Netflix‘s erotica drama Sex/Life has consistently been one of the platform’s most popular new shows since premiering in late June. If you’re after risible trash, Travis Johnson won’t judge you…
Maybe it says more about me than it does about Netflix’s eight part sexed-up soap opera, but that “High Impact Sex Scenes” content warning strikes me as blatant false adverting. Sex/Life’s sex scenes are glossy, sultry, lit like a mid-80s music video and thoroughly lacklustre. Your mileage may vary, of course—we don’t kink-shame here, even if your kink is the sort of rote onscreen “risqué” romance that was already passé back when Red Shoe Diaries was a thing. To be blunt, Pornhub is right there.
Which leaves us with plot and character, neither of which add up to much. Our heroine is Billie Connelly (Sarah Shahi), a former wild girl who clocked up “at least 73% of the positions in the Kama Sutra” before settling down in white picket fence Connecticut with businessman Cooper (The Brave alum Mike Vogel), with whom she has two button-cute kids.
Sex/Life states its themes plainly when her little boy catches a butterfly in a jar, and she explains to him he has to let it go before it suffocates. Billie (and yes, that is quite a name) is the butterfly, living a life of respectable luxury but sexually unfulfilled by the increasingly distracted Cooper, who would rather watch sport on the bedroom TV than the suburban sexpot writhing on top of him (Sex/Life’s idea of exotic erotica is “cowgirl”). Oh, how she pines for her decadent younger days when, as a psychology student with gal pal Sasha (Margaret Odette), she would plough through New York’s nightspots and the male members of New York’s music industry with equal fervour.
She’s particularly fixated on her bad boy ex—Australian record producer Brad (Adam Demos). Of course, Brad comes back into her life, having still not quite gotten over her. Of course, Cooper reads her journal, featuring ruminations on her sexed-up past and current frustrations and begins to worry about his marriage. Of course, this thing stretches on for eight goddamn episodes, the only thing longer than Brad’s prodigious schlong, which is highlighted in a third episode shower scene (Demos, based solely on his work here, cannot act, but if we’re to believe that no prosthetic enhancements were used, God gifted him in other ways).
Based on the allegedly autobiographical book 44 Chapters About 4 Men by BB Easton, Sex/Life is trash, but that’s not its failing. The problem is that it’s boring trash. The characters are thinly sketched, the relationships are simplistic and unconvincing, and worse, the understanding of human sexuality is tame to the point of prudishness. That’s the big issue here: ideologically, Sex/Life is rooted (heh) in American cultural puritanism, and so what it thinks is outré and edgy is, well, pretty tame.
Better, perhaps, to stick with the white picket fence life. While on a fundamental level Sex/Life absolutely venerates the hetero nuclear family, it also doesn’t make it particularly appealing. There’s no life to Billie and Cooper’s life, which is entirely surface level and superficial, while Brad’s rebel posturing is a collection of red flags big enough to fit out a Soviet-era military parade—and boring to boot. Billie’s choice seems to be between two equally appalling men, which might be interesting if the series seemed to actually realise that (maybe, if the show wasn’t so glaringly hetero, she could ditch them both and pair off with Sasha?).
To be fair, it is very funny, albeit unintentionally. Billie’s voice-over narration scans as though Skinemax did a remake of Sex and the City, while a late season suburban sex party feels like it was pulled, completely intact, from an early ‘70s sex comedy. Watching ostensibly talented performers wrestle with the show’s wretched dialogue and naïve relationship dynamics is a kind of fun, I guess, but that only gets you so far. At the end of the day, this is risible stuff. But like I said earlier, if risible trash is your kink, have at it.