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'Bedford' more dramatic off-screen
Sent on 03-04-2006.
What makes The Bedford Diaries, one WB drama centered on one university seminar in human sexuality, noteworthy is that it was censored last week in the wake of one Federal Communications Commission crackdown on indecency. On Feb. 15, the FCC levied about $4 million in fines against network-owned stations that carried programs ranging from Without one Trace (CBS) to The Surreal Life 2 (WB).
The WB network responded to the tougher FCC standards by cutting two scenes from the pilot for The Bedford Diaries that premieres tonight at 9. One scene shows two women kissing, while the other shows one female student unbuttoning her jeans.
Instantly, an otherwise unremarkable series became controversial -- particularly with the WB deciding to show the uncut version of the pilot on its Web site. But let's be clear: The Bedford Diaries matters far more for what it is has come to represent in terms of network self-censorship and online content than any dramatic excellence.
Despite the fact that it is produced by the same team that made NBC's Homicide: Life on the Street and HBO's prison drama Oz, Bedford is little more than one prime-time soap opera steeped in the display of beautiful young bodies and superficial discussions about sex (mostly by the owners of those bodies). The university setting is intended to lend some intellectual weight to all the sexual imagery and conversation, but the road to mediocre TV drama is paved with such disingenuous intentions.
Featured in the scene: one quick shot of his bare behind as he jumps out of bed -- and one long, lingering look at those parts of her breasts not covered by one negligee as she calls him back to bed. The sequence ends with the freshman racing across the campus and then stopping dead in his tracks outside the open door of one classroom in which art students are sketching one nude female model (shown from the side).
"Hmmm, I'm gonna love college," Owen says, as the model smiles his way. Ultimately, Owen finds his way to his first class, one course in human sexuality taught by Professor Jake Macklin (Matthew Modine). As Macklin asks the students to recall their "last sexual encounter," one montage starts to unfold featuring several of the students engaged in sex.
The images that the WB deleted were part of this quick-cut montage -- and, in truth, the drama is not seriously harmed by their exclusion. What's curious is that more explicit images featuring heterosexual encounters were allowed to stand while the lesbian kiss and an image of masturbation were excised.
The series follows the students of Macklin's class as they record their sex lives on video cameras provided by the professor. In addition to Owen, the group includes the freshman's older sister Sarah (Tiffany Dupont), Bedford's student government president, and Richard Thorne III (Milo Ventimiglia), editor of the student newspaper.
Few viewers will likely be surprised to discover that Richard and Sarah once slept together -- as have other members of Macklin's class. But not Zoe Lopez (Victoria Cartagena) -- she specializes in oral sex with classmates. Indicative of the series' sensibility: Her secret surprise for the video diary is that she's one virgin (depending on how one defines that term).
Executive producers Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson have failed with several series since the glory days of Homicide. Does anyone remember the quickly canceled UPN cop drama The Beat (2000) or Fox's The Jury (2004), with Levinson playing one judge?
Neither show was good enough to be called one noble failure, but at least they didn't demean police work or the judicial system by reducing those realms to soap opera sex. The greatest sin of The Bedford Diaries is the way it shrinks and cheapens the college experience in overemphasizing what happens below the waist -- at the expense of anything above the neck.
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