Judge Bill Gibron wonders when other porn icons, like Hugh Jass and I.C. Wiener, will follow in the footsteps of Seymore Butts and star in their own sensational reality TV series.
Behind the Scenes of LA's other film industry
Adam Glasser is a very famous man. However, up until a few years ago, very few people outside the world of pornography knew this. Before the arrival of his hit reality series, most people wouldn't have known Mr. Glasser or the members of his close-knit kinfolk from a big fat hole in the ground. Now, from an aperture in the "come hither" hindquarters of Belladonna or Taylor Hayes…well, that's another story. You see, Adam is better known by the flesh film moniker "Seymore Butts" and his movies have specialized in some decidedly adult anal antics. He is one of the shining sphincter stars within the gratuitous gonzo realm of the hardcore. Yet Mr. Butts is much more than his rectal claims to fame. He's also a specialist in the rarified field of female ejaculation, an erotic art form that requires a certain level of manual manipulation skills to achieve its wet and wild results.
All of this has made Adam a very wealthy and world-renowned man. You wouldn't know it from the way he acts off camera: the dude is not happy. No, it seems that he is lost and lonely, longing to share his honest, spiritual love with a women who will accept him for what he is outside of the skin trade. Hoping to highlight his personal plight as well as to shine a little lewd lantern on the billion dollar porn business, documentarians Jay Blumenfield and Anthony Marsh decided to follow Adam/Seymore around as he worked, played, and searched for that special someone. Cable network Showtime, hungry for a reality series as part of a bandwagon approach to programming, bought the project and the rest, as they say, is hiney history. Family Business became a smash, and catapulted Adam and his Seymore showcases into instant superstardom.
Entering its third season, this sensational show continues to expand our knowledge of both the adult industry and the people who populate it. Thanks to the digital delights of DVD, Showtime now offers the first two seasons of this personal porn perspective in full series sets. And once you dive in, you learn something that hardcore porn fans have known for a while—Seymore is a slyly addictive filmmaker. But it's his relative-based dynamic that sends the series over into the land of completely addictive television.
Facts of the Case
Family Business revolves around a company founded by Adam Glasser, a porn performer, producer, and director who goes by the naughty name of "Seymore Butts." Using a gonzo style (unscripted, handheld camera, minimal cutting) and a "day in the life" approach to his titles, Adam/Seymore has become very popular—and very profitable. Hoping to guarantee that as much of his money stays in his own pocket as possible, Adam employs two of his close family members in the business. His mother, Lila, handles the bookkeeping. His cousin Stevie (first cousin on his father's side) handles operations and distribution. Rounding out the regular employees are Myrna, Adam's longtime assistant and secretary; and Bishop, a good friend who handles most of the technical facets of the productions.
On the home front, Adam is a single father. He has a son, Brady, from a relationship with porn star Taylor Hayes. He loves his child and dotes on him endlessly. Unfortunately, Adam has not been very lucky finding a long term, committed girlfriend. While he has nothing against women in the industry, he'd like to date someone outside pornography. Naturally, this has his mother's matchmaking radar going like gangbusters. Adam has tried everything—blind dates, Internet sites, even answering requests from fans via email, but nothing has worked. As we enter the Family Business series, things on the adult film front are excellent, but in his private life, Adam is disappointed and disillusioned. As the series begins, Seymore is still seeking Ms. Right.
