Sexy Beasts 2021 TV Series Review
To enjoy long-term success, a reality show needs to surprise, to delight, to reinvent and subvert its own formula as it goes. But to break out in the first place, it needs a compelling hook.
“Sexy Beasts,” Netflix’s new dating series, has the latter part down, sort of. Each of its episodes tells the story of an individual who professes to want to build a relationship based on inner beauty. For that reason, both the protagonist and the three potential suitors from whom they’re choosing are kitted out with elaborate prosthetic makeup jobs that tend to distract the eye while not concealing the enviable bone structure beneath. To borrow a widely-made observation, it’s “Love Is Blind” — Netflix’s dating show featuring contestants falling in love, sight unseen, from across the barrier of an isolation pod — meets “The Masked Singer.” And that’ll add up to a formula that grabs viewers’ attention, whether or not the series holds it.
And yet “Sexy Beasts” lacks what makes both of its apparent key influences work. “Love Is Blind” (which, incidentally, is to return July 26 with a suite of reunion episodes featuring its first-season cast) used its striking concept to examine the strange and painful ways people told themselves stories about love, and love lost. With real and unflinching curiosity, it looked at the narratives people create to justify inexplicable decisions. (What it lacked in a certain humanity it made up for in clarity of purpose.)
Rebooting each episode rather than following a season-long through line, “Sexy Beasts” isn’t trying to achieve precisely what “Love Is Blind” did, but it doesn’t even get close in terms of insight, novelty, or memorable characters. There’s no time in overstuffed episodes to really consider the oddity of dating at all, let alone to examine how folks might feel about dating under these circumstances, beyond the barest of pleasantries. The entire show feels dressed up in a prosthesis designed to obscure the real, down to an endless voice-over monologue by Rob Delaney (a talent who deserves better), choking the life and tension out of every moment. The brief episodes are so relentless in terms of establishing the situation, explaining the format, setting up a panoply of individual dates, and providing endless and witless editorial comment, that little sparkles through the spackle.
And the makeup applied to the competitors lacks the verve and oddity of the costuming on “The Masked Singer.” It’s all technically perfect — transforming young and eligible people into zombies, trolls, beavers, and dolphins. But this seamlessness leaves little room for personality: There’s little whimsy or humor extracted from the simple fact of fairly humorless people trying to flirt through prosthetics. Generally, all involved work to pretend that there’s little odd at all about the situation. Others try to push past the fact of their disguises and the concept of the show entirely, as when a fellow who’s discomfitingly frank in the way dating shows seem to especially privilege asks his date to feel his muscles. If the point was to look at what dating looks like when appearance is taken out of the equation, consider it missed.
Which brings us to what some might consider the fundamental flaw of a show that is broken in plenty of other ways: While attractiveness is subjective, the cast generally seems drawn from a particularly eligible segment of the population. The amateur bodybuilder who asks his dates to feel his muscles is in the second episode; the first establishes in its opening minutes that the woman behind the devil makeup is, per Delaney, “a six-foot-tall model from New York who is tired of guys only noticing the way she looks.”
I don’t think this show is in any way equipped to handle actual disparities in physical appearance between the contestants, and in a way I admire it for acknowledging that no one on-camera or watching at home actually wants the show to actually take part in a conversation about meaningfully seeing beneath what’s on the surface. “Love Is Blind” was similarly drawn from a pool of Instagram-ready beauties, and found in their personality clashes something worth watching. But here, nothing rises to fill the absence that’s left by the show not engaging its richest possible vein of inquiry. There’s simply a lot of look and a lot of noise in place of something more resonant, even something truly weird or simply diverting.
Very talented people spent a great deal of time designing and constructing these makeup looks, all in service of a show that uses them to conceal what is, in the end, a fatal lack of motivation.
“Sexy Beasts” premieres on Netflix July 21.