A woman in a leather miniskirt and stilettos staggers down a darkened corridor and rings the buzzer beside a bolted door. The man inside interrupts his bare-chested boxing workout to let her in. “I’m busy,” he grumbles. “Please,” she pants through gritted teeth. Then she jumps him. They square off in a round of violent yet balletic sex. He hoists her off the ground and onto a counter; she retaliates by slamming him into a wall. He paws at her breasts while she claws at the tattoos on his back. Off comes her shirt, and he stealthily peels off her underwear. Soon they’re naked on the bed and she’s straddling him. They growl, groan and grunt like the Williams sisters at Wimbledon. As they arch together in one final thrust, the whites of her eyes turn solid black.
The woman is Anna Silk, star of the Toronto-produced Showcase fantasy series Lost Girl, and her scene partner is the absurdly chiselled Kris Holden-Ried, who plays her wolf-man lover Dyson. Silk’s character, Bo, is a succubus—a supernatural entity that feeds on sexual energy. In this sex scene—the kind of encounter that occurs in almost every episode—an injured Bo visits Dyson for some sexual healing (literally). Before the hour is out, Bo will also have knocked boots with her other love interest, the doctor Lauren (played by Zoie Palmer).
Since it premiered two years ago, Lost Girl has become an international hit. Its debut on Showcase was the most-watched Canadian drama in the channel’s history. It’s now broadcast in the U.K. and Australia, and has fan clubs in Brazil and Russia. Early last year, the NBC-owned Syfy network picked up the series in the U.S., where it dominated its 10 p.m. time slot, netting an audience of 1.5 million viewers—an impressive haul for basic cable. The show has ranked as one of the 10 most pirated TV series in the world, and when TiVo released a list of the programs people watch before bed, Lost Girl was the only scripted drama to crack the top 10.
These aren’t just casual viewers: Lost Girl is the kind of show that inspires obsessive, all-consuming fandom. Devotees have been known to live-tweet episodes scene by scene, then spend hours on message boards and fan fiction sites analyzing what they just saw. They swarm Silk and the rest of the cast at conventions like Comic-Con in San Diego and Fan Expo in Toronto, lining up for hours to get autographs from the cast—some 2,000 fans showed up to the Fan Expo panel discussion and signing last August. The show’s central love triangle—Bo, Dyson and Lauren—has sparked a divisive civil war within the fan community; competing factions rip each other apart online and post hundreds of videos on YouTube, cut together from various scenes that highlight their chosen pairing (often set to songs by Adele).
Lost Girl capitalizes on the contemporary sci-fi/fantasy formula established by Buffy the Vampire Slayer—hardcore heroine, elaborate mythology, monster of the week. Like Buffy, Bo solves mysteries, offs villains and throws out quippy rejoinders, all while doing high-kicks in skintight pants. Although the setting is never established, the show often uses Toronto streets—Queen West, Yorkville, Church Street—for its location shots. It takes place among the Fae, a secret supernatural society, equipped with its own rules and prickly political trappings. Like many cult hits, the series taps into the sweet spots of drama, fantasy, comedy, action and procedural, making for a crowd-pleasing genre mash-up.
Where Lost Girl sets itself apart is the sex, and not just the sheer quantity of it, though Silk fakes more onscreen copulation than any other TV actor not contractually bound to HBO. Rather, it’s the series’ overarching erotic ethos that makes it stand out, a general attitude toward sex that saturates every scene. There are plenty of graphic shows on TV right now—filled with writhing and moaning and creamy nudity—but they all tend to shame their female characters for having sex and condemn them for liking it. On Lena Dunham’s HBO show Girls, sex is an awkward, humiliating sacrifice the main character endures for the sake of having a boyfriend. When True Blood’s clean-scrubbed Sookie Stackhouse submits to the carnal advances of the vampires Bill or Eric, it signifies a loss of self-control and self-respect. Game of Thrones is in a whole other league of misogynistic degradation, in which almost every woman having sex is being violently raped, paid for her services, or both (in one scene, the teenage King Joffrey forces a prostitute to violate another with a sceptre). In 2013, television is a deceptively puritanical landscape—shored up by an equally judgmental cultural climate in which Rush Limbaugh calls contraception advocates “prostitutes” and U.S. congressmen tout the notion of “legitimate rape.”
Though Bo is the first bisexual lead character on mainstream television, her orientation is never mentioned on the show. She sleeps with whomever she wants, unrestricted by the shackles of monogamy. Moreover, she likes it (a lot, judging from her vociferous orgasms) and suffers no censure or slut shaming. The show lingers lecherously on the supple, sweaty bodies of its comely cast, but never attaches any moral value to the act itself. Lost Girl seamlessly unifies sex and sexual politics, delighting in the pleasure of the former and taking a stand on the latter. Somehow, a humble, medium-budget fantasy show from Toronto has become the most sexually progressive thing on TV.
Silk, who serves as an ambassador for the show’s sexual philosophy, has been catapulted into stardom. At 38, she’s older than most ingénue characters (“I got in just under the wire,” she says), but her age only makes her sexual confidence feel earned. She luxuriates in how much fun sex can be, exploring the character’s kinks and fetishes. On the Internet, she’s become a supreme lust object: YouTube videos of her sex scenes attract millions of hits, and the popular lesbian-centric website AfterEllen gives each episode a “boobs o’clock” rating based on the amount of cleavage Silk exposes.
The trend toward self-mythologizing on television has produced a spate of TV actors indistinguishable from their characters: Lena Dunham is a doppelganger of the neurotic Hannah on Girls, Zooey Deschanel is as dreamily dopey as Jess, her manic pixie dream girl counterpart on New Girl, and Mindy Kaling didn’t even bother changing her character’s name on The Mindy Project. It’s jarring, then, to be introduced to Anna Silk and discover that she’s the total opposite of her barracuda persona. When we first meet, in early November at a drafty studio in Etobicoke where the cast is shooting a pre-show to promote the upcoming third season, she’s disarmingly sweet. We’ve only had a couple of Skype dates at this point—Silk lives in L.A. when she’s not filming—but she sweeps me into a hug at first sight. Later, over dinner at Senses Bar in the Soho Metropolitan, she nestles conspiratorially close on the couch like we’re two teenagers at a sleepover.