7 Deadly Sins aims to cause discomfort. The exploration of the seven deadly sins is sure to take a dark turn, and Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me, 30 Days) is determined to find the darkest way to approach each one. A new Showtime miniseries that premieres Thursday, 7 Deadly Sins dedicates each of its episodes to a different sin, presented through a series of vignettes. It’s not a groundbreaking show, but it’s an interesting and skewed look at the grotesque.
If, like me, your biggest apprehension about 7 Deadly Sins concerns its very host/creator, have no worries — Morgan Spurlock is barely in the program, save for introducing and closing the episodes, plus a few bits in between. Once in a while, his voice can be heard during interview segments, often when he’s bewildered or particularly curious about someone’s tale, but the overwhelmingly hands-on, self-dramatizing approach Spurlock is known for isn’t doesn’t predominate here. Instead, Spurlock smartly lets the stories speak for themselves. It’s these strange vignettes that are the centerpiece of the show, which finds unique ways to connect to them to each deadly sin.
In the pilot episode, “Gluttony,” 7 Deadly Sins begins by introducing us to Dr. John Basso, the owner of Las Vegas’ Heart Attack Grill, a despicable and disturbing restaurant that prides itself on its unhealthy menu (one burger has 9,983 calories; two people have had heart attacks in the restaurant). He is unabashed about how fucked-up his business is, practically bragging about the heart attacks — “business is good,” he proudly proclaims — and reveling in being hated. We’re also supposed to hate him (we do), and we’re supposed to be fascinated with him (we are). Later, we also meet Nikki, a 700-plus-pound woman who wants to be the world’s fattest entertainer, and people who design large coffins for the “morbidly obese.” The point — particularly in Basso’s case — is to make the viewer uncomfortable with what’s being presented. The show often succeeds in that regard.
The next two episodes focus on envy and lust, and are equally weird. The vignettes range in quality, as they always do on programs with this structure, but most are an oddly fascinating look at something new: a “pretender” who self-identifies as disabled and often uses an unnecessary wheelchair, a minister who promotes prostitution, and a man who specializes in modeling dildos off of horses (and other animals). Most of the guests are dead serious about their craft in a way that makes it hard to point and gawk at them.
Of course, 7 Deadly Sins is a show that you’re supposed to gawk at — I wouldn’t be surprised if these vignettes spawned at least five different TLC programs — and as much a Spurlock says he doesn’t judge, there’s always the underlying “Look at this weirdo!” nudge. At times, it’s hard to tell what 7 Deadly Sins‘ true aim is: Is it an attempt to provide a judgment-free look at people we likely don’t encounter in our everyday lives or just another show that puts different people on display for our amusement? While the show was thoroughly entertaining throughout the three episodes sent out for review, it was also occasionally sad and uncomfortable to watch.
Even outside of the actual “characters,” 7 Deadly Sins has a few problems with style and tone. It has a light, Twilight Zone-type feel but is hyper-stylistic in a way that takes away from its substance. Spurlock wears a fancy suit, delights in gross images, and randomly hangs out in the middle of an orgy while narrating. It tries so hard to look visually cool — and just be cool in general — that it can feel a bit desperate. The episode’s subjects are often framed in lavish and dramatic ways that resemble an exhausting student film. The biggest issue is that too often the stories are far more interesting than the actual storytelling, so the show can feel dulled down. But for the most part, 7 Deadly Sins is more successful than Spurlock skeptics like me might have guessed, and a step up from the standard exhibitionist TLC fare of the same ilk.