Features

How Black Monday's Nudity Is Turning a Premium Cable Trope On Its Head

Showtime's Wall Street comedy never makes nude women the butt of the joke. Men's butts, on the other hand…
  • Casey Wilson, Andrew Rannells and Tuc Watkins in Black Monday (Showtime)
    Casey Wilson, Andrew Rannells and Tuc Watkins in Black Monday (Showtime)

    Last year, when Jordan Cahan and David Caspe were first presenting their new Showtime comedy Black Monday to members of the Television Critics Association at its winter press tour, they stated that while their show would generally portray the realities of Wall Street office culture in 1987, there was one facet they'd leave out. "There will never be female nudity on this show," Cahan told critics (per Whitney Friedlander at Vulture). "Despite the fact that that was a huge piece of that world... we are a comedy and we don’t necessarily want to contribute to that."

    For viewers of premium cable, and much of what's considered "Prestige TV" these days, this is a bold statement of intent. For a time, it seemed like HBO wouldn't greenlight a drama unless at least one of its sets could be described as "bordello-adjacent": Deadwood, The Sopranos, Game Of Thrones. And any Emmy-begging show can quickly show how edgy it is — and differentiate itself from the prudish fare on broadcast TV — by unleashing some female nipples every once in a while. But much as Black Monday's creators felt it was important, at this point in history, "that every different type of person who's not just on the show but [also exists] in the world was in the writers’ room," according to Caspe (as quoted by Danielle Turchiano in Variety), they evidently also made the affirmative choice not to perpetuate systemic subjugation by objectifying female bodies in their work. Turns out that's something a creative person can just do!

    It would be perfectly laudable if Cahan and Caspe only pledged to keep their female characters' private parts offscreen and stuck to it — which, thus far, they have. But they're not just hiding boobs. They took a further step. They're showing dicks.

    And we didn't have to wait long (heh) for them to show up: the show came in hot right in the series premiere. Blair (Andrew Rannells) is trying to get a job with Mo (Don Cheadle) at the Jammer Group by proving his algorithm can double $50,000 before the close of trading for the day; he's so focused on his task that he doesn't notice one of the other finance bros in the group that has gathered behind him has taken his dick out of his pants and flopped it onto Blair's shoulder. As with so many hazing rituals in toxic male spaces, it's not entirely clear how this gesture confers more stereotypically demeaning "gayness" on the victim than it expresses confused sexual desire on the part of the perpetrator. Regardless, the purpose of this dick's appearance is humiliation and dominance by its owner on Blair.

    After spending the first season not quite figuring out why he wasn't connecting with his fiancée and, eventually, wife Tiffany (Casey Wilson), Blair has learned something about himself in Season 2: he's into guys! Or, at least, he's into one guy: Congressman Roger Harris (Tuc Watkins, Rannells's partner in real life). Whereas Tiff was a villain for most of the first season, using the privilege of her wealth to order him around and attack his self-esteem, their positions have flipped in Season 2, as Blair sabotaged an attempted reconciliation between Tiff and her estranged parents; having thus undercut her position, Blair was then able to convince her to downgrade their relationship from a marriage to a mutually beneficial but essentially loveless arrangement. Leaving aside the question of how long Tiff will participate in the sham, the Season 2 sexcapades have allowed dicks to return, first on a naked sidepiece she has to hustle out in the second episode before the housekeeper enters her and Blair's DC hotel suite to discover that Mr. and Mrs. Pfaff are each sleeping with a gentleman to whom they're not married.

    It's not until last night's episode, "Fore!," that one appreciates the thoughtfulness behind Cahan and Caspe's dick deployment. In the opening scene, Dawn (Regina Hall) has brought Wayne (Horatio Sanz) and Yassir (Yassir Lester, also credited as the episode's writer) to yell at them about an anonymous sexual harassment complaint regarding a photocopy of a penis — which the viewer sees, of course; this is why we pay for premium cable. Since Mo fled to Miami after the events of the Season 1 finale, Dawn (and, to a lesser extent, Blair) have remade The Jammer Group into an almost-all-female shop, and these sorts of unsolicited penis photographs — "There's got to be a punchier way to say that," Yassir muses — are no longer acceptable. If this dick is part of a hazing ritual, it isn't one that has majority buy-in anymore.

