Netflix, once seen as the purveyor of so-called prestige TV shows like “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black” has lately gotten into the business of the sort of trashy programming that was once relegated to the wilds of cable and odd hours of broadcast. One might think, with its billion-dollar budgets and global reach, that the streaming service could be more discerning as it attempts to outdo its competitors. But Netflix’s latest series, “Sexy Beasts,” commits a crime worse than bad taste: It’s boring.
Netflix has lately gotten into the business of the sort of trashy programming that was once relegated to the wilds of cable.
Until recently, reality television has been the last bastion of broadcast, the saving grace of over-the-air networks as viewers move en masse to on demand. Viewership of broadcast TV series has been going down year-to-year consistently since 2014, save only for “The Bachelor,” the Disneyesque dating franchise, which scored a four-year high in 2020. Meanwhile the only hit that’s made waves on social media for Fox in recent years is the elaborately costumed “The Masked Singer,” which scored massive viewership when it debuted in 2019.
Frankly, it was only a matter of time before someone thought it would be a good idea to add the two together.
The concept is simple: Each episode features a single guy or gal who has failed to find true love, because looks are getting in the way. Either they are too focused on it, their potential dates are, or both. So Netflix is here to help, facilitating a series of dates while both parties are masked in full prosthetic makeup. Kariselle the Panda goes for a drink with Josh the Bull; Ibrahim the Wolf finds himself meeting Bella the Dinosaur. All hope to find the fantasy character/person of their dreams.
And to be fair, Netflix’s original reality shows have begun leaning into increasingly outlandish and contrived scenarios. “The Circle,” for example, is a dating show for pandemic times, with contestants living in isolated apartments, their only means of communication coming via text-based internet chat. “Too Hot to Handle,” which has already started crossing over contestants with “The Circle” in its second season, is a dating workshop show, where contestants are forbidden any sort of physical contact. “Love Is Blind” forced contestants to date without seeing each other, only allowing visual contact after a proposal of marriage.
“Sexy Beasts” is a revival of a U.K. reality show from 2014 that lasted only a single season, and an attempt to take the “Love Is Blind” format and make it a little more “Bachelor” friendly while getting a whole lot of “Masked Singer” attention. In truth though, the set-up is far closer to a much older series, “The Dating Game.” The person in question is set up with three suitors of the opposite sex for a round of drinks and questions, before deciding which two they’ll go on a first date with. The “winner” gets a second date.
The extraordinarily low stakes for the “winner” of each episode is the first problem. No one is proposing marriage or happily ever after, or even going steady. Part of the reason “The Bachelor” works as well as it has for nearly two decades and counting is that people cannot get enough of the bizarre spectacle of watching someone go on TV and literally use a game show to make a life commitment. (The fact that said commitment usually fails, and the contestant in question is left with little more than the dubious honor of an automatic “Dancing With the Stars” berth, is of little importance.) Here, we’re not even getting to the point where one might add the contestants to their Instagram follows.
But the biggest issue is that the show undermines its own premise from the start. Whatever one might think of Netflix’s other shows, they really commit to the gag. “The Circle” contestants seem to really be trying to judge if their date is legit or if they’re just being catfished, an experience anyone who has flirted with a stranger on the internet can relate to. “Too Hot to Handle” does at least attempt to force its contestants to get to know each other as people before getting intimate.
But the biggest issue is that the show undermines its own premise from the start.
But “Sexy Beasts,” which claims to also be taking appearances out of the dating equation, is doing no such thing. The opening episode, “Emma the Demon,” features a woman whose job it is to be a model, and whose clearly ultra-conventional good looks are not well hidden beneath her Hollywood-level “devil” prosthetics. Even those who have wilder, more unorthodox makeup covering their faces (a praying mantis comes to mind) don’t have much more than a bit of makeup on their hands. Contestants know what they’re getting below the neck, meaning male contestants who openly volunteer that they are into “big boobs,” or a “large butt” are able (and all too happy) to leer at their dates’ physical forms, even as everyone incessantly worries about ending up with someone who is not blessed with a perfectly symmetrical face.
The series attempts to make fun of its own failures by having comedian Rob Delaney narrate. His commentary is the saving grace of most episodes, as he cringes along with us at home. The banality of the proceedings are matched by the shallowness of the contestants. For those who are movie magic dorks (or just really loved SyFy’s old reality competition “Face/Off”) prosthetics and makeup wizard Kristyan Mallet’s design work is worth the price of watching the first few minutes of every episode, just to see the kind of detail that goes into making a man into a beaver. But once the dating starts, it goes downhill quickly.
Whether you are hoping for some kind of kinky titillation, or even just the fun of being the fly on the wall of a bad date, this show fails at every level. Netflix may hope to make a splash with “Sexy Beasts” on social media — the trailer certainly did. And it’s clear the streaming service thought it had a winner, as there is another round of six episodes already in the works for later this year. As the old saying goes, looks (even prosthetically altered ones) aren’t everything. With a personality this bad, “Sexy Beasts” is not a date worth going on.