Cheeky in the extreme — and “extreme” is the operative word — Morgan Spurlock’s “7 Deadly Sins” takes Showtime into TLC territory, albeit operating with a bit more style and latitude. Serving as host from what looks like the old “Night Gallery” set, Spurlock guides viewers through out-there examples of each vice, from gluttony to lust, envy to wrath. With a trio of vignettes in each half-hour, the show is fast-paced, fun and voyeuristic: the pay-cable equivalent of empty calories, while mirroring what’s become a pretty saturated basic-cable subgenre.
Sporting a funereal black suit, Spurlock introduces each story, and frequently cites historical examples of the various sins. The taped pieces then focus on individual cases that demonstrate different forms of unorthodox or fetishistic behavior: A 700-pound woman whose work revolves around her weight, and the man who desires her; men who like dressing up in rubberized suits that approximate a woman’s body, and the company that sells them; an honest-to-God fight club; and a man who markets dildos modeled after, among other things, horses and dogs. (It is, we’re told, a lot safer for all concerned than actual bestiality.)
Spurlock and his collaborators (he created the show with Jeremy Chilnick) have a good eye for the absurd, and for presenting what amount to carnival-sideshow acts without engaging in excessive smirking. In that regard, this is a more intellectually provocative exercise than something like “Gigolos” and the other unscripted Showtime fare that occupy similar latenight environs.
That said, “Sins” is also such well-trod territory that TLC has already devoted an entire show to young men who harbor a sexual yen for elderly women (“Extreme Cougar Wives” for those keeping score at home), a thread that finds its way into the “Lust” episode.
“You like what you like because your brain is hard-wired that way,” the guy explains.
Four sins were screened (greed, sloth and pride remain), and the producers were wise to limit each to a half-hour, given the somewhat flimsy nature of the material.
Mostly, the series reflects Spurlock’s slightly tweaked curiosity, which has led him into a form of participatory journalism that easily expanded beyond longform documentary into the episodic TV realm — although mercifully, the hand’s-on approach he usually favors doesn’t figure into this.
“Who am I to judge?” Spurlock asks in closing a couple of the episodes.
But of course, it’s human nature to do just that, as well as to gawk. And inasmuch as the collective hunger to visit the outer regions of behavior borders on gluttony, it’s hard to be wrathful about “Seven Deadly Sins” lustily joining in the lucrative business of feeding those appetites.