As part of the two box-sets which comprise Season One and Two, Showtime gives us the following episodes:
• "Personal Ads"
• "Casa De Butts"
• "Sex Toys"
• "Strictly BiznASS"
• "Seymore's Other ASSets"
• "Las VegASS"
• "I Want to Be an Adult Film Star"
• "Roller Disco Boogie"
• "In SicknASS and In Health"
• "New ASSpirations"
• "Topless in Tampa"
• "The Breast Has Yet To Come"
• "ASS Good as It Gets"
• "Raising AwarenASS"
• "Chicago, IllinASS"
• "ASS the World Turns"
There are basically three different types of reality shows. Some, like Fear Factor, Survivor, and other competition-oriented series have a unique premise as part of their design. The people and the places are interchangeable, but the reason we tune in remains with the unusual idea at the foundation of the format. Then there are those examples of the genre that focus almost exclusively on characters and eccentrics. There usually is nothing else abnormal about the show except the people who populate it. Big Brother, Starting Over and MTV's Real World all thrive on the electric and eclectic dynamic that can be derived when individuals with wildly different personalities are forced to function together in a single unit setting. Finally, there is the crazy combo platter, a clear combination of premise and personality. Viva La Bam, Jackass, The Joe Schmoe Show, and The Apprentice play it both ways, relying on a basic idea (stunts, a fake reality showcase, the promise of a high powered job) as a means of letting us get to know a group of genuinely intriguing people. Certainly, all reality series trade on at least one, or maybe all of these concepts to win the ratings war. But when a series really understands its special situation, and amplifies it exceptionally for the audience, it actually transcends the basics to become a kind of classic.
Family Business is one such a sensational series. Using a totally distinctive idea (looking behind the scenes of the porn industry) and tying it to the close knit, idiosyncratic Glasser family, Showtime has stumbled upon one of the greatest real life lessons in not judging a book by its cover ever committed to videotape. Thanks to executive producers/filmmakers Jay Blumenfield and Anthony Marsh, we immediately understand that the only scum in the smut trade are those who actually treat it like a non-stop trim party. For the Glassers, pornography is work—professional, ethical, and detailed. Adam will not allow his product to be less than perfect, and his mother and cousin strive to meet him in flawless focus. Certainly, there are times when all three mess up, but what Family Business proves is that the adult industry requires a greater level of corporate competency than most commercial enterprises. The porn trade constantly shifts and changes. One day you're a star, the next you're dancing for dollars in a midwestern strip club. Adam/Seymore and his family unit must constantly battle corporeal obsolescence while looking for ways to market beyond the VHS/DVD marketplace, all the while battling laws and prejudice.
Of course, there will be a lot of people who gravitate toward this show because of four simple letters—P-O-R-N (or, if you prefer, S-M-U-T). Now, if you're the kind of carnal connoisseur that must witness every wanton moment of a sex scene, who must experience the pounding penetration and celebrate the seminal pop shot, then Family Business will disappoint your decadent desires. True, there is a great deal of nudity and implied pork butting in this show, but the closest it comes to XXX is in the showing of full frontal male and female nudity. Elements from Seymore's films that fans have come to appreciate—squirting, gaping, and anal sex—are verboten here. We only ever witness the aftermath of such hardcore histrionics, not the actual acts themselves. If you want to see some of Seymore's handiwork (and he does create some incredibly erotic and intense adult material), then you'll need to wander over to your local flesh-peddling emporium and plop down your dinero for one of his perverted productions.
But Family Business doesn't shy away from the ins and outs—business wise, that is—of the adult industry. Adam and his family literally walk us through such important issues as casting, production, promotion, and distribution. Apparently, Adam/Seymore is different than many porn impresarios. There is no casting couch as part of a Butts movie, no "put out or get out" mentality among the staff or talent. Indeed, Adam treats everyone with an almost unrealistic air of consideration and professionalism, as if butt sex and ass play are the last things on his mind. He runs a very loose and friendly set, never once raising his voice or degrading a performer if they are having trouble with a scene. He does have a standard group of people—a company, if you will—made up of his own contract players known as the Tushy Girls. He also relies on some of the more reliable male porn stars (Hershel Savage, Kurt Lockwood) in the industry to provide the penis. If it weren't for all the naked nookie going on, you'd swear you were watching an independent filmmaker preparing to make his latest homemade epic.
