Reality TV has come a long way since roommates arguing in an apartment paid for by MTV. Over the decades, we’ve seen reality shows launch pop stars, dance sensations, and even transform a bombastic real estate tycoon into another—far more dangerous—kind of national disgrace. Reality competition shows have progressed into more niche terrain, like Forged In Fire, Nailed It!, and The Big Flower Fight. Dating games have been around even longer than reality TV, titillating audiences with double entendres, vicarious thrills, and the crushing blow of getting dumped before a national audience. So, it was only a matter of time before we got something like Netflix’s Sexy Beasts, a blind-date competition with a splash of Face Off flare.
The formula is mostly familiar: 3 strangers compete for a date with an eligible bachelor or bachelorette. The first round is speed dating at a chic pub in England, where the trio takes turns trying to impress. An elimination round will knock out one underperforming contender. The remaining two each get a solo date with the choosing single, before a final decision is made. Then there’s the twist, simple yet strange: they’re all wearing heavy prosthetic makeup so that looks can’t be a factor in this decision. Their true faces won’t be revealed until after they’ve been eliminated or secured their match.
On its face, this is stupid. For one thing, you can still see the person’s body, and most of the contestants featured are undeniably fit (to borrow from British slang). For another, it’s a dating show. This cottage industry has been fueled by pretty young things for longer than these contestants have been alive. The likelihood that a beaver’s buck teeth or a dolphin’s blowhole would be removed to reveal an uggo was never remotely a possibility.
Nonetheless, Sexy Beasts offers a lot of prattle about how this setup is all about getting past the superficial. In introductory interviews, the contestants wax poetic about what they’re looking for in a partner, and often lament that their good looks are more a curse than a blessing. (Poor things!) They also casually mention they work as models, proclaim clearly their preference for big asses, and flex their beefy biceps at the least opportunity. But hey, they’re totally here to find a soul mate and forget about the superficial!
Comedian Rob Delaney gleefully points out these hypocrisies as the series’ snarky narrator. However, the players aren’t the only punchlines, as he’ll also offer self-deprecating jokes about foot fetishism and being attracted to a lady in a leopard look. But to be clear this isn’t a show about furries or their fetish. At most, one provocative panda asks her bull of a date if he’d do her with the mask on. He affirms, but behind all that makeup it’s hard to gauge if he’s into the kink, into her, or just up for sex whatever the conditions.
These wild make-overs are the main draw of the show. It’s undeniably hilarious to watch twenty-somethings try to flirt while plastered in a face full of owl feathers or wearing a rooster’s waddle like a pair of flattened-chin-strapped testicles. The best contestants aren’t those who find love or lust, but those who lean into the cartoonish appearances. Props to the panda bachelorette whose wide eyes and chaotic brand of seduction turned a Jersey Girl into a BoJack Horseman character straight out of Hollywoo. Shout out to the darling doe who shoved her snout into a wine glass to try to sniff before swigging! Most of all, cheers to the editing team that managed to Kuleshov Effect reaction shots out of these monstrosities.
To hide the facial features behind these creatures, makeup artists slap on the massive snout of a mandrill, the beak of a dinosaur, the big eyes of a frog, or the antennae of a mantis. It’s Masked Singer energy, where the outrageous is preferred over the ability to emote. These looks wouldn’t impress the judges of Face Off, a gone-too-soon competition series where aspiring effect-makeup artists created incredible critters out of clay, rubber, and paint. It also means subtle facial expressions are lost, turning many of the contestants into dead-eyed duds with blank expressions. The editing team manages to take even these mundane countenances and give them context, pairing them with flirting flubs, cringe-worthy come-ons, and achingly awkward moments. Thus, a literal stone-face can speak volumes. Still, Delaney’s voiceover does a lot of the heavy lifting, creating narratives out of what often boils down to vibes.
Again, this show is stupid. On top of all the goofiness, its stakes are comically low. The producers have paired up twenty-somethings from the UK and US on a couple of slapdash dates in weird costumes to see if love sparks. We only see as far as their first meeting once the make-up is washed away. Every single couple is elated because HEY! You don’t look like a literal troll! But the idea of a relationship beyond this vacation in a rural English town is rarely addressed. Yet, there’s a creeping brilliance in all this absurdity.
Squint a bit and Sexy Beasts plays like a satire of the long-bloated dating-show subgenre. You’ve seen wild dates in exotic locations. You’ve heard bachelorettes give blow jobs. But have you ever seen a Mandril make out with a demon? Or a beaver ice-sculpt competitively then demand a “beaver kiss”? Have you ever heard a man, looking like the world’s ugliest rhino, proselytize sincerely about the powers of “sex kung fu” during a carriage ride through the countryside? You’re not going to get that sh*t on The Bachelor.
Surely, you’re bored by now of a lot of accomplished, beautiful people doing a cattle call to impress one hot doofus in the quest for true love? Sexy Beasts mocks the feigned sincerity of such shows by ignoring the possibility that there’s a future in the works. It cackles at the popular lie that looks don’t matter by having thirsty singles shake their stuff while dressed like crones, scarecrows, aliens, and barnyard animals. Then, it nonetheless gives us a line-up of beautiful people, who are clearly as puzzled by this experience as we are. If not more so! And therein lies the sketchiest pleasure of Sexy Beasts, its schadenfreude.
If these daters turned out to be average-looking people who don’t have flawless skin and excellent hair, there’d be a real meanness to the reveals. Essentially, even if they won, the joke would be on them a bit. Because all players are good-looking, we can laugh at the show’s absurdity without laughing at someone for something they cannot change. Instead, we are invited to laugh at their choices.
Sure, you may not be the handsome doctor, the dazzling model, or the suave hip-hop dancer. But at least you’re not feeling up a rooster’s waddle to score a second date. Is it a petty pleasure? Sure. Were you expecting something more from Sexy Beasts?
Sexy Beasts is now on Netflix.
Header Image Source: Netflix