mon 18/10/2021

Sex/Life, Netflix review - Mills & Boon for the YouPorn era? | reviews, news & interviews

Sex/Life, Netflix review - Mills & Boon for the YouPorn era?

Sex/Life, Netflix review - Mills & Boon for the YouPorn era?

Non-stop sex in the city (and elsewhere)

'Oh my God, was he good at following instructions!'

Has Netflix succeeded in reshaping Mills & Boon for the YouPorn era?

Though situated in a contemporary New York where empowered women run investment companies, earn doctorates in psychology from Columbia University, and deliver forceful lectures on race and gender roles, Sex/Life is the story of Billie, whose emotional stability is being blown to pieces by her inability to choose between two hunky men.

Billie (Sarah Shahi) has abandoned her PhD studies, where she’s been working on a revolutionary thesis about how commitment and monogamy are the best route to a sensational sex life, to marry investment specialist Cooper Connelly (Mike Vogel, whom almost nobody will remember as a pilot in the preposterous airline series Pan Am). However, Billie is unable to practise what she preaches and embrace her life as a cosseted Connecticut wife and mother, because she’s being driven crazy by memories of the wild and adventurous sex life she had a decade ago with an Australian record producer called Brad (Adam Demos). She’s forever lapsing into dazzling and intimately detailed flashbacks of sex from below and from above, in stairwells, swimming pools, against the wall or in restaurants (pictured below), and real-life hubby Cooper simply can’t compete.

Sarah Sex/LifeHowever, hoping (she claims) to exorcise the grip of these X-rated memories, Billie starts keeping a journal on her Macbook in which she writes down every tiny detail of everything she did (pictured below). Since she always leaves the computer lying around and it doesn’t have a password, Cooper reads it, and decides he’d better try harder to give Billie what she wants. As Billie puts it, he treats it as an instruction manual, and “oh my God, was he good at following instructions!” But even though Cooper prostrates her across the kitchen counter in a frenzy of sexual abandon, Billie’s pesky past just won’t quit.

The theme of family, adulthood and settling down versus the delirious irresponsibility of youth probably has much to recommend it as a subject for drama, but this lurid eight-parter is mostly concerned with how little narrative you can get away with in between high-definition, intricately-lit chunks of shagging. Think Mad Men with its brain removed crossed with Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s been adapted by showrunner Stacy Rukeyser from BB Easton’s book 44 Chapters About 4 Men, which is said to be very funny, while the TV version is merely laughable.

A Road Runner cartoon has more sophisticated characterisations. Billie’s neighbours in affluent Connecticut are translucent cliches of boredom and frustration, and how Billie and her best friend Sasha (Margaret Odette) were able to meet the sustained academic requirements of Doctoral studies while pursuing round-the-clock drinking, clubbing and sex in Manhattan is not explained. Sasha does at least occasionally zap Billie between the eyes with some doses of straight-talking common sense.

Sarah Sex/LifeAs for the men, Brad is a smirking, swaggering alpha-plus-male who makes James Bond look like Rylan Clark-Neal, and comes out with lines like “women don’t usually leave my apartment, not until I ask them to”. Sobbing reveries of a painful past and an absentee father supposedly make him more interesting, though his real claim to social media fame is the startling moment in episode 3 when his enormous male member is revealed on camera.

Cooper, on the other hand, is a paragon of virtue, having turned his back on a colossal salary at Morgan Stanley to immerse himself in “true impact investment”, where he hopes to find a cure for cancer and improve the lot of mankind via nanotechnology. He’s so straight-laced and old school that he’s even able to resist the advances of his boss, Francesca (Li Jun Li). Only when he and Billie attend a neighbourhood swingers’ party does his facade temporarily slip.

The story seems to take Billie on a long arc, yet by the end she has still learned nothing. Having reached the conclusion that “maybe you can have it all, but not all at the same time”, the curtain comes down on her saying “I do want it all and I do want it right now!” This can only mean one thing – Season 2.

Think 'Mad Men' with its brain removed crossed with 'Fifty Shades of Grey'

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