| March 6, 2022
Some of the greatness during this period has been coincidental to the previously scheduled releases of shows. And so has the absolute crap.
It became a project during all this mess, driven by the insane amount of media coverage, to watch the worst of Netflix… which is also, apparently, the most popular of Netflix. No, not Tiger King, though I watched that. (Tiger King is one of the docs that suffer from “The Netflix Stretch”… but that’s another column.) I’m talking about the world’s most horrifying dating shows. And as jokes are always best told in sets of three: Love Is Blind, Back With The Ex and Too Hot To Handle.
I list the shows based on the order in which I watched them. But interestingly, they also lay out in the order of shittiness. (Oddly, spellcheck redlined that word, but has no correction. Same with viewers of these shows.)
Love Is Blind sounded interesting. Remove the visual from the attractiveness engagement. Give the wannabe couples time to really get to know each other without seeing one another. And then, when they leap to the point of insanity – a marriage proposal, sight unseen – let them see each other and then keep them together to watch it all come together or fall apart.
There were some “happy endings” on the show. But like the brutal messes – made more brutal by the aggressive requirement to lower the wall – overwhelmed those “nice” stories. Moreover, watching the reunion show reminds us of what a mess some of those still-together couples are.
You can’t fake the funk, as a friend of mine once reminded me. And conversely, you can’t live on the funk forever.
There was the woman who showed us every reason why she is still alone… and the man who was obsessively committed to landing her. There was the gay man still in denial with no happy possibility allowed for him on the show. There was the woman who was clearly ambivalent from early on and who would have never gotten past a third date with the also very nice guy to whom she connected. And there is the couple that is all genitals with a woman who is so strong-willed that she will not let the relationship with the rugged by weak man fail… until they have a couple kids and he gets every other weekend, which is about as inevitable as the sun continuing to rise over the various distilleries that feed their romance.
Then there are the two happy couples. One is just solid. Congrats. I don’t know that Lauren & Cameron are a lovely, sane pair of people… which makes you wonder how they ended up on this show. It’s not clear that they may not have found each other, were they ever in the same space for more than a couple hours. The other happy story, Damian and Giannina, is another story dominated by the commitment of the woman, but it doesn’t seem like it’s all about not failing for her – like one of the other marriages – and honestly, I felt okay about it… even though (SPOILER) he left her at the fake alter. Really, they are such a weird couple that they may fit just right forever.
I guess what is so irritating about this undeniably entertaining show (the editors deserve a big fat retroactive raise) is that the idea is interesting, but the execution is so simplistic. It’s like watching Michael Apted’s 7Up – 63Up but with Apted’s IQ reduced by 30 or 40 points. Imagine if the show was serious about understanding these people. I don’t mean to add psychologists analyzing every moment. We have all had relationships and intuitively understand what is going on. But the design of the show leaves no space for more than a simplistic relationship with the material, even as we can see the reality seeping out of the edges like the lost drips of an ice cream cone on a hot summer night.
Back With The Ex also starts with an interesting premise. Can exes who are now single and harbor the hope that a former love can be rekindled make the past into the current?
The methodology of this show is not messed up the way Love Is Blind is. However, it is equally sad and twice as predictable. (SPOILER) All four couples are going to suffer the exact same malady that that ended their relationships in the first place.
In 2 of the 4 stories, there was cheating or betrayal. Cheaters cheat.
In one of the stories, there is a profoundly broken man who has decided he is fixed enough to love someone else fully and the woman who tried so very hard to fix him in the past that she destroyed herself and comes back for seconds.
And the final story, that is most hopeful, is of the 2 fully formed adults. But she tells us from the beginning that she is a control freak. He tells us he is laid back to a degree that she doesn’t quite respect. She is the kind of person who is happy to strip down in front of a camera crew and skinny dip and express her strong sexual urges… but who then freaks out when he tells a story to the other guys about the same. The Dominatrix and The Dude. For that to work, they both need to be clear about what they are willing to accept. But neither is as good at sharing their boundaries with each other as they are with the TV camera. And even though the story ends up happily on the show, it fails after the show, as was destined from the start.
The third show is just a form of gawking at the young, the dumb, and the full of cum. Too Hot To Handle is a combination of Love Island and Playboy Channel’s Foursome. (I’m linking because you should not know that this show exists. It’s basically a double date where they all have sex in a cool house and show the sex on TV.)
What is striking about Too Hot To Handle is that it is so tame, considering what we are dealing with. It is, from start to finish, a big tease. Make no mistake, the show has gathered a group of people who talk endlessly about their urges, show no modesty about their bodies (though the camera does), and make it clear that they are just fine having sex with strangers on TV.
So where is all this sex?
Don’t misunderstand. I am not feeling the need for a new form of porn or even soft-core porn on Netflix. That’s not my point.
I engage most entertainment with a desire for some connection to some kind of truth. As a critic, my first interest in that truth is how it fulfills the intentions of the creator of the content. Then, my personal judgement of that intention comes into the equation.
It is odd to me that Too Hot To Handle is tamer in offering the central theme of the show – sex – than Big Brother is on CBS and all its connected digital opportunities. People on Big Brother (in America, at least) are not encouraged to have sex, sometimes do, and invariably get caught… and the evidence, almost always under a comforter, is shown. Meanwhile, Too Hot To Handle charged the group $8000 for oral sex and all the audience got was a coy explanation from the couple. I am not asking Netflix to stream the sex act. But the claim that “It may have slipped into my mouth,” is one for the ages and there must be some footage and the fine editors on that show should have been able to create a lot of fun for the perv-ing audience, suggesting how things went down, so to speak.
Sometimes a banana is just a banana. And sometimes a TV show is just about people obsessed with themselves and their pleasure and the size and placement of that banana or that flower or whatever metaphor you like.
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