Sex/Life Season 1 Review: Poorly conceived on every front
An unnecessary amount of graphic sexual content that leads nowhere is a clear indication that the show has nothing to offer
Said to be inspired by BB Easton’s 44 Chapters About 4 Men, Stacy Rukeyser’s comedy-drama series is not what it markets itself to be. It is no comedy (far from it, actually), and its woefully presented drama needs to add ‘melo’ as a prefix. What Sex/Life most certainly is, is cringe...from start to finish. Can’t say it lacks consistency there. Now, don’t get me wrong. Fantasising about your dreamy, a**hole ex, once you’re married with kids, is perhaps a story as old as time. Settling into a routine (with the supposedly perfect man) and living a life of security and domesticity isn’t exactly everybody’s idea of fun. It lacks the rush of blood one associates with unpredictability and adventure. So, the premise of the series, although explored extensively, isn’t to blame - the treatment, the writing, the acting, and the direction are! We get that a show of this nature is bound to have graphic scenes of sex and nudity, but if the makers are going to be filling nearly half its runtime (eight episodes of 45 - 50 minutes each) with such final takes, it’s clear they have nothing of note to share. The series’ inaugural season uses any excuse to portray its leads going at it like a bad condom ad. Where other shows use fillers in between important scenes, this one puts the first part of its title to good use. Films like Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct and Unfaithful all used graphic depictions of sex in their structure, but the important difference was its use as a device to further the narrative.
Creator – Stacy Rukeyser
Cast – Sarah Shahi, Mike Vogel, Adam Demos, Margaret Odette
Streaming On – Netflix
Billie (Sarah Shahi), around whom the show revolves, has chosen the life she has always wanted, or so she says; a stable and supportive husband, children, a house in the suburbs. Her husband, Cooper (Mike Vogel), puts even the nicest of nice guys to shame. Not only is he a great dad and partner, but he’s also a super success at work. And though Billie’s type was different in her wild youth, this is what makes her happy now. She keeps claiming through the show (she can barely convince herself, let alone the audience), that despite her adventurous side, this is the life she craves. The party pooper in this bubble of idyllic bliss is Billie’s bad boy ex-boyfriend, Brad (Adam Demos); a blonde Aussie record producer who lives carefree and dangerously. And finally, there’s Sasha (Margaret Odette), Billie’s fellow party girl from back in the day, and best friend.
The characters, as you can tell, are all walking clichés. And when you set your bar so low, don’t expect the story to surprise or wow you in any conceivable way. Predictability aside, it needs a half-decent cast and set of writers to pull off the bare minimum. It’s safe to say Sex/Life fails to make that cut, either. An ‘Average’ tag would be the pinnacle for such an effort to aspire to. For a moment, as we ignore the million hot and steamy scenes, we’re able to shift our focus to the inexplicable and ridiculous aspects of the narrative. We begin by discussing the professional exploits of Billie’s and Sasha’s (both psychology majors) existence. While the duo paints the town red at every given opportunity (prior to the former settling down), they tend to ace their exams without much fuss. Sasha is seen exclaiming, “Billie, this is brilliant! You’re a genius for writing this!” as she reads out her friend’s assignment. Sasha receives similar plaudits too. But observing them speak, and listening to Billie’s voiceover (from her journal), one is at a complete loss. Not just are her thoughts banal, she uses no experience of her field of study to decode her experiences and feelings; not in any insightful or effective manner, at least. Sasha isn’t too much better, either. The male characters are sketched out (if I’m at liberty to use such a term in this context) in as poor a manner as their female counterparts.
Brad being this dark, mysterious figure is complete hogwash as well. Oh okay, he had a screwed-up childhood brought on by abandonment issues. Talk about originality! His biological father left his mother and him when he was a child. Surprise, surprise! And Billie supposedly sees right through him in their first meeting, despite providing no real perspective on the subject. If he was such a closed book, wouldn’t he deny her first-impression psychological evaluation of him? Billie going on and on about the intensity of Brad’s conversations is another ridiculous part of the story. I’d like to know where these fictitious and phantom conversations are? The only intensity we see is...ahem...when their clothes are off. And then, finally, there’s Cooper’s unhealthy obsession with Billie’s journal. This man is such a good guy that not only does he refrain from getting angry, he desperately tries to re-create the missing passion in their marriage...by doing the same things Brad did for her. Now, how weird is that? All these aforementioned instances point to extremely poor writing.
In the acting department, the show has very little to offer. Adam Demos’s Brad can be half-believable at times, but I choose him only because he’s the least of all evils. Even if one were to dig deep and attempt to extract something redeemable from Sex/Life, it promises to be a great struggle...even if their life depended on it. For the amount of graphic content it throws at you, you’re better off comparing notes with a soft-core film set in a similar milieu.