September 18, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Satisfaction”


No, honestly:  what the hell was that?

All snark aside, it was admirable and really long past due for USA Network to try to get out of the “characters welcome,” franchise-centric box it had put itself into.  When people start using the phrase “well, it was sort of like a USA show” as disparagement, your programming strategy has gone past branding into self-parody.  SATISFACTION wasn’t like any other show on USA, and in the abstract, that was a good thing.  The problem was, it was just about the only good thing about Sean Jablonski’s misshapen series.

Satisfaction was set in the suburbia of American Beauty, with the same facade of material success barely hiding spiritual malaise.  But it was fatally bland, with none of the wit of Alan Ball’s Beauty script or the style of Sam Mendes’s direction.  Instead, it gave us Neil Truman (Matt Passmore), his wife Grace (Stephanie Szostak), their teenage daughter Anika (Michelle DeShon), and their endlessly symbolic swimming pool.  (It ran empty in tonight’s season finale, which probably wasn’t meant to reflect Jablonski’s lack of workable ideas, but could have.)  In the pilot, Neil had a meltdown aboard a passenger jet that somehow resulted in his getting an even bigger and better-paying job at his investment company, and he walked in on Grace having sex with male prostitute Simon (Blair Redford), which led Neil not to confront his wife (who didn’t know he’d witnessed them), but rather take on Simon’s identity and have his own anonymous sex as an escort.

All of which could have been material for a sophisticated satiric farce, even if Hung sort of got there first.  But Satisfaction was after something deeper and much less coherent.  Neil barely indulged himself in his new escort life, which introduced him to manipulative madam Adriana (Katherine LaNasa, far and away the most entertaining part of the show), instead visiting the kind of witty Asian mystic who only exists in American pop fiction.  Then he had the brainstorm of inventing an app to reveal what would make the user happy, which in the finale was sold to investors–cliched Asians, it need hardly be said–as a dating app.  Meanwhile, Grace finally explored the design career she’d wanted to have back in college, flirted with a hunky photographer (who ended up with her sister), and found out toward the end of the season that her escort Simon was actually wildly in love with her.  This may have been meant to mirror Adriana’s unclear but powerful feelings about Neil–she started a weird sort of friendship with Grace, not telling her any of the truth about her husband’s secret life–but first it would have had to make some kind of sense.  Anika, for her part, appeared to quit school and decide to become a balladeer with the new love of her life, who at first seemed to be an itinerant singer, but was actually the (more or less) prosperous son of husband-and-wife psychologists.

Any hope that the season finale, written by Jablonski and Peter McManus and directed by Michael Smith, would provide a key to what had been going on was about as likely to be rewarded as the search for clear explanations from a Damon Lindelof project.  Adriana turned out to be married to a sailor who took long journeys away from home (played by Henry Czerny, of Revenge).  Simon revealed himself to be the son of a billionaire family, schlepping around multi-million dollar paintings he’d stolen from the family manse so he could cash them in and run away with Grace.  She, meanwhile, won a preposterous grant to study design in Italy (granted to her by her college professor from 20 years earlier), and she and Neil decided to go off together.  But first they had to stand in their empty swimming pool, unaware that the husband of one of Neil’s sex clients was about to stalk them with a gun.

So… yeah.  Satisfaction tried to push the basic cable sex envelope, but there was nothing erotic about it (and even risque USA is tame next to FX or AMC, let alone the pay networks).  It brought up profound issues about happiness and longterm marriage, but had nothing at all to say about them.  It was neither funny or compelling, except in the sense of wondering just what its makers might do next.  While none of this was the actors’ faults, they also didn’t help, bringing little presence to their ill-defined roles.  (“Characters Unwelcome” came to mind.)  It was virtually a meta comment on the inability of its viewers to feel anything like what its title promised.

Satisfaction‘s ratings were lousy, but so are the ratings for just about everything on USA these days, Suits and pro wrestling aside.  So although it wouldn’t seem to have much of a future, it’s not necessarily dead.  If the series somehow comes back, perhaps it will figure out some conclusions about what its identity is supposed to be, other than “not-USA”.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."