Family Business

Seymore Butts may not have invented gonzo pornography, but he’s one of its most energetic purveyors. In a genre where bizarre behavior and fetishes are the norm, Seymore started with a sensational selling point: anal sex. He’s used his notoriety to cross over to other offerings, like female ejaculation and the ill-defined delights of “gaping.”

But that’s just his public persona, the consumable conceit of the Seymore Butts business model. In real life, Seymore is Adam Glasser, a 40-something single father running a thriving adult entertainment empire with the help of his older relatives. His mother Lila handles the financial end, while his cantankerous “cousin” Stevie handles distribution. Adam sort of fell into the industry when he was approached for the use of the gym he managed as a location for a porn film. After watching a few shoots, he realized that his was more than just a passing, prurient interest. He wanted to make adult films as well. Handheld camera at the ready, and a stable of gals — “the Tushy Girls” — at his beck and call, the newly named Seymore set off to make a name for himself in a business full of interchangeable entities.

What you learn from Showtime’s sensational reality show Family Business is that the family and the business are tightly knit. Even best friend Bishop helps out with the camera work and editing. If you’ve never seen one of Seymore’s films, you are missing out on some unusually intense pornography. While his day-in-the-life, first-person films conjure a home movie feel, they also offer glimpses of a porn producer’s world. Family Business only amplifies and clarifies these concepts.

During its run (the third season began 12 March), the series has developed several thematic arcs. Season one focused on Adam, the mild-mannered Jewish boy, juxtaposing his tremendous business sense with his personal shortcomings. The second season found Myrna, Adam’s assistant, begging to get into the business, a move that everyone in the company feels is foolish. She finally got her way, and a new Tushy Girl, Mari Possa, was born. Now, things have heated up between Mari and Seymore, who are making their own private movies in his boudoir. The revelation of this fact to Lila — who more or less predicted it — formed the basis for the season premiere.

The first two episodes have also showed Adam’s increasing anger. He’s obviously responding to the camera’s constant scrutiny (he now seems significantly less amiable when the lens catches his eye), but this seems odd, given that Adam’s made a living letting people into his so-called daily “routine.” Also, he states that his relationship with Myrna has made playing the fun-loving manchild a lot less inviting. On the business end, Adam also seems draw in a hundred different directions (thanks mostly to the fame generated by the TV show), which makes it even more difficult when he has to deal with his cousin’s increasing desire to make it big in the business. The tension between them is palpable, especially when Stevie begs Adam for advice on how to shore up his failing film ventures. Through it all, however, the Glassers rely on love and loyalty to see them through. Skin and sin aside, this is really a show centered on how kinship can overcome the most imposing problems.

While the series offers a few moments of non-XXX titillation (this is premium cable, not porn), it never paints the porn game as dirty or degrading. As Mari makes a name for herself and begins her rise to some manner of stardom, we see her hang out with other famous faces (Kaylani Lei, the celebrated squirting Flower) and slowly, we realize that this is a look at L.A.’s other film business. The difference is, instead of preparing for their next roles as action heroes or romantic leads, these ladies are tanning and toning for a session of double penetration, or a five on one gangbang.

Honestly, Family Business would be good TV even if it weren’t centered on pornography. When he’s not sullen or depressed, Adam is an engaging man, smart about staying alive in a cutthroat industry. If the show has one shortcoming, it’s that it never delves deeply enough into the actual mechanics of making a living in porn. Indeed, many of the behind-the-scenes documentaries featured on adult DVD titles do a better job of exploring the daily travails of an adult performer than this series does.

Still, unlike most reality shows that set up the audience with easily identifiable archetypes, Family Business develops characters. And if much of it must appall Red Staters, it doesn’t glamorize the adult industry. It portrays it as it really is: populated by interchangeable names and faces, each barely able to make his or her mark before another wannabe steps through the portal. Seymore and his ass antics are standard. Yet the involvement of this family in the day to day operations of his carnal company is an industry anomaly. The Glassers prove that behind the pop shots and superhuman positions are honest, hardworking people. Blood is thicker than almost anything else, even those more “profitable” bodily fluids.