Pulitzer prize winning American journalist and satirist Russell Baker once said that television “was the most revolutionary event of the [twentieth] century. Its importance was in a class with the discovery of gunpowder and the invention of the printing press, which changed the human condition for centuries afterward.” In many ways, he was correct. Television radically changed human’s ability to communicate ideas on a global scale and share experiences with complete strangers. In the near century since its invention, television has been a site of discovery, mass tragedy, and community growth.
And most importantly, in summer of 2021, it helped a bunch of single people in SFX makeup get laid.
As a self appointed expert in terrible reality television with a specialisation in dating shows, I was amped for this. This looked like pure garbage. This looked like it was specifically made in a lab with the sole intention of getting me to sit in front of my laptop and drink cheap wine for six hours. Netflix, you crazy sons of bitches. You did it. You cracked my code.
Or so I thought.
I think one of the downsides to having good bad taste is that, often, content creators will try and cash in on making intentionally bad entertainment, hoping they can ride that internet meme-train right to the bank. The downfall of this is that it sucks all the true camp right out. What makes Hall of Fame reality television so good, cultural gems like Rock of Love or Love Island, is that it fully believes in its trash and doesn’t try to distance itself from its ludicrous content with a wink and a nudge. Hell, no. The people demand scantily clad women doing roller derby whilst protecting a robot baby, and dammit, we are going to provide. Love Island may light-heartedly poke fun at itself, but it will never deny the public their lust for watching hot twenty-somethings spit Medditerranean-sun-warmed gravy into each other’s mouths during a couples’ relay race. These shows know you want unregulated trash with minimal reminders that you could be using your precious free time to, I don’t know, be reading Ulysses or organising a tenant’s union, and you know what they say to that? They say ‘Open up baby birds, Mommy’s here to feed you’.
However, Sexy Beasts seems too in on the joke. Throughout all six episodes (yes, I watched all six. Screen Queens was like ‘oh you don’t have to—’ like I wouldn’t have done this to myself independent of publication), I felt like I was sitting next to the series’ pitch-man, who was constantly checking in with me to see if I still thought this whole thing was wacky. Like someone elbowing your ribs after they tell a bad or obvious joke until you’re finally like, Jesus, yes, Clark. The dolphin-woman and rhino-man are discussing Sex-Kung Fu in a ritzy London bar that looks like it would kick me out for wearing socks with too-low a thread count. I get what you were trying to do.
That’s what is ultimately disappointing about the show — it’s too ‘in’ on it’s own gimmick, and goes to lengths to remind you that yes, it is aware it is dumb. Which, honestly, kind of takes away from the whole thing. I’ve always been a firm believer that the best media can dive deeply into pure absurdity yet still have profound, even romantic, moments within all the silly — maybe even because of all the silly. Sexy Beasts falls short because, despite how adament the contestants are about finding love, I don’t think the show believes in itself enough, which keeps me from leaving my boring thinking-brain behind and buying into the idea that, yes, a demon woman and a baboon can find lasting love at a middling UK theme park — I was right, by the way, they’re over.
But, at the end of the day, the series did hold my attention long enough to keep me watching, and the make-up is genuinely very, very good, good enough to keep you watching until the face reveals. So, if that’s enough to fill your trash quota, have at it. For me, though, I’m still forever chasing the high of Pumkin vs. New York 2006.
All episodes of Sexy Beasts are available to stream exclusively on Netflix now
by Hannah Granberry