A mellow single dad with a curly, graying mop of hair and goatee, Adam Glasser is seemingly your average New York Jew transplanted to L.A. He runs a booming business with his mom and cousin, but always makes time for his young son, Brady. Heartwarming, right? Except there's "just one more thing," as Glasser says in the intro to Family Business, the reality series now in its second season. "My business is entertaining adults!" In the porn world, Glasser is famous as Seymore Butts, a gonzo hardcore filmmaker-actor who specializes in all things anal, with a nice sideline in female ejaculation.
Family Business inevitably recalls The Osbournes, and not just because they're both about close-knit clans with exotic day jobs. MTV's lighthearted series effectively stripped Ozzy of all his bat-biting rock star danger, revealing instead a sentimental fool who takes out the garbage and fumbles with the remote control. Likewise, Family Business literally domesticates a world beyond the pale for most Americans, self-consciously overturning our images of the porn world. Instead of seamy back rooms, we see Adam's actors cavorting in sun-drenched beach houses. The money shots alternate with cute subplots, like the time Adam helped throw a surprise wedding renewal ceremony for his cranky cousin Stevie.
The ploy works, mostly because Adam is such a charming, articulate character. A little style makeover from the Queer Eye guys and he'd be a perfect catch. Just ask his mom, Lila, who's constantly nagging him to find a girlfriend. Adam's lack of a love life is one of the show's ironic running themes. Whenever he dates someone outside the industry, Adam struggles awkwardly to explain his work. He's forced to feed one particularly clueless woman numerous clues to his proclivities, as if the two of them were contestants on Password: "Butts. Tushy." When she still doesn't get it, he cringes, then offers: " . . . and Gomorrah." Her eyes open wide: "Oh!" But then the self-proclaimed "king of all butts" isn't exactly a pro when it comes to old-fashioned romance. Later he asks the same date if her boobs are fake. Stealing a line from an old Seinfeld episode, she gets the last laugh: "They're spectacular and they're real."
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Family Business rubs the sleazy up against the wholesome every chance it gets, highlighting the incongruity between what the Glasser family does for a living and how mundane their "real lives" are. Lila is the linchpin of this whole shtick: She's the outspoken but homey Jewish mother, straight out of central casting. Sure, she works as the bookkeeper for the Butts empire, but claims she never watches Assgasm or any of her son's other movies. We, on the other hand, get plenty of titillating glimpses into Adam's directorial style. He's usually lying on the floor with a handheld camera, inches from whatever pulsating organ is on parade.
Unfortunately, the show sometimes plays it too cute, rarely daring to veer into darker territory. An exception is the episode from season one (now available on a bumper DVD) in which Lila asks Adam to dissuade the daughter of a close friend from getting into the business. He takes her to the most skanky and unglamorously low-budget shoot he can find and enlists colleagues to implant doubts in her mind. As entertaining as the series is, I'd love to see them probing the murkier regions of Adam's industry and his psyche, the space where Glasser ends and Butts begins.
Family Business suggests that it's easy to compartmentalize one's life, separating how we put bread on the table from our roles as loving parents and neighbors. Tell that to Tony Soprano. Judging by the riveting first four episodes of The Sopranos' new season, the unresolved gap between Tony Soprano's heartless profession and heartwarming love for his family is causing him major grief. As long as Tony had Carmela, we could muster some affection for him. She served as a silent moral compass, struggling with her complicity in Tony's ill-gotten gains even as she swanned around her mansion. At the end of last season, Carmela finally threw Tony out, but not because he kills people for a living. She just couldn't bear the grinding loneliness and sexual betrayal anymore.
Melancholy and isolation permeate the new season, as if the very groundwater has been poisoned. Carmela presides over an empty nest, while Tony tries to make the best of his new "freedom," gathering a couple of childhood pals in his bachelor pad (otherwise known as his creepy dead mother's house). But as Carmela acidly points out to Tony, all of his so-called pals are just flunkies, too terrified of him to be real friends. In one amazing, dreamlike sequence, he looks out at his minions and sees them all laughing obsequiously at his not so funny jokeall but Feech LaManna (Robert Loggia), a vicious mobster who has just been released from prison. Much as he might secretly appreciate Feech's refusal to kiss ass, Tony's vulnerable position doesn't allow for that kind of defiance.
Without Carmela, Tony has no one who lets him be himself. And so he haunts his old house like a portly ghost, watching out for bears that have started to trespass in the backyard. And he returns with a romantic proposition to the other woman in his life who seemingly allowed him to say his piece without judgment: Dr. Melfi. "Forget the way Tony Soprano makes his way in the world," he tells her. "That's to feed his children. There's two Tony Sopranos. . . . You've never seen that other one. . . . That's the one I want to show you." Her rejection forces him to ponder the rift between these two Tonys, between what he does for a living and the delusions that he maintains in order to live with it. This is the crux of the series, an ever expanding black hole into which The Sopranos remorselessly, deliciously pulls us.
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