Sex. It’s not just for Showtime and HBO anymore. Not when the History Channel , of all places, can find a way to turn five hours of genitalia, breasts and copulation imagery/discussion into something both educational and reasonably enlightening.
Like the sex act itself, the five-pronged miniseries docu (airing nightly from Aug. 16-20 at 11 p.m. PT/10 p.m. ET) tends to be a little bit awkward at the start. Narrated with typically booming authority by Peter Coyote, “History of Sex” curiously travels in reverse order, beginning with the 20th century and working its way back to an overview of sex among ancient civilizations. Indeed, we learn here that — contrary to some revisionist doctrine — sex has been with us for centuries. Why, some believe it goes clear back to the dawn of time itself. Really.
Opening hour is a whirlwind of sexual notes, quotes and anecdotes, blending archival footage and stills with such talking heads as Playboy guru Hugh Hefner, former Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown, Dr. Ruth Westheimer and a laundry list of human sexuality authors and educators.
We learn a lot of cool stuff that drives home the point of just how lame and repressed the United States remained throughout most of this century — or at least until the birth control pill materialized. The moralistic movie code of the 1930s was so restrictive in matters of flesh and bodily functions that it banned even depictions of cows being milked.That first seg ultimately strains under the weight of trying to pack 100 eventful years into roughly 46 minutes, racing through the sexual revolution of the 1960s and ’70s with blinding speed that coats the proceedings with a layer of superficiality akin to a one-night stand.
Thankfully, “History of Sex” settles down and finds its groove in its second night, a fascinating examination of carnal quirks and extremes titled “From Don Juan to Queen Victoria.” Turns out the Marquis de Sade was not a nice guy.Doc moves seamlessly into third installment studying “The Middle Ages” and the way sexual beliefs evolved during the period.
Fourth hour on sex and spirituality in Eastern cultures, “The Eastern World,” lags, but finale canvassing “Ancient Civilizations” and the offbeat sexual views and practices throughout ancient Greece, Egypt and Rome closes things out with flair.
In the main, mini is painstakingly and energetically fashioned by director-executive producers Jim Milio, Mark Hufnail and Melissa Jo Peltier, bolstered by a lively style that never plays as gratuitous. Then again, how can you really miss with something called “The History of Sex”? It’s about as risky as the Food Network doing “The History of Chocolate.”