Step Right Up to MTV's Incest Plot

For those who predict the coming collapse of Western civilization, there’s always MTV for proof. At this year's Television Critics Association summer tour in Hollywood, MTV put on a panel discussion for the press with the cast and creators of a forthcoming series called "Happyland." The female star of the show, actress Bianca Santos, announced the new MTV motto: “Incest is hot, and we’re going to have fun!”

Lisa de Moraes at the Deadline Hollywood website reported the pilot episode of this “soapy teen comedy" -- remember that: this is a show for teenagers -- this show "exploring the underbelly of a popular theme park” includes a clip of Santos making out with the amusement park’s “new hottie,” only to discover... he’s her brother. 

The assembled TV critics and reporters asked the obvious questions. “So, why the twist — why the brother and sister making out thing? How does that relate to the other things (in the show)?” And, “Without getting too heavily into spoilers, where does this go after she realizes it’s her brother?”

We all know the answer to number one. The incest “twist” is MTV digging ever deeper for their precious “edge” until they’ve dulled the shock of every perversion. The show’s creator, Ben Epstein, boosted the notion that this was like a fairy tale of the handsome prince sweeping a maiden off her feet, and he just adds the “MTV edge to it, and makes it all weird and crazy.” That’s when Santos blurted “Incest is hot, and we’re going to have fun!”

But, mercifully for the rest of us,for once,  the critics weren’t happy with this plot. “She kissed him and they are siblings. That does not sound complicated. That sounds horrifying,” one TV critic proclaimed.

“I understand you’re all trying to get off the incest thing,” another  TV critic noticed. “No, please, bring it back –  we haven’t had enough,” one of the actors (unnamed in the de Moraes report) shot back. The critic replied, “Look, I didn’t put it in the pilot,” noting the series is described as a comedy, but “I don’t think there’s a funny ‘Flowers In The Attic.’” (That’s a 1979 novel about teenaged siblings locked in an attic who fall into incest.)

At that point, the executive producers, well-known gay activists Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, tried to cast doubt on the “edge,” insisting that it’s possible these kissing characters might be brother and sister, and they might not.  “They basically kissed....nothing sexual happened,” Zadan argued.

But the show’s star Santos kept babbling joyously about the “holy crap” moment when the kissing-sibling plot is revealed.

In an interview after the session with The Hollywood Reporter, show creator Epstein kept trying to dig out of this MTV stunt. “Even though there is an incest component, I think the show is not about willing incest participants. How Lucy responds to this information, what she does with it, that's going to carry us into the next couple of episodes and into the series itself."

In other words, the shock of an "incest component" is cynically designed to hook viewers into the show. “The show is not about, 'I want you so bad, but society won't let us happen'...It's really about telling dramatic stories that are real and compelling and keep us invested in these characters...It's a great hook to bring you in, but you'll stay past that.”

It’s too bad that horrible plotting devices like this can’t just get rejected in the germinal stages at MTV headquarters before the show is made. But MTV will keep pushing social norms to the “edge” and beyond, until there is no “edge” left to exploit.