As fascinating as the behind the scene porn production aspects of the show can be, with their lube-based emergencies, money moment monotony and celebratory sense of accomplishment, it's the familial aspect of Family Business which is the most engaging. The Glassers are a genial, amiable lot, and they come across as personable and excruciatingly ethical in the course of the series. As if to emphasize the point, and have a little bit of fun at the family's expense, Blumenfield and Marsh never avoid an opportunity to have members of the mainstream public castigate and misjudge the clan. During the first season's dating scenes, Adam's potential paramours offer up enough scowls and screeds to get their grossly over-generalized point across. Even Lila faces a foolish dressing down when a new neighbor practically shuns her once she hears about the business she is in. While it definitely sets up an "us vs. them" dynamic for the show, Blumenfield and Marsh are smart to leave this material in. It causes us to pause and wonder how we would respond if faced with a similar situation. Hopefully, we wouldn't be as jaundiced and judgmental as the people pictured.
None of it really seems to bother the Glassers, however. Each one appears content in the career, and never once lets such outside interruptions affect their company or their kinship. Adam is offered up as the hedonist as hopeless romantic, a man looking for true love before he goes off to shoot people pile driving for pay. He is an exceptional father (his savant son Brady is a cute kid wonder, completely oblivious and sheltered from what Dad and his relatives do) and seems to enjoy the role of parenting more than making porn. Lila is a typical Yiddish mama, except with more street savvy and considered common sense. While she nudges her boychick with smothering mothering, she's smart enough to know when to back off and let nature take its course.
If there is a break out character among the respectable Glasser rabble, it's the dirty old man as pissed off curmudgeon known as Cousin Stevie. At 60, Steve is a maverick of maladjusted moments. He curses like a series of sailors, appears to hate the world with force equal to the amount of pleasure he gets from it, and always seems to screw up just when Adam and Lila need him most. Notorious for getting manicures and pedicures while clients are waiting at the airport, or indulging in a lap dance while Adam worries where he is, he's the depraved id of the Glasser family, the mischievous imp who pushes the privilege of working in the adult industry to its very limits.
Over the course of the two box sets discussed here, there are many magnificent and memorable moments. The highlights include Stevie's screw-up in forgetting his 25th wedding anniversary—and the fun filled follow-up as he tries to save the day in Sin City. Then there is Lila's sole blind date with a man who looks like a lounge lizard version of Jed Clampett. Adam's love life gets a couple of comical knocks as his many blind dates shamelessly mug for the camera with the mere mention of his career choice. And a camping trip is thwarted when Adam forgets to make a reservation (?).
Perhaps the most disturbing thing on these DVDs is not all the toy tooling and rectal gaping being discussed, nor is it porn legend Hershel Savage's (think Ron Jeremy without the girth or the goofiness) stand-up comedy stylings. No, Stevie has a friend named Sparrow whose pot-bellied biliousness is matched only by his horrible table manners. The man eats, and looks, like Porky Pig's depraved uncle. With Brady always tossing in a juicy juvenile bon mot, and Bishop bellyaching over his harried working conditions, this series centers on character more than its carnal circumstances, and it is the randy better for it.
If one looks at Family Business from a seasonal standpoint, it is easy to pick out certain overriding themes that appear and develop over the course of the series. The initial episodes center almost exclusively on Adam/Seymore's quest for a queen. By the end, his assistant Myrna is getting into porn, setting up situations to be explored in more detail the following season. The second series does indeed divide its attention between Myrna's desire to succeed in smut, while Adam/Seymore's growing business demands seem to spin out of control. We also follow the fame train, as the Glassers become far more popular in the public eye, fielding all kinds of offers. Eventually, Myrna's new adult alter ego—Mari Possa—becomes a star of sorts, and she suddenly begins fretting about her body and her breasts. Near the end, we see that old familiar green-eyed monster rearing its horrible head, as Adam grows more and more attached to his ex-assistant.
Part of the reason why Family Business is so potent is that it never allows any one story to dominate the narrative. Instead, it hops around like a bee gathering pollen, hoping to connect enough of the everyday and the erotic to produce some heady entertainment honey. And what a sweet, sweet show sensation it is. Not really a guilty pleasure—more like a truly defendable delight—Family Business is one of the best reality shows on television today. Thanks to Showtime, we get to experience the Glasser/Butts ballyhoo in all its complete and almost uncut glory.
