Sexy Beasts, Netflix’s animal-mask dating show, is irredeemably terrible

But as long as everyone is talking about how bad it is, maybe it’s mission accomplished

Sexy Beasts: Emma, a model,   wears a devil disguise    and stars in episode one of the dating series. Photograph: Netflix

Sexy Beasts: Emma, a model, wears a devil disguise and stars in episode one of the dating series. Photograph: Netflix

 

Netflix has been straining ever so slightly for a big, zeitgeist-defining hit in 2021. Where is this year’s Stranger Things, Tiger King or Bridgerton? It has come close with Lupin, the Paris-set caper starring Omar Sy. Otherwise all the chatter is about Disney’s Marvel spin-offs and the forthcoming third season of Succession, on HBO/Sky Atlantic. (For some reason the world is addicted to a satire of the Murdochs, 10 years after anyone last cared about the Murdochs.)

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And “desperate” is one way of describing Sexy Beasts, the streaming service’s enthusiastically grotesque new dating show in which participants strap on lifelike animal masks and then embark on a love safari. (“Lifelike” may not be quite correct: it’s hard to say how, precisely, a real dolphin would conduct itself in a wine bar.)

Sexy Beasts has certainly captured the imagination, and dominated conversation, in a way no other Netflix reality offering has. (Floor is Lava’s water-cooler moment has yet to arrive.) It’s also irredeemably terrible. But so long as everyone is talking about how and why it is terrible, perhaps it is mission accomplished.

Sexy Beasts: James, a gym bunny, wears a beaver disguise and stars in episode two of the dating series. Photograph: Netflix
Sexy Beasts: James, a gym bunny, wears a beaver disguise and stars in episode two of the dating series. Photograph: Netflix

The premise is First Dates crossed with Dr Doolittle, with just a whiff of The Hunger Games. (It’s a shock to discover it’s an adaptation of a short-lived 2014 BBC Three series).

In each episode we are introduced to a lonely singleton fed up of paddling in the shallow waters of modern dating. Emma, in episode one, is a model who wishes people would see past her looks; James, from part two, is a gym bunny who doesn’t want to be known just for his bulging biceps. (As he says this he flaunts his bulging biceps.)

Having donned their disguises – a devil’s face for Emma, a beaver mask for James – they each meet three potential partners, likewise made up to look like animals/demons. Without the distraction of base physical attraction, can true love flourish?

Sadly, it’s hard to care one way or the other. Perhaps Netflix has erred in choosing contestants brimming with confidence and untroubled by self-doubt. In a show full of latex animals, there are no underdogs to root for.

One definite misjudgment is to cast only good-looking individuals. This removes the potential for bombshells when a lonely heart with a gorgeous personality is revealed to be thoroughly midtable in the appearances department.

Or maybe it’s just the sheer David-Lynch-gets-a-job-with-Virgin-Media One-weirdness of watching a dolphin chat up a rhinoceros. Smarmy voiceover by Rob Delaney doesn’t help. The idea is apparently that he is in on the joke. Alas, his straight-to-streaming Ryan Reynolds routine makes you dislike Sexy Beasts all the more.

The series has generated chatter – but let’s not go overboard and call it “buzz”. Will it take off? People flock to Love Island not because of the romance but because of the silliness,the banter, the way some islanders are relatable and others are not. Sexy Beasts has none of that. Instead, this serving of animal nitrate suffers from a terminal lack of fizz.

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