A demon and the mandrill share a snog after riding a rollercoaster at Thorpe Park. A beaver introduces himself as “an ass man.” A mouse, disgruntled after being rejected at the first opportunity, storms off set, shouting “Your loss.” It’s almost impossible to pinpoint the precise moment in Sexy Beasts that threw me into an existential tailspin - there are too many potential contenders. Whatever the exact trigger, Netflix’s new, mildly unsettling dating show is the sort of television that inadvertently makes the viewer ask themselves some painful questions, namely: why am I spending my finite existence watching a bull-man and a panda-woman exchange stilted small talk on a trip to the zoo?
“When it comes to dating, we all go for looks,” narrator Rob Delaney explains as the first episode opens. “So in this show, everyone looks as weird as possible. Could you fall in love with someone based on personality alone?” Therein lies Sexy Beast’s social experiment: is it possible to fancy someone when you have no idea what they really look like? What about if they’ve been done up to resemble a bottle-nosed dolphin?
It’s a concept that shares some genes with another Netflix dating show, Love is Blind, spliced with the rogue DNA of The Masked Singer, but somehow manages to be less than the sum of its parts, lacking the addictive pull of the former and the chaotic fun of the latter.
First up is Emma, a six foot model from New York who is so fed up of being judged on her (good) looks that she has decided to fly across the Atlantic and obscure her symmetrical features with devil-red face paint and a pointy fake chin in the pursuit of love. She endures three speedy, snappily edited dates with a trio of uncanny suitors, one of whom tries to beast-splain the concept of banter, which she is unfamiliar with. Welcome to your crash course in British men, Emma! “Adam was trying to explain what banter meant… I don’t think we had it, though,” she muses afterwards.
All four creatures are then, inexplicably, whisked off to Knebworth House, where Emma must choose to dump one beast. Before making her decision, she sternly lays out some pointers for each of them, although it’s quite hard to take her do’s and don’ts seriously when she is dressed as a demon. One love interest is then ditched - and promptly unmasked; the remaining two head off on a wholesome activity-based date before a final decision is made; everyone then whips off their layers of prosthetics and meets under the wedding arch from The Sims 2 (including the dumped party, presumably to show Emma what she’s missing).
As the series goes on, it becomes clear that despite their nightmarish exterior, each beast is actually standard issue, Love Island contestant-grade attractive, which renders the show’s big thesis slightly meaningless. Will the couples ever meet up again outside of this bizarre social experiment? Are we even supposed to care if they do? Probably not. The whole endeavour is oddly humourless, despite the rich comic potential and Delaney’s best efforts to bring a bit of Iain Stirling spark to the narration. This is TV as an exercise in algorithm-baiting - an affair you’ll try to forget, though some of those disguises might just haunt your nightmares.
Sexy Beasts is on Netflix now