In the past couple of years, Netflix has really stepped up production of entertaining trash like Love Is Blind, The Circle, Too Hot To Handle, and Dating Around. But Sexy Beasts is unlike any other dating show the streaming giant has released. Singles go on speed dates with three contestants, pick two people to take on dates from there, and ultimately choose one lucky winner. But there’s a catch: They don’t know what anyone looks like because they’re all covered in prosthetics that make them look like creatures. This is supposed to be a lesson in getting to know people according to their personalities instead of looks, while still getting to go out with attractive people—just without knowing for certain they’re actually good-looking underneath the makeup. But one Sexy Beast didn’t learn the lesson.
James, the guy dressed as a beaver—whose comment, “Ass first, personality second,” is one of the most memorable and annoying parts of the trailer—is the kind of guy who makes you want to scream at your TV. Most of the daters are well-adjusted and actually put in the effort to connect with their dates, but not James, who’s shallow and seems to have zero self-awareness. The Los Angeles lab technician introduces himself by saying that, because he’s a “big guy,” people make assumptions about him. He’s talking about the plight of the beefcake: “They think that I’m very selfish and cocky, but as big as my muscles are, my heart’s bigger.” You’d think that a guy who says he doesn’t want to be stereotyped as a shallow gym rat would be more concerned with giving this “falling for someone’s personality” thing a try. But barely a minute after saying he doesn’t want to be judged for his muscles, James wonders, “What other guy on the planet is dressed as a beaver and still has three girls fighting over him?”, setting the tone for the rest of the second episode of the series.
The women he meets are Amber (who’s made up as a pixie), who’s from North Carolina and serves in the military; Alexis (a tiger), a law student and singer based in New York City; and Tamiko (a zombie), who lives in San Francisco and is described as “an expert in drone tech.” James starts out strong, pulling out their chairs in a chivalrous manner and asking them about themselves. But his true personality quickly seeps through. He asks Amber to feel his bicep, and when Tamiko mentions she’s a “sneakerhead,” he props his foot on the table to show her his shoes. It’s odd behavior, but initially reads more as “nervous himbo” rather than “asshole man-child.” He even comes off as sweet when he eliminates Tamiko, talking about how much he dislikes having to hurt someone’s feelings by sending them home.
But throughout the rest of the episode, his dickish behavior is only magnified, yet the red flags are brushed off by his dates as James just being “classic James.” Watching James act like a spoiled brat for the 22-minute episode will likely give any woman who’s been trapped in a bad first date some anxiety. He gives the impression that, from the standpoint of being the one in charge of the dates, he feels the women have to do everything in their power to win his affection, rather than the other way around.
On his ice-sculpting date with Amber, he doesn’t seem interested in getting to know her, instead trying to draw all the attention to himself. When instructor Nick attempts to show the pair how to make a seashell, James becomes more invested in “twerking” his pecks for Amber, saying that it’s more impressive than making art out of ice. Amber makes the rookie mistake of asking James what he likes about her, and he responds honestly, saying he likes that she isn’t awkward, but he also really likes her body. “So what if we started dating and I gained like 300 pounds, then what?” Amber inquires. James panics, looks to Nick to help him out (no luck there), and stammers, “Honestly, if you gained like 300 pounds… Ugh… I don’t know.” It’s an insensitive answer that stands out on a show where people are trying to prove that personality comes before looks. When the date changes to a second location, Amber is polite, but her energy isn’t as upbeat; you can tell she’s had enough of this eager beaver. That doesn’t stop James from putting moves on her, asking if he can get a hug, and then trying his luck at a kiss—which Amber rebuffs.
The second date is just as painful to watch, though Alexis seems far more into James than Amber was. Still, he’s condescending throughout their skeet-shooting date. When it’s Amber’s turn to shoot, she misses a shot, and he says, “I think you gotta hit the target.” James neglects to ask her anything about herself, instead talking about other competitive things they can do together. He then makes his move, asking her to kiss him, and she complies. Even when James picks Alexis as the “winner,” he still behaves in a way that proves how little self-awareness he has. When Alexis and James finally get to see each other unmasked, James tells a slightly shivering Alexis that he’s going to take off his jacket because she “deserves it.” But instead of handing it to her, he throws it on the ground, twirling slowly so she can take a look at his muscles again. (Even Alexis expresses surprise that he didn’t offer her the jacket instead.) And after kissing her again, James tells the camera that though he’s excited for his journey with Alexis, he’s ready to hit up Tamiko if it doesn’t work out.
Watching the episode, you can’t help but wonder if the women would feel the same if the roles were reversed; there’s no way to know, since they’re not given many opportunities to share their true impressions. James could be worse; he’s not quite as awful as Gurki Basra’s date Justin in the first season of Netflix’s Dating Around, who chastises her for agreeing to an arranged marriage because it was important to her family. But while Gurki’s moment with Justin allowed her to stand up for herself on camera and tell him exactly what was wrong with his treatment of her, James sees zero consequences, despite not understanding the assignment. The women appease him when he fishes for compliments, and assure him that they’re still in it to win. The only one who points out James’ unappealing behavior is the narrator, Rob Delaney, who pokes fun at his many ridiculous comments.
James’ behavior looks much worse when compared to the other daters on Sexy Beasts. For example, the series begins with Emma, a professional model, who wants men to get to know her without focusing on her looks. Unlike James, who claimed he wanted to be seen for more than his physique, Emma actually puts in the effort to ask her dates about themselves. She takes the show’s premise seriously, putting as much emphasis on having fun on her dates as looking for someone who’d complement her as a partner.
But James’ behavior may just be part and parcel with a show like Sexy Beasts. As our review pointed out, every contestant is thin (or in the case of James, muscle-bound) and traditionally attractive behind those prosthetics. The series could’ve been a lesson in actually falling for someone for their personality instead of being fairly confident that behind the makeup there’s a “hottie.” But by letting James run the show for an episode, Sexy Beasts prioritizes an uncomfortable “can’t look away” car crash-like experience, rather than actually giving contestants a fair chance at love.