Esther Watson

Help, I can’t stop watching Sex/Life

Help, I can't stop watching Sex/Life
Sex/Life (Image: Netflix)
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On 25 June Netflix launched its latest offering, Sex/Life, which quickly became the service’s most-watched show in the UK. 

The show revolves around Billie Connelly (no, not that Billy Connolly) a beautiful but unfulfilled suburban mum, whose mundane life is peppered with flashbacks of the raunchy youth she spent living it up in the Big Apple. She is married to Cooper, an investment banker with a big heart who possesses the looks and intellect of a Ken doll. You know the story already. Billie has everything a girl should want. A husband who adores her. A Dutch colonial mansion in upstate New York. A nanny. But she can’t help lusting over her ex-boyfriend, Brad, a hot shot record executive, and the tumultuous relationship they once had. 

I began watching the show with my boyfriend who likes documentaries about power struggles in 16th-century Japan. I like the Kardashians, so most of the time we sit in stony silence staring into space. But on this occasion, I got him to crack. Within ten minutes I had to stop. I felt violated. But Sex/Life is like a horrific car crash: you can’t help but look though you know you shouldn’t. And a hangover on a Sunday morning gave me the perfect excuse to rubber-neck. 

You see, I am not above trash. In fact, I worship trash. But this show is more porn pretending to be trash. Sex/Life is 85 per cent ‘sex’ and 15 per cent ‘life’ — and that’s being generous to the ‘life‘ element. 

There is no plot. None of the characters are likeable or interesting. It feels like a program generated by a not very sophisticated algorithm. Scene after meaningless scene: sassy narrator voice, sex, housewife feminist anxiety, more sex, saccharine child-related moment, CGI-enhanced topless man, more sex, comedic moment, more sex. But the algorithm works, somehow. I found myself bored and irritated yet compelled to carry on watching through the awfulness. 

I had lots of questions. How can Netflix, a company worth $225 billion be capable of producing something so undeniably terrible? How can characters be so shallow? How could they find willing participants to act in this monstrosity? Why am I still watching? Is this how porn-addicted men feel? Do I need help? The problem is not that the show is unrealistic — most good entertainment is. We don’t mind that a university lecturer has the apartment of a rock star. We don’t ask why a new mother has the body of a Victoria’s Secret model. 

Sex/Life occasionally threatens to be interesting. The dramatic tension is meant to centre on women who are happy yet dissatisfied with family life. But each episode fails to explore that narrative thread — and then, almost apologetically, gives the viewer another sex scene. Even the sex scenes are strangely boring. The leading actor Sarah Shahi has defended the flagrant licentiousness, saying of the show that it is ‘sex represented by women for women’. But it isn’t. It is just a series dedicated to a tasteless and strangely pre-internet — or Mills & Boon — idea of ‘passion’. 

The two main characters fight and have sex and that’s about all they do. The lover Brad has an explosive temper, which is meant to make him dark and sexy. In one flashback our heroine finds out she’s pregnant. Brad doesn’t want her to be and has another Neanderthal outburst. He then redeems himself by sending the mother of his child a — wait for it — vintage leather jacket for a new born baby. Billie is moved to tears by this gracious act. She soon miscarries, which is sad as well as convenient: Sex/Life refuses to deal in complexity. 

It’s all too much but somehow I watched three whole episodes in a row. I can blame hangovers and incipient alcoholism. But really I think I may be addicted to Sex/Life, the purest trash one can stream. And I’m slightly ashamed.