get proper due as serious art. That was the side I wanted to explore when I made plans to visit the North Hollywood building where this MCA/Universal series is shot.

As a serious journalist, I naturally disdained the show's vile, sickeningly lewd sex. It was the structure of its humor, its deep themes, that I was burning to investigate. So I did my homework, speaking by phone to Benben himself about his character's philosophical and sociological underpinnings.

Question: Have you ever counted the number of times Martin has had sex?

Answer: I'd be afraid to.

Q: What do you think about when you're doing it?

A: Usually what the hell it's going to look like, especially if I have my clothes off. And if there's an actress who's not wanting to be photographed naked or topless, you have to make sure your arm is in the right place or her arm is in the right place and she is covering you here or you are covering her there.

*

I arranged with HBO to be present for the shooting of an episode tailored to my specific needs as a serious investigative journalist. Written by Andrew Gordon and Eileen Conn, "Blame It on Reo" is a sweet, tender, thoughtful, delicately evolved coming-of-age piece about Martin's 15-year-old son, Jeremy (Chris Demetral).

In other words, a girl handcuffs Jeremy to a bed and masturbates in front of him with a vibrator.

Hurrying to the set, I arrived to see the actors rehearsing. Demetral lay on crimson satin sheets. Playing that self-pleasuring little lynx, Reo, was Dana Baron, who has worked on "Beverly Hills, 90210" as Jason Priestly's girlfriend.

I was shocked to learn that "Dream On" planned to convey Reo's action only through her off-camera moans and Jeremy's wide-eyed response. Purely for journalistic reasons, I had hoped for something more . . . visual. If only I had been present for one of Martin's adult encounters, to explore in depth his living the average heterosexual male's sexual fantasies.

"His life consists of one relationship after another that starts off fantastic, then flops," said Greenstein. Flop, shmop. It's the fantastic part that's so stimulating . . . intellectually.

No sophomoric winking about sex for this series. "There's no need to wink," Greenstein said, "because we show it."

What won't they show?

No anal sex or people defecating on each other, said executive producer Kevin Bright. No frontal nudity below the waist, said Greenstein. "And we won't show the moment of insertion or someone being exploited or doing anything against their will," he added.

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