The French dramedy places the instant gratification of over-the-top, in-and-out, male-driven porn under the microscope, without letting women off the hook.
By
Jeremy Cassar

7 Jun 2016 - 12:12 PM  UPDATED 13 Jun 2016 - 9:33 AM

Hard series 3 is on SBS On Demand and it’s an undiscovered gem.

If anyone was going to make a genuinely funny (and sometimes touching) show that enters the world of porn without coming across remotely sleazy, it’s a French woman. Created and produced by Cathy Verney, this dramedy can claim between-season breaks that make the notoriously slow-releasing The Sopranos look like a telenovela.

The six-episode first season ran in Europe back in 2008. The second aired in 2011 and ran for 12 episodes. The third, also running for 12 eps, aired in 2015 in its homeland.

Click here for a catch up on the first two seasons and read ahead to find out exactly how Hard rips into modern patriarchal porn while still managing to find cracks in the female gaze.

 

Hard is not how it sounds, nor how it’s marketed

If one were to take Hard’s DVD covers or opening credits on face value - all neon pinks and orgasmic sounds - one would mistakenly assume that it was a sleazy mid-90s adult soap opera with an ageing Judd Nelson. Which couldn’t be further from the truth.

What it is really is a show borne from the Showtime school of half-hour dramedies. It’s Weeds without the relentless, distancing irony or fear of being emotionally earnest. It’s brutally cynical one minute then idealistic or passionate the next, and each episode zips along with a whiff of French farce.  

 

It criticises porn, but not in a way that’s explicit or heavy going

If you’re looking for the warts-and-all reality of modern porn, that’s not what you’ll get here. It’s fairly established that violence, drugs and manipulation/coercion/intimidation fuel a large arm of the industry of today. As showrunner, Verney flags Soph-X as an anomaly in today’s world – a tight-knit community of talent and crew that never “do gonzo” or “trash”.

They might be servicing male instant gratification and catering as best they can to modern tastes. But thanks to their former boss, Sophie’s late husband, they've followed an open, judgement-free, express-your-signature-sexuality policy. Yes, they can discuss the confronting details of all things coitus as if talking through a grocery list, but they’re not enslaving young girls with meth and coercing them into violent, humiliating, and disturbed sex.

 

They’re more likely to sing and start a conga-line at the sight of an old colleague

Initially, Sophie still views it all as deplorable and disgusting, but it’s not the seamy and disturbing world of Internet porn. It’s an old-school Boogie Nights-type crew who are still (yet barely) running today.

I understand why Verney chose this kind of lens. She’s more interested in what desire and fantasy (and love) means to the modern woman vs the modern man, questions just as easily explored through a more accessible (yet still believable and on-point) story-world.

 

Hard and the modern man

As the show progresses, Sophie shed layers of idealism. Before she even thinks to concentrate on female desire, she hopes that injecting story and anticipation and believability into porn will appeal to males and females alike.

But Sophie’s surrounded by those who’ve seen it all; who’ve worked in the patriarchal machine for a long time. They claim to accept and understand male primal urges for what they are, but is that merely what’s been fed to them over the decades?

 

Hard and the modern woman

As Soph-X steers business towards the female customer-base, she is forced to face the broad spectrum of female fantasy - from women who don’t share her romanticised (and often conservative) view of relationships and sex, to women whose deplorable psychological/emotional fantasies make the ol’ boring, grunting in-and-out seem positively holy by comparison.

Yet, while some part of her has realised contradictions in her outlook, she hasn’t yet let go of the idea that female fantasy is noble. 

A contradiction that’s seen in her treatment of Roy the Rod. Initially, Sophie will only consider a relationship if he’s not a porn star. Then when she gets what she wants, she realises it was the qualities that came with being a universally liked porn star - the bravado, the raw sexuality, the energy for being alive and in a body - with which she fell in love.

 

Prudes and non-prudes alike, lend me your pants

Your experience of Hard, will to some extent depend on how aligned you feel with Sophie’s view of the world. If you think pornography in any incarnation is deplorable, then some of the content may shock. If you think pornography is fine but not for you, you'll probably laugh at Sophie as much as with her.

And if you’re an avid porn watcher (and one whose idea of watching Hard is NOT skipping between hints of T&A), most of the nudity and sex is tame and comical.

When highlighted the significant moments from season one and two, only one or two contained sex. After submitting that piece I wondered whether it mattered that none of the pictures were remotely suggestive.

If the subject matter doesn’t appeal, and you can handle the language, don’t let it dissuade you - this is a fun series, far more universal than the world in which it’s set, even if subtitled.

 

The entire third series of Hard is available on SBS On Demand

 

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