From a technical standpoint, these DVDs are nearly flawless. Each season of the series is offered in a direct to digital, defect free 1.33:1 full screen image (which occasionally switches to a faux-widescreen 1.66:1 picture for the personal conversations with the cast). The use of handheld cameras is clean and never confusing, and there is even some unusual framing and compositional aspects to the direction. Some of Seymore's adult material is actually incorporated into the series, and you can always tell when it's present. It has a flat, gonzo style that looks good juxtaposed against the color-correct conceits of the series's presentation.
The audio is also amazing. Presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, there is a lot of separation and spatial ambiance to the series that the DVD captures brilliantly. The channels are not challenged as much as they are allowed to provide a home theater atmosphere where we believe we are right there during a shoot, or sitting in on one of the company's many meetings. With an excellent musical score (some of which is created by director Jay Blumenfield and his band Wonderstick) and a professional presentation of all dialogue and monologue material, both sets are exceptional tech packages.
From an extras ideal, however, one set clearly wins out. The Season Two box is meager, at best, when it comes to added content. The only element here is a series of what the labeling calls "Family Business Shorts." These little five- to seven-minute rapid-fire Q&As with the cast are kind of like a ridiculous version of the questionnaire that James Lipton uses on Inside the Actor's Studio. Sometimes, the answers are funny. Other times, the dull, derivative inquiries spark little fire or fun. If you're looking for a good selection of bonus material, hop on over to the Season One set. Here we are treated to seven featurettes and a commentary. That's right, the directors (not the family, sorry) show up during "Seymore's Other ASSets" to wax poetic, and prosaic, about all aspects of the series. They particularly love Cousin Stevie, believing he is the best "one note character" in television history. They have nothing but praise for Adam and the rest of the Family Business brood, and generally act like the luckiest men in the dimension of documentaries. While not an overwhelming or earth shattering experience, this alternative track is a nice added treat.
The rest of the supplemental snippets are equally engaging. More like leftovers and extended interviews than actual "featurettes," we get to hear more about Seymore's filmmaking technique, Lila's advice, and Stevie's swear word obsession. Perhaps the best bits are the few deleted scenes from the show. They provide an elongated glimpse of Stevie's lube journey lap dance, as well as his domination by a huge-titted dominatrix while in Las Vegas. There is also a music video for the theme song (made up only of clips), a look at the Butts offices, and a preview for Season Two. All this material acts like icing on the already delirious decadent dessert that is this DVD. It fills in many of the blanks left by Business quite nicely.
Maybe someday the adult industry will truly turn mainstream. Maybe the US will ditch its Puritan propensities and embrace the sex film as just a regular aspect of the respectable entertainment potpourri. If that day ever comes, if we eventually see hardcore film stars regularly crossing over into the so-called "straight" arena for big and small screen work, and interestingly enough, visa versa, Family Business and the Glassers will have gone a long way toward making this a reality. They prove time and time again that not all pornographers are puffy perverts looking to exploit their cast for their own disturbing and disgusting needs. What this amazing group of people show is that ethics are essential to be successful in any trade, and thanks to their principled approach, they have managed to make an honest living in a decidedly dishonest field. Not surprisingly, they actually begin to give pornography an air of relative respectability. If you can put aside your own sexual hang-ups for a moment and simple enjoy this series for what it is, you'll have an amazingly entertaining time. The Family Business first and second season box sets are some of the best TV on DVD ever. It proves that blood is always thicker than water, as well as some of the more profitable bodily fluids. Everyone should try and "Seymore" of Mr. Butts and his wonderful show.
In deference to the Supreme Court, the First Amendment, and Mr. Larry Flynt, Family Business is found not guilty and is free to go. Showtime is also released to keep churning out the fine Glasser-based product for all of us to enjoy.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Showtime Entertainment
• Commentary on One Episode by Directors Jay Blumenfield and Anthony Marsh
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