Dating is a specific form of torture that requires the illusion of interest, using the same skillset as a tenacious job search or looking to buy in a competitive real estate market. Every princess who finds their little prince must first kiss a grip of frogs, while enduring an internal debate about whether or not the person in front of them has the unique combination of looks and personality that is compelling enough for them to live with for longer than one night. When dating in real life becomes exhausting, dating shows are a suitable replacement, turning the art of finding true love into a spectator sport. These shows have proliferated for years though are experiencing a kind of renaissance; shows like Too Hot To Handle and Love Is Blind are attempting to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the formula, and Netflix is one of the most pernicious culprits. Sexy Beasts, the network’s latest offering, wonders if people could actually date based on personality alone, but with a twist: the people in question are wearing extensive prosthetics to make them look like animals. It’s a thin premise that teeters on unsteady feet, resulting in a show that is barely watchable—not because it’s bad, but because even with its absurd concept, at this point it feels like there is no conceit for a dating show that hasn’t already been done.
When the trailer was released a few weeks ago, the stills alone generated conversation, so much so that it was immediately clear that there was no way the show would live up to the hype. Sexy Beasts takes the question of personality over appearance in dating and stretches it to an extreme that makes the conceit impossible to take seriously. Over the course of a twenty-minute episode, the suitor endures a round of speed dating and then eliminates one person, who reveals their face only after they’ve been eliminated. Then, the remaining two contestants go on a truncated date with the suitor, and finally, at the end of the show, the winner is unmasked and presented to their suitor, who, in the course of the four episodes I watched, reacts to this news with varying degrees of elation.
Unlike Love Is Blind, the Netflix endeavor that addresses this particular concern of personality over looks more adroitly, the participants on Sexy Beast don’t actually seem to be there for love, save for Kariselle, a vivacious blonde with the attitude of a lesser Bachelorette contestant, who spends the majority of her episode dressed like a panda bear and telling her prospective suitors that she is ready to be married. Full commitment to the conceit is key, because without it, the result feels like a half-assed SNL skit that might’ve been cut for time. But each contestant seems to be in on the joke, which ultimately makes for boring television. I wanted Sexy Beasts to be compelling enough to hold my interest for the brief 24 minutes each episode spans, but because the contestants don’t even seem like they’re motivated to pretend to find love, my interest waned quickly.
Perhaps my expectations were too high, but the raw material seemed somewhat promising. A first date by any stretch has the potential to be either awkward or revelatory, and that truth has been explored on other, more compelling dating shows in the past. Dating Around, another dating show on Netflix that centers the first date’s importance, is the other side of this coin, and feels much more realistic, providing the dash of voyeurism that dating reality TV needs to thrive. Any tension on Sexy Beasts is purely manufactured and is only present because the people in question are trying to maybe kiss through prosthetics and, also, are dressed as animals. Any supposed issues with their dating lives are unrelatable—the first episode features a model named Hannah, dressed to look like a demon, who says that her good looks and her height are often intimidating to prospective suitors. Though it is rude to say this, it is fairly obvious: it’s boring to watch conventionally attractive people complain about their looks making it harder for them to date.
Love is Blind suffered from the same affliction, and though the couples in that show truly wanted to find love, and were willing to jump through a lot of hoops in order to do so, the fundamental issue with the “personality over appearance” question was the same: the thought experiment only works if the contestants are not conventionally, traditionally hot. Though it feels reckless to suggest any edits to Sexy Beasts in the hopes that it gets another season, something interesting to consider would be if the show itself were longer, forcing the contestants to really commit to this endeavor by living in these prosthetics for an entire week, attempting to really forge a connection instead of faking it for the meager paycheck and the brief exposure. Though it would be difficult to spend an entire week dressed as a dolphin trying to find true love, I imagine that for the right amount of money and a little desperation, anyone could make it work.