    Shortly after this exchange, Roger's wife Corky (June Diane Raphael) storms into the office in search of the little hussy, Blair, who's all over her husband's calendar, and who she assumes is a woman: "Rich, blonde, bunch of pretty roommates…." "That's Blair from Facts Of Life," Dawn corrects her, assuring Corky that her Blair is "all man — like Jo from Facts Of Life." As Corky lists all the places Roger and Blair have visited together — "Palm Springs, Provincetown, San Fran, Fire Island; they went to the Tonys together!" — Dawn puts together what Corky has not, and immediately starts doing damage control to protect bank deregulation, on which the House is set to vote that very evening. What we then cut to is a completely naked Blair astride Roger in the Pfaffs' half-renovated condo. Dawn calls to send Blair and Roger to the golf course, to confirm their cover story, and while the conversation Blair and Dawn have is very funny in what it presages about how unprepared he is to sell to Corky that he and Roger have been golfing like mad for weeks (he's all set to meet on the 51st hole), Blair and Roger's sexual relationship is not the joke.

    And it only gets more serious after Blair finds out that he's not the only man with whom Roger's been cheating on Corky. Roger doesn't get what the big deal is — he assumed Blair knew he was kind of a tramp — but Blair reveals that Roger is the first man he's ever slept with and that it meant something to him. Roger, moved by Blair's admission, says he didn't think Blair wanted a relationship, but he does too. He's even been carrying around Blair's "penis picture" — because the photocopy we saw at the start of the episode was, in fact, Blair's (and the "better way to say it" they land on is "dickture"). They agree to be exclusive (other than Roger's wife and whatever female secretaries he has to fool around with to keep up appearances), and it's this dick, and the part it played in the touching moment of vulnerability they shared, that made it happen.

    Back at the office, Wayne is in a rage — with some justification, we now know; although leaving a photocopy of his dick around is the kind of thing we would absolutely assume he'd do, this one actually isn't his. As he confronts his colleagues with the image and demands to know if each of them is the one who made the report, Yassir finally admits that it was he: "You're just so gross to all the women in the office all the time, and I saw that Xerox and it was the last straw!" Yassir goes on to lose some of his moral standing by going on to speechify about how their new female co-workers "are mothers, and they're daughters, and they're wives, and they're sisters." "We're also people," one comments. "Exactly!" Yassir agrees. "These people are men's mothers, and daughters, and sisters, and wives." Anyway, while this dick was entrapped, it did call back the one in the series premiere. And while we know whom it belongs to, in this context it's also a relic — a vestigial tail, if you will — of an office culture that has gone extinct. You can't just go around sexually harassing people at work! It's 1987!!! Finally, when Wayne fights back against the slander on his name by walking around the office to prove his innocence by comparing his dick to the one in the photocopy, it's neither ribald fun nor violent; it's just pathetic. Dicks are like that sometimes, too.

    Like the (apparently false) truism about a person's four other senses sharpening to compensate when one is lost, Cahan and Caspe's decision to blind themselves (and their viewers) to female nudity on Black Monday sharpened their consciousness about the meanings of male nudity: dicks are all over the show, and they signify in so many different ways. Exploring the symbolism of dicks is hard work, but after "Fore!," I trust that Caspe and Cahan have it well in hand.

    People are talking about Black Monday in our forums. Join the conversation.

    Writer, editor, and snack enthusiast Tara Ariano is the co-founder of Television Without Pity and Fametracker (RIP). She co-hosts the podcasts Extra Hot Great and Again With This (a compulsively detailed episode-by-episode breakdown of Beverly Hills, 90210), and has contributed to New York, the New York Times magazine, Vulture, Decider, Salon, and Slate, among many others. She lives in Austin.

    TOPICS: Black Monday, Showtime, Andrew Rannells, Casey Wilson, Don Cheadle, Regina Hall, Tuc Watkins, Nudity