Sex/Life feels like “erotic” content created specifically by Netflix so that the streamer can be all things to all people. There was a time, not that long ago, when one could rely on Netflix to provide quality television. It had a great track record with House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black, and then it expanded into those Marvel shows, and that was cool, too. Then there was Bojack and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Master of None and The Crown and Stranger Things, and even if you didn’t like all of those shows, it reflected a certain level of quality we could depend on when we sampled their new programs.
It’s not like that anymore, and it’s unclear to me exactly when it started to go to hell. It probably had to do with the huge amount of money they threw at Adam Sandler for annual Happy Madison films. Like everything, Netflix became less interested in good programming and more interested in catering to as many eyeballs as possible. And so they introduced reality television (Too Hot to Handle) and game shows like The Floor Is Lava because there’s an everpresent demand to expand their subscription base.
It was only a matter of time before the streamer got into soft-core porn. Last year’s terrible Polish erotic thriller 365 Days, which I’m sure came very cheaply, rocketed to the top of Netflix’s trending charts and remained there for weeks. Sex/Life feels like the natural extension of that. That’s not an indictment of soft-core porn, of course, but I feel like Netflix’s attempt to be HBO, Cinemax, Nickolodeon, FX, and a broadcast network all at the same time often means that it can deliver a lot of product, but it’s not always high-quality. It’s the Amazonification of Netflix.
There is a lot of sex and a lot of nudity in Sex/Life and while Netflix probably had hoped that Sarah Shahi’s presence would elevate the series, the shoddy directing and the bad writing from Stacy Rukeyser (inspired by BB Easton’s 44 Chapters About 4 Men) mostly drags Shahi down with it. The premise of Sex/Life is painfully galling. It’s about Billie Connelly, a wealthy suburban woman who has it all: The perfect husband, lovely children, and a beautiful house. Her sex life, however, is lacking in the way that sex lives sometimes do when you’ve been married for years and have children.
The lack, however, provokes a sort of mid-life crisis for Billie, who recounts in her journal a steamy love affair she had with Brad (Adam Demos) before she was married. When her husband, Cooper (Mike Vogel), comes upon her journal, he views it as a kind of instruction guide and so he endeavors to f**k her like Brad used to f**k her. Meanwhile, Brad himself — who is sleeping with Billie’s best friend, Sasha (Margaret Odette) — tries to reinsert himself into Billie’s life by, say, f**king Sasha over Facetime while Billie watches from home and masturbates.
All of that is fine if you are specifically interested in watching attractive people f**k, and clearly, a lot of people are because Sex/Life has been at the top of Netflix’s charts since its debut (along with Too Hot to Handle and Manifest, if you’re wondering what kind of streaming network that Netflix has become). Sex/Life, however, doesn’t offer much else. It is neither insightful, compelling, or entertaining, and there’s no consistent thematic throughline. It’s not like Playboy — the articles, so to speak, do not provide a sufficient cover excuse for looking at nude photography.
If you want to watch Mike Vogel f**k Sarah Shahi over a kitchen island, or see Shahi writhe orgasmically while Adam Demos buries his head between her legs, there is no shame in that. But if you’re looking for riveting content, increasingly it seems as though it may be necessary to look beyond Netflix itself. Then again, you can always rewatch Bridgerton.