This hot and heavy shagathon has raced to the top of Netflix charts, despite its plot being sparse and almost criminally silly. Wonder why
To paraphrase the ever relevant Mrs Merton: what first attracted viewers to the sex-strewn, nudity-heavy saucefest Sex/Life (Netflix)? The show, an adaptation of BB Easton’s novel 44 Chapters About 4 Men, shot to the top of Netflix’s Top 10 when it was released last week. Call me suspicious, but after sitting through eight episodes of shagging strung together with the occasional splash of melodrama, I don’t think it’s the dialogue that has people streaming it in their droves.
Sarah Shahi is Billie Connelly (and if this doesn’t make you consider an alternative version with a dishevelled Scottish comedian as the lead, you are a better person than me), a thirtysomething woman with two small children, who lives in a big house in the suburbs with her Ken-doll husband, Cooper. Cooper has the sort of vague TV business job that means he goes to meetings, seems tired and wears a suit. Every interior, from penthouse to mansion to restaurant to “small” apartment, looks like the lobby of an upmarket hotel; every hairstyle is coiffured and sprayed solid to within an inch of its follicles.
Billie realises she is unsatisfied with her glossy life, particularly the sexual side of it, which has become routine. In her 20s, while studying for a PhD in psychology, Billie “ho-ed her way through half of Manhattan”, as she puts it. Now, she struggles to keep her husband’s attention, even when she’s naked and on top of him. In case the conflict wasn’t clear, the first episode has Billie’s son holding up a butterfly he has trapped in a jar. “She can’t breathe in there and she’s gonna die if you don’t let her out,” says Billie. Do you see?
Billie starts to dream about her former life, and hot and heavy trysts with her ex-boyfriend, Brad, who is a walking leather jacket – a record company executive with all the charm of a record company executive. Brad, more hairstyle than character, treats her mean to keep her keen, enjoys the music of Miles Davis, hates his father, and has a big penis. Billie writes her memories of their tempestuous relationship into a sex diary, which she leaves open on her laptop for Cooper to see. At first, it injects a bit of spark into their marriage. Soon, it starts to make him jealous and insecure. The episodes cut between her two lives: wild with Brad, solid with Cooper. Who will she choose?
That this dilemma is strung out over eight long episodes is almost impressive, given how sparse the story is. Brad is a bad boy, which means he treats Billie terribly and is prone to passive-aggressive tantrums whenever she’s nice to him. Yet “the intensity of our conversations was intoxicating”, she swoons. But, rather than the intensity of their conversations, we see the intensity of their neon-lit sex in pools, neon-lit sex in corridors, and occasionally, just in bed, in soft light, staring into each other’s eyes. He’s a tortured soul, you see, and he just needs the love of a good woman to stop him acting like a thundering arsehole.
There are attempts to bring a bit of Sex & the City spirit into this silly saga; Billie even has a meltdown over cupcakes in Manhattan. But Carrie Bradshaw would never let this prose near her laptop: “The stability and sanity he offered was a soothing balm to my spent, scorched soul,” Billie writes of reliable Cooper, at which point I called the alliteration police and reported an assault on consonants. Later, having exhausted the idea that being young and responsibility-free seems more appealing than looking after two children, it reaches for an orgy as the solution to their marital problems, and suddenly gets rather prudish. As did I: nobody should have to hear the line “Get your fuck on” without plenty of warning.
I do appreciate that looking for authentic dialogue here is like turning up at Centre Court and demanding to see a decent football match. Shahi is far better than the material she has been given, though the rest of the cast seem to have accepted their cardboard-cutout fate, and I suspect it isn’t meant to be half as funny as it often is. There are ideas here that could lend themselves to insightful exploration: the lure of reckless youth versus the stability of later life, or the issues that Cooper has with his wife’s sexual history, and why it bothers him so much that before they met, she had been “contorted into at least 73% of the positions in the Kama Sutra, as should we all”. But nothing goes deep, except for, well, you get the idea. (source: The Guardian)