Last month, I may or may not have admitted (Okay, I did) that I was very excited for Netflix's new reality dating series Sexy Beasts. At the time, the show had released its trailer, touting it as a combination of the early-quarantine hit Love Is Blind and Fox's reality superstar The Masked Singer, and I proudly told y'all I was here for it. Well, today I'm eating my words. Sexy Beasts Season 1 premiered last night, and what was revealed in its first six episodes was a bat shit amalgamation of everything that's made dating shows bad.
Shows like Love Is Blind and other reality to-bang-or-not hits like Too Hot To Handle — even juggernauts like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette — are compulsively watchable because the powers that be understand how ridiculous the shows are, and they manipulate that quality to their advantage. They're in on the joke. There is a finesse to getting a group of horny, lonely adults together and seeing if they can set aside the fact that a camera crew is in their faces and let their freak flags fly — and ironically, it's often the little bit of heart that goes into it that keeps people tuning in. The confessional aspect of the aforementioned shows also helps make the contestants relatable. Sexy Beasts, meanwhile, is a quick and dirty dating show reminiscent of the days when people used to choose a mate on TV from behind door number 1, 2, or 3, while we viewers felt our brains melt a little with each passing minute.
While other shows have pinpointed the magical melding of exploitation of and compassion for their contestants, Sexy Beasts is cheaply done. There’s no value in the way the producers approached their stars and no depth that allows us to get to know them. We find out if they're a model or an IT guy, and if they're looking for T&A under the disguises or are in search of a genuine connection. But besides that, we get no insight into their actual personalities outside of the absurd sound bites that come between hyper punny voiceover moments reminiscent of MTV's Cribs.
Don't get me wrong; I still watched the entire show in bed last night, sipping wine with my cats like the horny, female-identifying bisexuals were expected to. And Sexy Beasts does have its share of sickly digestible moments. There's the woman who is so intent and vocal on finding someone to marry, it almost feels a little horror movie-esque. There's the guy who has a terrible reaction to getting eliminated and the guy who's really excited to be eliminated. There's a lip bite that you cannot unsee. And, conversely, there's the girl who — upon seeing her choice partner unmasked — says she just wants to be friends. It's all there, girlfriend.
Where the Sexy Beasts producers really went wild was in choosing the dates — and setting certain couples up for connection far better than others. While some got to go gin tasting and create their own flavor together, others had to do a nude male painting class and try not to stare at a stranger's penis. It wasn't exactly equal footing for people to shine. Ultimately, some couples awkwardly stomached their way through bad dates, and others manifested chemistry and made out through their prosthetics.
And then there are the disguises. Some contestants appear far more furry-type fuckable in their get ups, with trippy takes on animals being the majority of the costume themes. But not everyone got to be cute and cuddly. One woman was made up as a zombie with skin falling off, and another appeared as a troll with a lower lip so large she could barely talk. It would have been interesting to see the special effects makeup process and to know if the contestants had any creative control over their costumes — but like so many of the show's other missed opportunities, that would have given it too much depth, I guess.
The real kicker that makes Sexy Beasts a wildly uncomfortable watch is that, for a show theoretically based on dating without being superficial; each episode hinges entirely on the multiple reveals that take place throughout, when the contestants see each other sans disguises and judge their looks. The most cringeworthy reveal comes after three speed dates, when the first contestant is eliminated. That person is then paraded (unmasked) in front of the person who let them go and the remaining two contestants, all of whom react in real-time to the loser's appearance. It. Is. Weird.
The argument could be made that, while the Sexy Beasts does it cheaply, the fantasy of falling in love purely on personality is an impossibility; because in the end we’re all animals hard-wired for physical attraction. Other reality shows with a similar premise point out that idea eventually (cue cringey memory of Jessica refusing to marry Mark on Love Is Blind because he wasn't hot enough) — but they just do it with an implicit eye roll and laugh, and at least a little more class and subtlety.
At least it seems Netflix is aware it just gave us all the TV equivalent of stale, space-flavored Dip N' Dots. In a tweet celebrating the debut, the Netflix UK & Ireland account wrote, "A heatwave-induced fever dream or an unmissable new dating show? Who can say." I'm hoping it's the former.