The premise of Netflix’s latest reality show is simple – intolerably attractive people locked in a luxury resort, are challenged to refrain from engaging in any sexual activity. The gratification, or lack thereof, is that their brief stint with celibacy will be rewarded with a prize of 100,000 dollars. Seems simple enough?
Not quite. The contestants are self-confessed ‘hotties’ who find the task of keeping it on the ‘down-low’ next to impossible. So what you get is an eight episode long vapid saga of Instagram filtered women and men running around in next to nothing clothes, struggling to keep their hands off each other.
However, this isn’t an admonishment of the provocative, bordering on exploitative, mindless reality show. Like its narrator, a self-aware female voice-of-god calling out casual sexism and basic idiocy, this is an appreciation for a roughly eight hour long indulgence of our basest emotions, during the lockdown.
It’s no secret that most people, and by most I mean privileged, Netflix owning, banana bread-making people are struggling to remain locked up in the comforts of their homes. As the posts about home workouts and viral coffees start getting lazier and more hackneyed, this latest offering by Netflix is a blessing in disguise.
The contestants are self-confessed ‘hotties’ who find the task of keeping it on the ‘down-low’ next to impossible. So what you get is an eight episode long vapid saga of Instagram filtered women and men running around in next to nothing clothes, struggling to keep their hands off each other.
If you want to alternate your Tarkovsky watchlist with something lighter, or take a break from pretending to care about the last zoom call (which could’ve just been a text), this is the perfect show for you. It features a group of single women and men who claim to be from all over the world, but essentially are the same prototype but with varying degrees of American, British, Irish and Australian accents. They are asked to ‘make connections’ that are deeper than the superficial ones they usually make in the ‘real world’. Abstinence is the main challenge, one that is supposed to keep them honest and their feelings true.
However, drama unfolds when the singles pair up and their first instinct is to profess love for one another by breaking the rules. The penalty is deduction of funds from their prize money. The one in charge of keeping these horny twenty-somethings in check is an AI robot named Lana, because of course all robotic underlings must be females with calming, servile voices. Just to digress slightly, it’s important to mention that Lana is conical in shape, a phallic symbol more than anything, and is often shown to be admired by the men and feared by the women. The incidental irony in this show is hilarious to say the least. So Lana is a class monitor of sorts who keeps an eye on the contestants and calls out couples who break the rules. What you learn in the process is that kissing costs 3000 dollars, and as the ‘crime’ gets more serious, the penalty goes as high as 16000 dollars. The participants stretch the limits of what is allowed, their attempts mostly involve strawberries doused in various forms of chocolate as they try to evade the penalty whilst stimulating some kind of permissible arousal.
But do these lovelorn specimens who have spent their lives inside the bubble of their own attractiveness care about the money? Of course, not! And neither do the producers of the show, for they literally give the money back in the end and neatly divide the sum among all the contestants. The idea is not to have a winner, or for the audience to vote for anyone. It is simply an indulgence of your senses – primarily visual. You might lose some brain cells in the process, especially when one contestant shrieks that she ‘loves Australian men even though she doesn’t know where Australia is’. You are forced to jog your own memory and locate Australia in your mind map, just to ascertain that you still have a functioning brain. But what you lose in brain cells, you gain in pure, unadulterated trash entertainment.
Like any staple reality show, there are tasks designed to ‘test’ the contestants. The tasks are literal to say the least – from bondage ropes given to tie each other up to strengthen their ‘inner bond’ to tiny hand mirrors given to the female contestants to explore the ‘woman within’. But not to worry, these 50 Shades Darker themed tasks are veiled under larger ideas of ‘empowerment’, ‘breaking free from toxic masculinity’ and ‘embracing your inner self’.
The narrator mentioned previously is an adept guide through the series, pointing out flaws – both literal and moral, she has a cheeky Sex and the City chronicler vibe that ‘keeps it real’ in a world where it’s easy to get lost in a sea of abs, bronzer and not-so-subtle euphemisms for sex.
Too Hot to Handle can be discarded as a typical, flirtatious reality experience, however, it can also be seen as a competent study of the current Instagram crazed, sexually charged, manic culture that we partake in daily. For is it not a dramatic representation of our social media timelines, our depraved stalking instincts and our mindless scrolling culture. The blatant objectification of the women and men can be seen as problematic but it is no different from the billboards, magazines, films, and music videos we consume and gratuitously share with one another.
Too Hot to Handle can be discarded as a typical, flirtatious reality experience, however, it can also be seen as a competent study of the current Instagram crazed, sexually charged, manic culture that we partake in daily.
It can also be argued that the show is a portrayal of the largely sexualised dating culture where first dates are supposed to end in a ‘your place or mine’ dilemma. The idea of removing sex from the equation is earth shattering for this gorgeous crew in swimwear because it has formed the basis of their adult dating life. One contestant says clearly that in order for her to ‘feel’ something for the man, she needs to know if they’re sexually compatible. She then goes on to lose 3000 dollars, finds the kiss ‘lukewarm’ and dumps the guy. That instance is either an accurate depiction of our shallow dating culture or simply a colourful excuse used by an attractive blonde to get some screen time.
Amidst all the bikini shots, and ab workouts, the show may nudge you to revisit the idea that love and sex are mutually exclusive. Can one survive without the other? While the show makes you wonder, it definitely doesn’t answer any questions for almost all the contestants use sexual chemistry as the foremost parameter to judge the validity of their relationships.
Mostly the show ends up being a glorification of beautiful idiots, the ones we love to hate yet commercialise at the same time. The ones that adorn our billboards and social media timelines setting unreal standards of beauty and torso to leg ratio.
So if you find yourself drawn to the show – don’t blame the principal photography that is mainly focussed on the supremely tanned regions of its contestants, blame the internet culture we are so deeply immersed in that we are willing to spend eight hours to see if two beautiful idiots named Francesca and Harry are going to do ‘it’ in their private suite.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.