GRAPHIC CONTENT

Sex therapy or soft porn? Sex Love and Goop and Sex Education

TV content that comes with a disclaimer usually goes one of two ways.

While the "don't try this at home" variety excites a Pavlovian salivation in an audience conditioned to anticipate something completely bonkers, the "paid actor" rubric on a well-disguised advertorial has us reaching for the remote before we even get to the first of the 18 different risotto settings on a Thermomix.

As we enter Netflix's series Sex, Love & Goop, we're advised the program is "designed to entertain and inform - not provide medical advice".

So, obviously, we're sticking around.

Presumably, the Goop disclaimer is designed to avoid the kind of legal unpleasantness in which the stupidly named wellness company started by Gwyneth Paltrow found itself after espousing the medical benefits of inserting jade eggs into human orifices.

Gwyneth Paltrow, right, and intimacy expert Michaela Boehm at Goop HQ. Picture: Netflix

Gwyneth Paltrow, right, and intimacy expert Michaela Boehm at Goop HQ. Picture: Netflix

Paltrow, an entertainer, albeit of patrician Hollywood stock, has about as much right to be helming a sex therapy show as she did winning the 1999 best actress Oscar, but here she is anyway, at "Goop HQ" in Santa Monica, California, inviting a smorgasbord of nervous couples to hook up with her crack team of counsellors to solve their issues in the bedroom.

Goop HQ - all open plan and flowing white linen - is a kind of IKEA Fantasy Island, which makes Paltrow an omniscient Mr Roarke character and the part of Tattoo going to trusted intimacy expert Michaela (whose accent is almost as risible).

Marg Downey's own hilarious relationship counsellor, Marion, from Kath & Kim, would fit right in on Sex, Love & Goop; her habit of ambushing clients with guerrilla nudity playing particularly well because this is precisely what happens when one of Paltrow's team suddenly asks permission to "disrobe" then invites a participant to join her in front of a mirror and stare at her pendulous breasts for an extremely uncomfortable eternity.

In keeping with the formula for success on the West Coast, just about all the experts assembled by Paltrow (executive producer here, too) appear to have founded some kind of institution or developed some kind of ground-breaking program. Chief among them is "somatic sexologist" Jaiya, who, perhaps while hallucinating about money in a desert spa floatation tank, came up with the 'Erotic Blueprints' system.

READ MORE:

For those who don't know, there are five EBs: energetic, sensual, sexual, kinky and shapeshifter. You can find out which erotic blueprint applies to you by taking an easy online quiz, which is what couple Erika and Damon do and are surprised at the results, but nowhere near as surprised as they are when Jaiya's boyfriend - some guy called Ian Ferguson, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the eponymous animated villain of Megamind - turns up and proceeds to bring his "life and business partner" to shivering climax by laying her down on a table and playing her like a theremin.

If this all sounds a bit like soft porn dressed up in animal-cruelty-free, bamboo swaddling, it is, and a couple of hours immersed in Paltrow's Goop will have you feeling a bit icky, a bit yuck and bit guilty, as if you've stumbled upon something like Sex Tape Germany over on SBS on Demand - exactly what Sex, Love & Goop is ripping off, just with superior lighting.

Better sex

A far more gratuitous, puerile, yet weirdly wholesome, take on the sex therapy genre is Sex Education, also on Netflix.

A mix between Grange Hill and The Inbetweeners, Sex Education is now in its third season and continues to tread the line successfully between spotty British teen "shagging" comedy and American sitcom mush.

The scripted action takes place at the fictional Moordale Secondary School, which is actually a university campus in Wales. The idyllic location brings a timeless, placeless element to this BAFTA-award winning series. Mobile phones at Moordale are as ubiquitous as they are at any other high school, yet the students' sensibilities and aesthetic feel more aligned with the late 1980s.

There's a lot to like about Sex Education. Picture: Sam Taylor/Netflix

There's a lot to like about Sex Education. Picture: Sam Taylor/Netflix

Disregarding the initial, preposterous premise of the series - a student, whose mum is a sex therapist, begins a counselling service for his peers - there's a lot to like about Sex Education. The young cast members are great, as are their more experienced counterparts, especially Gillian Anderson. Anderson's kooky, pot-smoking Dr Jean Milburn can sit proudly among the ranks of such other on-screen sex therapists as Barbra Streisand's Rozalin Focker, Liam Neeson's Alfred Kinsey and Milo O'Shea's Dr Durand Durand, who turned Wilhem Reich's "orgone accumulator" into the famous "Excessive Machine" in 1968's Barbarella (Woody Allen did the same with the "Orgasmatron" in 1973's Sleeper).

One suspects an Orgasmatron would be frowned upon by today's enlightened audiences of the kind drawn to Gwyneth Paltrow's brand, yet one also suspects Paltrow (or Ian Ferguson) would be first in line to have such a coin-operated contraption hooked up over at Goop HQ.

L.A. stories

If there's one person we'd love to see at Goop HQ, it's Larry David.

The prospect of the ever-sceptical Seinfeld co-creator going toe-to-toe with Paltrow is almost too delicious to think about.

The 11th season of David's HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm is now underway and, as has been the case over the past decade, this iteration revolves around David's amped-up avatar driving around Los Angeles causing offence and feeling like he's being taken advantage of.

David is treading familiar territory this season; he's pitching a new TV show (Young Larry), picking at the scabs of white privilege's uneasy existence with minority groups, wrangling with municipal incursions on personal freedoms and milking social mores for all their worth.

King of confrontation Larry David with Albert Brooks in the 11th season of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Picture: Foxtel

King of confrontation Larry David with Albert Brooks in the 11th season of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Picture: Foxtel

In David's L.A., the pandemic seems mostly under control (no masks) or, from a continuity perspective, just not worth the effort, yet still offers opportunity for opprobrium, specifically the outing of panic buyers and hoarders.

Albert Brooks makes a welcome cameo, dragooning Larry into speaking at his "live funeral", a forum in which nice things can be said about someone while they're still kicking, not dead in a box.

"I will bet money this catches on," Brooks says of his new-age idea and he's probably right.

We are in La La Land, after all.

This story Is it sex therapy, soft porn, or just a load of Goop? first appeared on The Canberra Times.