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A Brief Survey of Male Nudity in Television

CollegeHumor had a “boner” to pick earlier this week. A few funny ladies got together to discuss the lack of male nudity on television. In the short HBO Should Show Dongs, which we spotted on The Mary Sue, women argue for genital equality: “For every topless background extra, every actress that bears her bouncies but doesn’t even get a line, every minute we have to sit through this dumb double standard, you owe us an inch of grade-A man meat.” It’s funny, because it’s true.

We’re currently experiencing an exciting shift in television, with shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men changing public opinion about the boob tube and pushing the boundaries of small-screen storytelling. Are the standards for nudity changing along with it?

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Oz

Almost every character on HBO’s drama about men in an experimental unit of a maximum-security prison has bared all for the camera (full-frontal included) — and for a series that started in 1997, that much male nudity was a pretty big deal. But it didn’t happen without a struggle. In an interview with stars Christopher Meloni and Lee Tergesen, the actors recalled an episode in which one of the directors became uncomfortable with a scene of male-on-male affection and kept cutting it short. After the director made an antagonistic remark, Tergesen stepped in. “Lee goes, ‘Look, just because you’re uncomfortable with the sexuality going on here doesn’t mean you have to rain on our fucking parade,'” Meloni related.

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Spartacus

Shot like a softcore porn flick, Spartacus’ over-the-top style didn’t skimp on the gore, violence, and full-frontal nudity — men included. “There’s nudity and sex, because it deals in a fully grown-up way with that debauched and immoral world,” star John Hannah said in a 2010 interview. “When these kinds of people want things, they kill people and they fuck them. In metaphorical and literal ways.” We’d question any series about Roman gladiators if it didn’t have an absurd amount of beefcake.

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Game of Thrones

Sure, HBO’s Game of Thrones features graphic sex scenes and nudity galore, but the series is still a sausagefest without enough sausage. The women top the men in terms of nudity, and although we’ve witnessed a few scenes of naked boy-on-boy action and the prerequisite (boring) sculptural male buttocks (usually standing in front of a fully nude woman), the scales are tipped unfairly.

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True Blood

We’ve seen a whole lot of ass and abs on HBO’s True Blood, including characters who don’t necessarily have the hunky sex appeal of stars like Joe Manganiello. And it makes sense for the show’s characters, since most are inhuman beings that shapeshift into creature form. “Somebody’s gotta do it. Am I afraid of being typecast? I could care less,” Manganiello said of going nude. “It’s not like those other werewolf projects, where you magically reappear with tiny jean shorts on.” As much as we appreciate the added bit of “realism” in a fantasy series, we’re inclined to say that the number of nude men featured in romantic or sexual situations still pales in comparison to the women.

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Shameless

The gritty and explicit Shameless, about a dysfunctional family living in Chicago’s South Side, would seem off-kilter without nudity. Stars Justin Chatwin, Steve Howey, Jeremy Allen White, and yes, even William H. Macy have offered a glimpse of their bare bodies, but does the amount of male flesh help Shameless live up to its name, or is the onus still on the women?

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Queer as Folk

Showtime’s Queer as Folk courted controversy for its frank portrayal of same-sex relationships and hot-button storylines. The series was groundbreaking, not only because it dared to show raunchy and passionate sex between two men, but because it also aimed to portray realistic relationships and intimacy beyond the bumping and grinding. When you break down the nude scenes, the more daring shots belong to minor characters, which is a little disappointing. Star Randy Harrison lamely defended the lack of full-frontal:

“The thing about male nudity and Queer As Folk is that practically the entire time the characters are naked, they are in sexual situations. Therefore, it would be impossible to use full frontal nudity, because it would be erections, which would be pornography. You will see penis if you watch the show enough. I’m not promising mine.”

Are you buying it? Also, TV execs, take note: Queer as Folk had a huge female audience, because women really enjoy seeing naked men. (Well, there were other reasons.)

vincent piazza shirtless boardwalk empire

Boardwalk Empire

Thank you, Boardwalk Empire, for showing Bobby Cannavale and Vincent Piazza fully nude (the shadowy profile of Billy Magnussen’s penis doesn’t really count) for more than a split second, but do you think somewhere between the gratuitous jazz-baby boobs and Paz de la Huerta being Paz de la Huerta you could step up your game? That booze-fueled syphilis didn’t happen on its own.

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Deadwood

Geez Deadwood, you really lived up to your name. We can forgive you, though, since you graced us with this naked Nick Offerman cameo.

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The Wire

Frankly, we expected to see more of James Ransone’s junk, especially after his flesh-friendly role in Larry Clark’s Ken Park (a troubled character we’d like to forget).

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Rome

When most Americans think of ancient Rome, they think of hedonism, debauchery, violence, politics, and greed. The series Rome delivered all of the above, with a helping of full-frontal male nudes — but the series does make us wonder if television can ever find the happy medium between sweaty gladiator peen, supernatural peen, and crazypants character in a drama peen.

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