Judge Adam Arseneau could use some sordidness in his life.
A black comedy about white trash!
Sordid Lives: The Series is certainly black, and it's definitely got white trash, but I'd dispute the "comedy" party. I can't remember a comedy as wholly unfunny as this.
Facts of the Case
Adapted from the cult play and movie of the same name, Sordid Lives: The Series centers on the eccentric and dysfunctional Ingram clan in rural small-town Texas as they struggle with their bizarre lives, full of Bible-thumping Baptists, chain-smoking bar trash, an institutionalized drag queen, Valium-popping parents, and everything in between! Add to the mix a struggling Hollywood actor coming to terms with his own sexuality, and you have a hysterical tragedy; a story of learning to be yourself and love the family you have—not the family you want.
Sordid Lives: The Series contains all twelve episodes of the series spread across three DVDs:
• "The Day Tammy Wynette Died—Part 1"
Sordid Lives: The Series is like what would happen if John Waters was asked to direct an episode of Hee Haw, except that I'd actually pay money to see that show. Created, written, and directed by Del Shores, Sordid Lives: The Series is rapidly becoming the eponymous work of Shores, who adapted this television series from his 2000 film of the same name, which he adapted from his stage play. The man clearly has a story to tell, and seems to want to tell it over and over again. After sitting through Sordid Lives: The Series, I'm not entirely sure why.
Based partly on Shores' own experiences growing up in rural Texas and coming to terms with his own sexuality, Sordid Lives: The Series is a perplexing blend of white trash caricatures, sexual innuendo, and mockery of religious and Southern values. Family dysfunction is the name of the game here, and everyone gets a turn—from the cross-dressing institutionalized uncle to the pill-popping mother, the Ingram clan is a raging mess. It's all in good fun, or so the DVD packaging assures me, but I never had much of it.
All the sordid family members and their trashy, furtive lives all intertwine and weave calamitous situation into catastrophic disaster. Affairs are conducted, drugs are sneaked, closets are come out of, mental institutions are broken out of, goats are murdered, murders are plotted, and a lot of uncomfortable situations emerge as a result. This is a show that revels in awkward comedy, pitting the trashiest of caricatures at play in a town ripe with Baptist Bible thumpers, rednecks, and clandestine fiends. Chaos ensues, but it's all rather predictable and watered-down, truth be told, like putting a can of paint in the middle of a room with screaming, destructive children with a sign affixed that says "DO NOT TOUCH." When you come back in the room and find paint everywhere, are you really surprised?
Herein lies the biggest problem with Sordid Lives: The Series: its utter predictability. Everyone is so over-the-top in every measurable aspect—the drug addicts are totally over-the-top, the religious folk are the crazy kind, and the closeted gays are the ones who have no one fooled. It's all a bit much. There's not much impact or punch to the humor, which seems to take pleasure in being "uncut and uncensored," using its freedom to drop the f-bomb everywhere it pleases for the sake of being crude.
There is talent at work here, like Olivia Newton-John, Leslie Jordan, and Caroline Rhea, but no one manages to elevate themselves beyond the most rudimentary of personality sketches or white trash stereotypes. One could argue that Jordan's portrayal of Brother Boy, the institutionalized cross-dresser uncle who lip syncs to a dead country starlet's hit records, is the best character of the show, if only for how over-the-top the character is. Really, it's just Leslie Jordan playing every character that Leslie Jordan plays in every other show, with lipstick and a wig. You've got to love the tiny man for what he dies, but he can't keep afloat an ensemble comedy with no likeable or amusing characters.
I hate to rag on a show that obviously has so much personal meaning for its creator, but Sordid Lives: The Series doesn't really bring any laughs to the table, or compelling stories, or likeable cast—just endlessly predictable debauchery and dysfunctionality. The packaging advertises it as a "Southern-fried soap," which is a pretty accurate depiction: crusty and greasy and saturated with all the worst clichés and innuendos. It's pretty bad.
In terms of technical specs, we received a promotional low-resolution DVD specifically created for screening purposes, so we can't set any expectations on how the retail version will look. Our copy looked worse than VHS tape, with a photo gallery, a premiere teaser, bloopers, deleted scene, and five Olivia Newton-John performances as extras.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Del Shores has found great cult affection in the gay and lesbian market with his various incarnations of Sordid Lives, and I can see the appeal here in the abstract. There's a lot of material here that many might find particularly parallel with their own experiences, a lot of angst and sexuality and struggling to find foothold in surreal small-town America. As a comedy, the show stinks out loud, but for those looking for some kind of simpatico, this series might be more palatable, because there's not much out on the market targeted to this genre.
Sordid Lives: The Series might strike a pleasing balance between raunchiness and smarmy charm if you are from the South and identify as LGBT, but others are going to struggle. Foul-mouthed, debauched, and embarrassingly stereotyped, this is a clumsy comedy with little laughs.
I suppose you'll either love it or hate it, but this court renders a guilty verdict.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• Deleted Scenes
Review content copyright © 2009 Adam Arseneau; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.