Directed by Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus, and also a passion project for actress Rashida Jones, the 2015 documentary Hot Girls Wanted was a stark, confronting look at the exploitative and predatory nature of the adult film industry. In its follow up, Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On, the trio reunite for a six-part series that focuses on the advent of technology and how it has affected the way in which we view and consume sexual media.
Where the original film drew back the curtain on an otherwise rudimentary operation – isn’t pornography simply about people enjoying themselves having sex? – and gave us a glimpse into how emotionally and physically taxing it can be, Turned On is a much more systematic affair. In addition to porn, the show focuses on cam modelling, social media apps and even follows the case of a young girl who was charged with filming her friend being raped and broadcasting on the popular website Periscope.
Turned On really is a top notch series. Its production values are striking and its stories bleak and engaging. The interview segments are candid and what I appreciated most was how the directors would rest long enough on peoples faces after they had finished talking, just so we could see if they had any misgivings about what they were doing.
My favourite episode was Take Me Private. It follows cam model Alice, who has been incredibly friendly with a man in Melbourne, Australia for four years. The two are basically in a relationship despite Alice being married which leads to her coming to Australia to spend some time with him. The episode is truly heartbreaking and in what is a common trend for the series, doesn’t aim to exploit people’s emotions but instead uses this story to inform and educate. This is Turned On’s most important role: letting its audience see first hand how virtual relationships aren’t synonymous with personal ones; that despite the swipe and click nature of dating and casual sex, one truth remains – we all still have hearts and are susceptible to pain. This is the core of Love me Tinder’s tale, which exposes how harmful dating apps can be.
It’s sad then that Turned On doesn’t always play by its own rules. I was really intrigued by the concept: technology and its impact on sex and dating. Straight out of the gate however, Jones, Bauer & Gradus make an loud statement about feminism in the porn industry via the opening episode Women on Top. Let me make one thing clear. There is nothing at all wrong with believing in something as empowering as women having control over their bodies and identities in an industry literally bursting at the seams with testosterone. It’s extremely important. My issue is that it doesn’t fit within the framework of the shows premise, rendering it completely out of place. There are several more moments throughout the series too where men are painted as villains and the problem is less about my views on gender equality and more about the producers trying to surreptitiously preach their agenda. It’s off-putting, only because it isn’t what the show is about and Turned On is a wonderful study when it isn’t trying to guilt trip you for being a man.
It has its other flaws. The final episode Don’t Stop Filming is quite bizarre. It fails miserably at trying to make us feel empathetic for a girl who streamed her friends rape. It has a valid point to make about how teenagers thrive on ‘likes’ and ‘followers’ sometimes blinding their better judgement but its execution is rushed and oddly handled. There are also some rehashed elements from the original film that we didn’t really need to see fleshed out anymore.
If this review comes off like I disliked Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On, then I implore you to look at it in a different light. I think I just wanted what I was told I was going to get – from its title, from its poster, from its synopsis. And for the most part I did, but occasionally it falters. Despite its out of place episodes and its not-so-hidden agenda, I really enjoyed Turned On. It’s difficult to watch, it’s uncomfortable but it’s riveting and oh-so-important. Above everything else though our female trio raise pertinent points about the current world we live in. We live life on the run, we crave acceptance and sometimes people get hurt or lose control of who they are and Turned On may be the first step in helping to navigate these treacherous waters.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On is available to watch on Netflix now.