Television is rapidly changing, the days of Lucy and Desi Arnaz sleeping in separate beds is long behind us, but with networks like HBO, AMC, Cinemax and Showtime doing their best to grind NBC, ABC, and CBC into the dust with a slew of adult oriented content that change seems to be speeding up, and I for one couldn’t be happier. There will always be a place for the latest sitcom, or whatever incarnation of C.S.I. is currently airing, but it’s on premium cable stations that new ground is being broken; Game of Thrones is a mega-hit for HBO while Showtime had its long running serial killer show Dexter, and with this new series Submission creators Jacky St. James and Paul Fishbein try and push the envelope just a little further.
Co-creator Jacky St. James, a well-known writer/director of pornographic movies, saw the hype surrounding the book and movie Fifty Shades of Grey and was rather put out by it, to her that was not a proper depiction of the BDSM lifestyle, citing that it “Passed off an abusive relationship as an honest interpretation of the BDSM lifestyle.” So with this Showtime series she hopes to inform and educate people on what is a healthy and consensual relationship in the world of bondage and submission, and will deal with realistic portrayals of such people. The series central character is Ashley Pendleton (Ashlynn Yennie), a young woman who escapes a terrible relationship, one whose poor sex abilities was about to put her in a sleep induced coma, and to the darker side of sexuality. Ashley is the audience identification figure, but unlike say Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey, she’s actually heard of a butt plug.
After a nasty scene with her ex Ashley takes up her best friend Jules (Victoria Levine) offer to share her place in the small town of Ivy; it seems like a quaint place but then she is a bit taken aback when on her first day she witnesses the owner of the local coffee shop having sex in the backroom of his establishment. Raif (Kevin Nelson), the coffee shop owner, offers Ashley a job, and which she gladly takes because this is clearly a place with a great working environment. It’s when she meets Dylan (Raylin Joy), who is to be one of her roommates with Jules, that things get a bit tense because it turns out that Dyan is the selfsame woman that Ashley saw Raif screwing earlier. Dylan is free spirited sexual dynamo whose kinky side is far beyond just having sex in public places (Note: She’s not limited to men as she seduces one oblivious dude’s girlfriend into a lesbian tryst in the coffee shop bathroom), but her real paying gig is procuring girls who will sexually submit to the mysterious Elliot (Justin Berti).
Things get interesting when Ashley comes across the book “Slave” by local erotic fiction author Nolan Keats that Dylan left lying out. The sexual submission of the books protagonist lights a fire inside Ashley, sparking her into masturbatory fantasies, and she becomes obsessed with finding out who this reclusive author is.
Did I mention that her friend Jules is having a lesbian affair with her married boss Scarlet (Nika Khitrova)? So far I’ve probably given you the impression that Jacky St. James’s Submission is full of sex and nothing else, which is what one could expect from a series about sexual submission, but there is a lot more going on here; I’d say this show is kind of a cross between Sex & the City and The Story of O. The biggest hurdle the show has is putting in the seemingly required three sex scenes into each thirty minute episode. Something is going to suffer.
The men of the show are pretty much two dimensional caricatures, making them fairly uninteresting, as most of the screen time not spent on sex focuses on the women and their needs and desires; this is not necessarily a bad thing but a little balance could help make the show connect with a wider audience. For me the stand out character in the series isn’t protagonist Ashley Pendleton but the much more complicated Dylan, played beautifully by Raylin Joy, who some will know by her adult star nom de plume Skin Diamond. Dylan’s relationship with Elliot, and the tense dynamic between her and the somewhat naïve Ashley, is what makes this show work; that Raylin is an award winning porn stars should not overshadow that fact at just how good she is in this; her earlier college training and love of Shakespeare and Ancient Greek Theater clearly shows through. Dylan’s character arc through the first season is by far the more interesting one.
Is Submission pornography or erotica? This is a question I’m sure some people will ask and as the sex on screen are fairly graphic, no penetration seen but almost everything else is, it’s a fair question. As mentioned before writer director Jacky St. James has kind of a mission statement with this series, not something you’d get in an average porn movie, and the show is not populated solely by porn stars trying to branch out. Lead actress Ashlynn Yennie has been on everything from True Blood to NCIS, but though a “legitimate” actor she doesn’t shy away from the intense sexual scenes depicted in this show, and though I can’t say that all the actresses/actors give stellar performances I’d like to point out that I’ve seen a lot worse on higher profile shows.
What is unclear is if we will ever see a second season; though ratings did improve over the six episode run they were certainly not of note to guarantee a return engagement, and that is a shame. Jacky St. James has managed to produce a quality show giving an honest glimpse into a world that many people look at with either mild curiosity or disgust, but I found the honesty of this show refreshing, and more on point than anything you got in an episode of Sex and the City. Whether Submission returns for another season or not it should at least be known that once upon a time there was an incredibly hot show, steaming hot at times, that gave us a nice collection of characters, full of both flaws and good heart, which challenged late night television.