Many attempts have been made to transcend the lowbrow status of adult entertainment through stronger characterizations and storylines, but the problem remains the same: either the sex interrupts the story or the story interrupts the sex. The two never seem to sit well together. What Russ Meyer once referred to as the “one-armed audience” doesn’t care much for exposition. Usually, the trick is not to tell a story where the sex is incidental to the narrative but rather one where it’s the very point of the narrative. Basic Instinct had this pretty much figured out back in 1992 and helped usher a glut of “erotic thrillers” ranging from studio productions like Jade to the often barely coherent late-night cable-TV movie. The famous “fuck of the century” scene between Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone was central to the narrative of the Paul Verhoeven film; there wasn’t a moment in which the camera could discreetly pan over to the fireplace.
Doug Brode has his own ideas, however, and his new series Forbidden Science is really not about sex at all. It’s clearly meant to fill a slot in Cinemax’s After Dark schedule, but unlike its bikini-car-wash and lusty-affair brethren, the show is an attempt at something more sophisticated. Described as a “noir science fiction series with an erotic edge,” the 13-episode series takes place in a Cronenberg-esque world of tomorrow, ostensibly somewhere in Canada. Centered on the controversial work of 4Ever Innovations, an elite corporation developing technologies to download and sell memories, uploading them into cloned replacements of lost loved ones, the program is literally about “forbidden” science, the danger zone where science challenges notions of morality.
Julia White (Vanessa Broze) sits at the heart of the story. The clone of a scientist murdered by her husband in order to steal her discoveries, Julia is unsure of her place in a world where clones and androids are seen as slaves. When she meets a suicidal sex droid named Max, she falls immediately in love and helps him to escape his abused existence, setting off a violent pursuit by the representatives of 4Ever Innovations for whom Max is worth a great deal.
Forbidden Science gets a few important things right from the start. A story like this one would usually be shot in front of a slew of green screens with all the skill of the local weather report. Instead we get sets that are sparse but which draw the eye to very specific props and décor, helping to create a sleek, futuristic look that sells the authentic narrative within a reasonably believable universe. And aside from a few leftovers from the Skinemax School of Acting, the main cast is quite good. The women, in particular, seem to have been cast more for their craft than their talent at sliding down a stripper pole. They also resemble reasonably real women rather than some nip-tucked Silicone Valley resident.
In fact, trimmed of some of its lengthier sexual encounters, Forbidden Science could air comfortably on the Sci-Fi Channel. While there is quite a bit of softcore sex on display (sex with androids, sex with clones, sex within virtual reality, and once in awhile even sex between actual humans), Brode has quite an ambitious vision for the show that extends far beyond sexual titillation. His scripts are heavy on theme, stressing the idea that a clone is just a copy of a human, not the dead brought back to life. He uses Julia to probe ideas of what it is that defines a human being. If we are not the accumulation of personal memory, then what are we? It remains to be seen whether the show will sate those who came for the sex rather than the story, or if late-night audiences will find Brode’s sincere attempt at clone existentialism to be their cup of tea. Or even their weekend six-pack.