Review

Couples therapy in 'Sex Box' may be indecorous but it's tame

Robert Lloyd
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Television Critic
Couples go off to the 'Sex Box' and return for counseling. A review of WE tv's new show

"Sex Box" is not the next Prince album but rather a new reality show premiering Friday on WE tv. Its design is heavy on the color purple, though.

"For the very first time on television, couples will have sex in this box," says host Chris Donaghue, a "cutting-edge sex therapist and controversial voice in the study of relationships in the 21st century." His statement is only technically true, because the show is a remake of a short-lived British series.

But this is, it's true, a different box.

The couples are in various sorts of romantic distress. The "scientific" premise of the show is that, right after sex, with the brain flooded with postcoital chemicals, people "feel the most open and vulnerable and honest." It is therefore a good time to talk to a therapist for a few minutes, in front of a studio audience, on national television.

Joining Donaghue — who runs the show and of the hosts has the broadest view of what constitutes sexual normality — are Fran Walfish, "relationship psychotherapist to the rich and famous, published author, and keeper of Hollywood's bedroom secrets," and Yvonne Capehart, "a renowned pastor and spiritual adviser to couples in spiritual crisis." All the bases are covered.

Each couple is introduced with a brief pre-taped segment showing them in their natural environment. After some onstage inquiry and snap analysis by the doctors, Donaghue will ask, "Are you ready to go into the sex box?," words that should be sung only through a Vocoder, by Zapp's Roger Troutman (R.I.P.).

The couples — all are ready, it turns out — then repair to the box, which sits elevated imposingly upstage at a three-quarter angle, like a kind of futuristic temple. "Doctor Who" fans may be reminded of the Pandorica, without the fancy locks.

Although the participants enter in their street clothes and emerge in silk pajamas, there is no way for the viewer to know what actually is going on in there. They may be playing cards or getting their stories straight.

Or they may in fact be following doctor's orders. In any case, it puts a new spin on the old TV concept of the isolation booth.

In the episode offered for review, each couple spends about half an hour in the box, which for the home viewer is cut to the length of a few good yawns. As to the studio audience waiting these sessions out, perhaps they're shown reruns of "Will & Grace" or "Braxton Family Values," which also air on WE, or given milk and cookies. Perhaps they play charades.

As for the "live sex," you get no real sense of it, during or afterward. The show is at once overstated and tame.

Nothing will be said here that hasn't been said on television before, to or by Dr. Drew or Dr. Ruth or, in a dirtier way, to Jerry Springer. Less will be shown than on "Big Brother," countless dating shows or any random hour of MTV.

Indeed, younger viewers may be surprised to learn that sex therapy is also available off the air, just as older ones might automatically dismiss this televised experiment in ratings improvement as phony, gross and undignified.

But change comes in many ways. You might be that person who needs Gordon Ramsay to come in and tear you down psychologically to make your restaurant a success.

It's not impossible that a couple's life could be improved by going onto a television show to talk a little, have sex in a box and talk a little more. And they do keep their dignity, these subjects, these humans, even in their pajamas, amid all that purple.

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'Sex Box'

Where: WE

When: 10 p.m. Friday

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)

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