Netflix’s Sexy Beasts appears, at first glance, to be an obvious attempt to glom on to Love is Blind’s success, dating without seeing the other person, with the added surprise of The Masked Singer’s reveals.
Yet Sexy Beasts predates both of those series: It’s based on a one-season 2014 BBC show that briefly came to the United States in 2015, which I completely missed, possibly because A&E apparently burned off in one evening.
The basic idea is far older, however, because at its core, Sexy Beasts is simply the newest version of The Dating Game, which first aired 56 years ago, in 1965. Being similar to other shows is not problematic on its own; many terrific shows are built on the foundations—or photocopies—of shows that came before them. And I’m all for taking a concept and making it sillier.
The problem is that Sexy Beasts is just bad television, not unlike ABC’s pointless Celebrity Dating Game, which for some reason is co-hosted by a wax figure of Michael Bolton.
The only difference in the format from The Dating Game—well, besides the prosthetics—is that the show is not filmed on a soundstage, and someone is immediately eliminated “based on first impressions” after brief dates that take place on a bar set that looks less realistic than some of the makeup.
Sexy Beasts’ prosthetics are well-made and fun, and the over-the-top orchestral score is having a blast (I particularly love the music over the credits). But the rest of the show doesn’t dare go beyond skin-deep. This Lion TV’s third attempt at producing this show, and the third time isn’t charming, it’s just a wreck.
From the trailer, I thought Sexy Beasts could be a version of NBC’s First Dates, which immediately won me over. But Sexy Beasts’ bar date conversations are nowhere near as engaging or charming. They’re quick and lack depth, and yield a quip or two at most. I was so bored I started watching the bartender react to the daters, which he was probably doing because he has nothing else to do in his fake bar. (The show was filmed in the UK in 2020, so I’m glad they weren’t in a real bar, but a controlled environment.)
After the episode’s star eliminates one of their three suitors—these are all heterosexual couplings—that person is revealed. And that’s where the show reveals itself to be as superficial as it’s accusing its participants of being. “When it comes to dating, we all go for looks first,” the opening narration says, making a sweeping generalization about all of us who are watching. “So in this show everyone looks as weird as possible.”
But if looks aren’t important, why show them at all? Or why cast only super-hot people? Everyone cast on the show is not just conventionally attractive but quite beautiful; several are actually introduced as models. That means the reveal is all about finding out how actually stunning everyone is. So who exactly is putting looks first?
“This show’s all about what’s on the inside,” the narrator says in episode two. Except the show climaxes all over the reveals. If it had the courage of its conviction and believed in its concept, Sexy Beasts would not have made the reveal so central. It would have cast a far wider array of people instead of thin straight people who are actually models or who could be models. (The A&E series seems to have had a bit more diversity—and perhaps even more superficial cast members, judging by this clip.)
If Sexy Beasts was really daring, it would never reveal the participants’ actual appearances, letting a pair of beasts go off into the sunset together. Instead, it gives us a bunch of moments like this from episode five: “I was not expect that level of hotness,” Nina the Dolphin says, even though Nina is super-hot, too. The star of episode three, Kariselle, sees one person and says, “I would let [him] put his tongue in my mouth any day.”
Besides being attractive, the cast is quite outgoing. I’d guess the production wanted to make sure personalities would project through the makeup, but the often results in overconfidence or even arrogance. Watching self-assured hot people temporarily conceal their hotness is not interesting, especially when they’re just being superficial. “That ass, man,” episode two’s star James says after sending someone home.
To provide its excruciating narration, Sexy Beasts brought in comedian Rob Delaney. The narration aspires to have wit, charm, and personality like Love Island’s Matthew Hoffman does, but instead falls into the same dreadful wasted-talent space as Nicole Byer and John Cena’s lifeless line readings on Wipeout.
Delaney narrates as if he’s trying to impersonate a John Michael Higgins character, so much so that I actually thought it was John Michael Higgins narrating, possibly in character as his Pitch Perfect commenter. But John Michael Higgins is a talented improviser and I’m sure his narration would be considerably better than what we’re left with, which are flat, lifeless reactions and transitions such as:
- “Whoa! Let’s be honest: Who was expecting that blonde bombshell?”
- “Good news: He’s a man, not a mouse.”
- “Well, that’s lightened the mood.”
Mostly, we get platitudes—“chivalry is not dead” comes up more than once—and the kind of awkward attempts at jokes that Michael Scott would reject. “This might be grossing you out,” Delaney says as two people get foot massages, “but there are a bunch of foot fetishists who are losing our—their minds right now. This one’s for you, feet freaks. Oh yeah. Wait, did I say that out loud?”
If Sexy Beasts has done anything right, it’s that it kept its episodes under 25 minutes each. Occasionally there’s an amusing exchange or a moment of self-reflection, and a few pairings seem like they could be charming. The show isn’t actually interested in the couples, though; it just needs to reveal how hot they are so the credits can role.
In the four episodes I watched, the most genuine and identifiable reaction I saw came in episode three, when one participant literally cheers when he’s eliminated. He’s thrilled to not have to spend any more time with the star of his episode, Kariselle, who describes herself as “psychopathic” during their date. I can’t blame him for wanting to just take off.
A thin, deriviative dating show that doesn’t have the courage to live up to its premise. D
What works for me:
- The prosthetic makeup’s details
- Jode Steele and David Wainwright’s original music
What could be better:
- Rob Delaney’s excruciating narration
- The focus on the contestants’ appearances in a show that pretends it’s about connection
- The casting