‘Finally,’ I thought, ‘an erotic drama that makes sense to me.’ It so doesn’t

Patrick Freyne: I live in hope that there’s a cameo from the real Billy Connolly

 

When I heard that the genius comedian and registered beard-owner Billy Connolly was at the heart of Netflix’s new steamy erotic drama Sex/Life, I thought, “Finally, a steamy erotic drama that makes sense to me”. Sadly, Sex/Life isn’t as sexy as you might think. For starters, the protagonist of Sex/Life’s name is spelled Billie Connelly and she’s played by Sarah Shahi and isn’t remotely like the hirsute Caledonian funnyman.

We meet this lesser Billie Connelly as a young whippersnapper dancing in an ostentatiously sexy fashion at a nightclub. She looks like someone in a stock photo having “the time of their life” rather than a real person because there’s no drool, goofy faces or stains. But then Billie has sex in the toilets, so fair enough.

Brad has military dog tags around his neck, though I’m pretty sure he’s never been to war… unless getting into a fight with another hunk over some hair gel is a war now. Perhaps it is

Billie wakes up in her all-white mansion where she now lives with her perfect children. She goes to the garden at the behest of her helium-voiced, tousle-haired four-year-old, Hudson. “I want to show you something,” he says, in what we will soon know to be his typical whining manner.

In the perfect garden, Hudson shows Billie a butterfly that he has somehow developed the motor skills to capture in a jar. I don’t mean to be pedantic about this but later in the series we see one of Hudson’s drawings and it’s terrible – stick figures, no perspective, unrealistic primary colour schemes, generic themes – so the idea that he’s got it together to find a clean jar and entrap a butterfly is laughable.

Billie is horrified and sets the butterfly free. “She can’t breathe in there and she’s going to die if you don’t let her out,” Billie explains. She doesn’t add, “And basically this is what you’re doing to me you terrifying little s**t,”, nor does the butterfly waft by screaming, “I am a metaphor”, but we get the gist.

At this point Billie’s hunky husband comes home from the dark satanic business mills in New York City. His name is Cooper, even though he’s never even seen a barrel. He is, instead, an investment banker and, as far as I can tell, they’ve just body-painted a suit on to his perfect hunk body because, if I’ve learned one thing about hunks from watching Love Island, it’s that regular clothes chafe their delicate skin.

Sadly, there is a hunky snake in paradise and it has abs. From the midst of this perfect wealthy hunk-filled existence, Billie fantasises about her old boyfriend, Brad, a “bad boy”. I instantly picture someone who is covered in jam, has lost one of his shoes in a stream and has regular tantrums. In actual fact, they signal Brad’s bad-boy nature in time-honoured fashion by giving him stubble, a leather jacket, floppy hair and, also, regular tantrums. Furthermore, he has military dog tags around his neck, though I’m pretty sure he’s never been to war… unless getting into a fight with another hunk over some hair gel is a war now. Perhaps it is.

Jesus, Billie, go on the bumper cars, buy an ice cream, read a book, visit Athlone

Billie says she loves Cooper dearly. “I want us to live 100 years and die at the exact same moment,” she says, anticipating their eventual murder/suicide. Yet, she can’t help yearning for the devil-may-care heteronormative sexhibitionism of her youth. She doesn’t have an open and frank conversation with Cooper about this, because then there’d be no story. Instead she keeps an erotic journal. This is the American mammy equivalent of “Don’t mind me, I’m fine here in the dark”, except it’s, “Don’t mind me, I’m fine here in the dark, masturbating frantically.”

And so, while suffering the indignities of being an incredibly wealthy woman of leisure in America, Billie begins typing up steamy sex memories on a laptop with no password protection that she leaves open on the kitchen counter. She reads aloud from it frequently in the timeworn Carrie Bradshaw tradition.

“There was a time in my life when I felt free and the world was full of possibilities,” she says at one point, though the only possibilities we see her taking advantage of in the flashbacks are: writhing rhythmically at clubs and having sex with hunks in uncomfortable places. Jesus, Billie, go on the bumper cars, buy an ice cream, read a book, visit Athlone.

Meanwhile, Hudson keeps interrupting proceedings to say things like, “You look like a princess, mommy” and “You’re so beautiful”, things that Americans with high self-esteem think are “normal” but which would not be tolerated by Irish mammies who know that all achievements are built on spite and self-loathing. Hudson is the most interesting character, though. If this story doesn’t end with him owning a motel and doing some “collecting”, I will be very disappointed.

Sarah Shahi as Billie Connelly in Netflix’s Sex/Life. Photograph: Netflix
Sarah Shahi as Billie Connelly in Netflix’s Sex/Life. Photograph: Netflix

Brad comes back into Billie’s life via an affair with her best friend and is soon stalking Billie. Having a penchant for tantrummy “bad boys” who are covered in jam, Billie finds Brad’s toxic behaviour alluring. Meanwhile, Cooper begins reading Billie’s journalistic sexcapades and develops a bit of a complex about it. He spends episode three surreptitiously following Brad around New York, even nudely spying on him in the showers of a health club. There’s a lot of great muscular arse acting in this scene but there’s also a revelation.

It’s a pivotal moment. From spying on Brad in the shower, Cooper learns, to his distress, that Brad has a massive lad. Like absolutely huge. It’s a brief enough shot, but I think it has a face. I presume in a later episode it has a speaking part. I mean, I would go so far as to say that Brad’s Lad is a fascinating new television personality and will soon have its own spin-off show. I am certainly more interested in the inner life of Brad’s Lad than that of Cooper, Billie or the rest of Brad. I mean the rest of Brad is so two-dimensional that “having a big penis” counts as significant character development.

Look, Sex/Life is very popular, as the Netflix algorithm keeps reminding me. I’ve only watched three episodes and maybe there are surprises in the future. Maybe Brad’s Lad takes over the narration from episode four. Maybe Cooper and Brad realise they don’t need someone as self-involved as Billie and end up getting together. Maybe Billie eventually realises that riding people in nightclub bathrooms isn’t actually that interesting and takes a night course instead. Maybe she realises that if she adds stubble and a leather jacket to Cooper, he and Brad are more or less the same wealthy white man. Maybe Hudson puts the rest of the cast into a huge jar and tells them they are beautiful as they asphyxiate. Maybe, and I live in hope, there’s a cameo from the real Billy Connolly. If any of these things happen, I will know true happiness.

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