Movies & TV

Penis Proliferation: What's Behind TV's New Fixation with HD Dicks?

From Euphoria to Pam and Tommy, Scenes From a Marriage to The White Lotus, the male member is showing up everywhere on the small screen, exposing something about its vulnerable owner in the process
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And just like that, penises started exploding all over television. Not literally – not yet, anyway – but the recent proliferation of penises in pop culture has been hard to avert your eyes from. This week's episode of Euphoria saw daemon daddy Cal (Eric Dane) show off his member to his less than enthusiastic teenage sons, the prosthetic penis used in the shot one that Dane insists he had "absolute control" over the selection of. Seems reasonable.

Long-serving fans of Euphoria likely didn't bat an eyelid at the phallic cameo: this is a series which in its second-ever episode featured a montage of some 30 penises in a locker room, a scene which caused a stir amongst parents and conservative news outlets. Still, it transpired the shock-heavy HBO series had in fact exercised some restraint: the scene was originally planned to include some 80 penises.

This could be read as an evening of the score for Euphoria, which has been criticized for gratuitous female nudity, especially in this season, but a penis making an appearance in a recent episode of the Sex and the City reboot And Just Like That? We couldn't help but wonder if the full-frontal and flaccid cameo was having a moment in television.

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While Sex and The City never shied away from the male member – Samantha (Kim Cattrall) dating a man with a huge penis, shortly after breaking up with someone for not having one that was large enough, being just one of the show's many phallic plot lines – showing footage of the item in question was about as likely as Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) leaving Steve (David Eigenberg) for a non-binary comedy podcast host. It is especially interesting that Charlotte (Kristin Davis), who was always painted as the sexual prude of the four women, was the one caught with the (prosthetic) penis in her hand, adding to the theme of these women as less in control of their perfect lives, more trying to manage the chaos which engulfs them each week.

Although male nudity has been featured in arthouse cinema, seeing a penis (prosthetic or not) in mainstream television still feels risqué, even amidst the extreme violence, sex and drug-taking that has become par for the course. This week sees the release of Pam and Tommy, featuring the penis of Tommy Lee (Sebastian Stan) as its own character. Voiced by Jason Mantzoukas, the talking head, if you will, in one scene has a heart-to-heart with Tommy to ascertain whether indeed he is falling in love with Pamela Anderson (Lily James). Stan has said he treated the conversation the same way he would with a "buddy falling in love", but the interesting part of the scene is that he is speaking to his penis as a separate entity, rather than being able to be emotionally honest and open with himself.

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The penis cameo, then, can tell us more about the vulnerability of the man it belongs to than the sexual prowess of the body part itself. Just look at two of the major penis cameos on TV from last year: Steve Zahn on The White Lotus ("somebody else wearing a prosthetic", in case you were wondering), and Oscar Isaac in Scenes from a Marriage (actor's own, breaking Twitter accordingly).

Photo by HBO.

Both of the characters they play are men at a crisis point in their marriages: feeling the turbulence of middle age and trying to find their way back to themselves. As a result, there is something sad and a little defenseless about their nakedness, as though it's more about being exposed than exposing something. This was true of Cal's breakdown on the most recent Euphoria episode, where he is only able to be honest about his sexuality by drunkenly taking his penis out to show his family who he really is.

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Subverting the idea of the penis as a power prop was also a theme in season two of Succession, in which Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin) sent an errant dick pic to his father Logan (Brian Cox. No, really). The phone display penis pic which we were treated to was almost as haunting as Roman's face at realizing who he sent it to, a reaction which has since been immortalized as internet shorthand for total mortification.

On a show about who gets to wield power, Roman's illicit message quickly went from a turn-on to a major boner killer, leaving him exposed as he was sat down and told off by his dad. As the sad naked guys of TV will tell you, dick-swinging just ain't what it used to be.

FromEsquire UK

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Olivia Ovenden
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