Yesterday, my friend James emailed me a link to an article about an internet series, Young American Bodies, on www.ifc.com. He included a brief description, but I was skeptical that it would be something I’d like. Then I started watching it. Now I love it! Here’s the first episode:

The series follows a group of friends and their romantic and sexual relationships. Maggie, the woman in this first scene above, is the feckless young woman unsure of what she really wants. Ben is the everyman who is maybe too much the good guy to attract female attention. Casey has a boyfriend, Noah, but their relationship seems increasingly distant and uncommunicative. Dia is dating Kelly, and they both seem really happy and well matched.

What I like most about this series is its realism. The characters seem real to me, their activities seem real, and their issues and problems seem real. I also really like the documentary feel of this series — the hand-held camera work in particular. It creates the sense that we’re simply eavesdropping on these people’s lives, that we’re voyeurs watching bits and pieces of their conversations and activities. And this bits-and-pieces element works really well — the narrative is often elliptical, forcing us to fill in gaps and figure out what’s happened in between scenes (though the series doesn’t make it difficult to fill in these gaps).

As the first part of this episode illustrates, this series is for grownups. It’s not obscene or pornographic, but it is definitely explicit and adult. While these scenes are sexy, they’re not really titillating. In many ways, these scenes are the story that this series is telling.

One of the questions my gay lit students have to think about in our class is how authors use depictions of sexual activity to tell us something about their characters. Young American Bodies uses these scenes to delve deeper into its characters very effectively. This series is about these characters’ connections, desires, and fears — what better way to illuminate these things than through their sexual interactions.

Often, the participants talk or laugh or play during sex just like real people do. I like this. It makes the series seem much more realistic than series made for television. I’ve always been bugged by tv series that cut from people having sex to them waking up the next morning with underwear on and by series that have sheets or clothes draped in completely unrealistic ways just to hide certain body parts. Young American Bodies shows body parts when they’d normally be visible, and I like the ways in which these characters have to take their clothes off and put them on again.

But the series isn’t just about sex. As the first season progresses, we see Ben’s crush on Maggie and how she deals with it. Ultimately, the series is mostly about Ben, whom I think is adorable — I’m pretty sure he’s supposed to be. He’s the good friend we’d all like to have. There’s a scene in season 3 in which he’s measuring various parts of his anatomy. This scene should be a cliche, but I don’t think it is. Rather than just being a joke about men and their penises, this scene demonstrates a moment of insecurity and fundamental humanity. I like that the series combines this humanity with Ben’s sense of humor. He’s a very appealing character.

My favorite character, though, is Kelly. I think he’s totally hot in a geeky sort of way, and I really like his personality as the series unfolds. He’s playful, sweet, and nerdy — the ideal man!

And finally, I think the series does a great job depicting its female characters, who are complex and interesting. If Sex in the City‘s women are more than a little cartoonish, this series allows its women to have faults and strengths, to stand on their own while deciding whether to move in with the boyfriend or dump his ass. I also like that the women never have to be any more nude than the men in the series. And the women only show as much as the men.

I couldn’t stop watching it. I’ve now watched all of the episodes — they’re only 5 to 7 minutes long each. Over the course of three seasons, some characters leave and others join the cast. Kelly remains my favorite throughout. I hated Maggie during season 1, but she grew on me in the other two seasons. I also really like that the series gets gayer as its progresses — in season 2 a character explores bisexuality a little and by season 3 there’s even a gay character.

I’m eagerly waiting for episode 32! (I’ve since gone back and actually read the article that James sent me. It’s definitely worth a read too.)

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