Creator: Laura Gibson, Charlie Bennett
Narrator: Desiree Burch
Streaming Platform: Netflix
Just because we think about sex every few hours or so, doesn’t mean we need to have it just as often. But put a bunch of sexed up, generically attractive people on a steaming island, then both clothes and inhibitions are meant to drop at an alarming frequency. But what if you can condition someone to drop just the clothes, for it is a hot island, but guard the inhibitions?
For Netflix’s latest Too Hot To Handle, this means having achieved deeper emotional growth. (For most people, it’s just willpower, that waxes and wanes on its own terms.) To achieve this, they have a pot of $100,000 and for every breach of conduct- this can mean a kiss, sex (any kind), or even masturbation- an uncertain amount of money will be deducted. Who will get the money? How will it be divided? You only find out at the very end.
An intellectual engagement with this show, that is a literal manifestation of a clickbait, is as unnecessary as a hot-take on Tarkovsky…It’s about ephemeral joys as a viewer.
This is brilliant because now you are abstaining from sex or anything sexual, and for the contestants, who are used to plummeting from apps to taps, from streets to sheets with frequent ease this is certainly an ask. But you don’t know what you are going to get out of this experience, monetarily. You are potentially being punished if someone else kisses, for the pot drains of money that you could be getting at the end. You are also potentially punishing your future self of money by acquiring snogs by the poolside. This is a classic Economics — Tragedy of the Commons and Present Discounted Value — at its most sexy.
And of course, it is fun to watch- initially at least. Then the generic beauty fades, their faults blare — of which there are many! — and the stretched length of the episodes (8 episodes- 45 minutes) begins to feel indulgent. Every episode has a banal self-improvement game, where they either see their vaginas in the hand mirror (women empowerment), rub mud on each other (connecting to the earth), or tie each other up (trust). There’s no drama here for it is not the stupidity, but their emotional growth that is given a platform. But the thing is, nobody cares for their emotional growth. And Netflix knows this. We are here for the drama, the teases, the breaches, the accusations, and resultant screeches. I don’t want to see pec-man talking about how his feelings were hurt when he was called a “player”.
One of the contestants proclaims to the boys that he has sex almost everyday, and every morning when he looks at the girl’s face his only thought is veering towards how a new one will be there the next morning.
This is also odd because the show is consistently trying to make you feel like these people are from an entirely different world. None of them are seen eating breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The date food is mostly strawberries and chocolate, and the one time a contestant is seen eating a meal, it is because she is sick. They sit around all day snacking on their own self-image. They make money from Instagram, describe themselves as part-time selfie takers, and don’t know where Australia is on the map. One of them even proclaims to the boys that he has sex almost everyday, and every morning when he looks at the girl’s face his only thought is veering towards how a new one will be there the next morning.
But here’s the thing. Beyond a point, it’s not just about judging them, because they are mostly honest, and self-aware. It’s not even about judging yourself for watching this, for you know you won’t learn your lesson. It’s about ephemeral joys as a viewer. And ironically that means a bunch of people abstaining from an ephemeral joy itself.
When one of the characters, Harry, lies to everyone that it was Francesca who leaned in for the kiss and not him, thus embarrassing her, and yet she goes back to him, and not just that, but she apologizes to him for moving on swiftly to another guy after he embarrassed her, I was stunned. I even judged her for a moment. Then it hit me. Wouldn’t it be amazing if I consciously abstained from judgment as the contestants abstained from sex? Both feel primal. Both are indulged too often. Needless to say, we both failed.
But this show would understand because besides being the love child of a Victorian sex-educator and a masochist, it is ultimately forgiving. I am sure there are other think-pieces this show can breed — on surveillance, for example, making sure no one gets a wank even in the shower or while taking a shit, which again no one is seen taking on this Island — but honestly, an intellectual engagement with this show, that is a literal manifestation of a clickbait, is as unnecessary as a hot-take on Tarkovsky. It is a disservice to the genre of flotsam and jetsam, that for now are guiding lighthouses towards a distracted enduring of our tiring reality.