• Hayley Squires as Jolene. (SBS)Source: SBS
Wry new drama ‘Adult Material’ is set in the porn industry. For adult star Jolene Dollar, there’s nowhere to hide when everything starts to fall apart.
By
Anthony Morris

1 Dec 2020 - 2:04 PM  UPDATED 17 Dec 2020 - 9:43 AM

Adult Material begins with porn star Jolene Dollar (Hayley Squires) faking an orgasm. Being a porn star, that’s hardly a shock. The surprise is the location: she’s going through a car wash, putting on a show for her social media fanbase. It’s the perfect introduction to this four-part series: surprising, authentic, and with a strain of humour that balances – and sometimes highlights – the bleak side of what a life in porn entails.

At 33, Dollar (real name Hayley Burrows) is a high-profile performer starting to move past her peak as far as the world of porn is concerned. And that particular world has changed a lot since she got her start: storylines and soft-core are out, pushing boundaries and shocking people is in. Burrows is experienced enough  (or thinks she is) to safely navigate the increasingly treacherous waters. But a casual on-set encounter with newcomer Amy (Siena Kelly), a young dancer who’s looking for a new source of income while she heals from a knee injury, leaves Burrows reeling.

(At this point we should say there’s a chance that the description of what happens to Amy will leave audiences reeling, too: making porn carries with it some serious occupational hazards.)

Amy’s fate isn’t the only work-related stress Burrows is facing. Dodgy porn producer (is there any other kind?) Carroll Quinn (Rupert Everett in a somewhat grim wig) is looking to get into business with US kingpin ‘Tom Pain’ (Julian Ovenden), a man notorious for videos with performers who are meant to be (and quite possibly are) underage. Just the mention of him throws Burrows into a spin, dredging up memories of an assault years ago that she can’t even admit to herself was rape. 

Adult Material starts out as a seemingly straightforward warts-and-all behind the scenes look at how porn is made. There’s not a lot of glamour here, and porn director Dave (Phil Daniels) isn’t exactly striving to make art, but there’s plenty of workplace comedy to be found in the details: Burrows using her time on the job (literally and figuratively) to calculate the household chores and errands she has to do later; an assistant shown discarding a fairly impressive number of used condoms. 

Through these early scenes Burrows isn’t being exploited in any traditional way. She’s a star performer, her workplace is full of friends and she knows how to navigate the scene, and call the shots. Already though, a darkness is creeping in around the edges. There’s a health and safety interview after the session with questions that the women clearly treat as matter-of-fact, but any job where you’re asked, “did you feel like you were raped during this shoot?” is going to leave some scars. 

This is a series that refuses to hand out easy answers. It starts out as a tale of female empowerment, twists to focus on the darker side of porn, and then keeps the twists coming to become something more nuanced than either take. Consent isn’t a clear-cut matter here: everyone acts like they know where the line is, but like any job, there are bosses that push and workers who want to keep their job.

When Burrows finishes for the day and heads out to pick up her kids from school, she leaves Amy with Dave, seemingly having settled the question of just how far Amy will go. Burrows isn’t responsible for what happens next, but she feels that she is, and her guilt soon brings a lot of other issues up with it – issues she’s increasingly ill-equipped to handle.

Even Burrows’ home life is more complex than it first seems. Working in porn definitely pays well: Burrows has the pink Audi and the kids in an expensive private school to prove it. And her partner Rich (Joe Dempsie) is clearly on board with her day job, working as her manager and helping her film a foot fetish video. But how much does he love her for her, and how much does he love her for what she does?

Jolene’s teenage daughter Phoebe (Alex Jarrett), the oldest of her three kids, seems fine with her mother’s career too – though with the internet being what it is, her peers know what her mother does for a living and aren’t shy about bringing it up. When Phoebe starts dating, she has the kind of questions only a mother can answer, but Burrows’ past puts easy responses out of reach.

The answers she ends up giving her daughter aren’t exactly out of a guide to good parenting; in a way, this smart, complex and often surprising series is about Burrows trying to figure out better ones. 

Adult Material airs with double eps on SBS VICELAND Tuesdays from 9:20PM. It is also now streaming at SBS On Demand.

 

Follow the author here: @morrbeat

 

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