A devil, a mandrill, a mouse, and a stone man walk into a bar. It sounds like the beginning of a crummy joke, but is actually part of the opener for a terrible reality TV show. Netflix’s Sexy Beasts uses cutting-edge prosthetics to give its prospective daters the visages of various animals and mythical creatures. The contestants’ goal is to find a partner based on personality and not just looks. As far as dating show gimmicks go, the premise is both creative and creepy, but the series doesn’t embrace its inherent weirdness. Based on a 2014 British series of the same name that understandably lasted for only one season, it makes a superfluous return on the streaming platform with Catastrophe’s Rob Delaney as the narrator. His wry commentary and the terrifying, well-done prosthetics are the only reasons to consider watching a show that is as bizarre as it is deceptive.
Netflix’s dating programs—including The Circle, Too Hot To Handle, and Love Is Blind—are increasingly contrived, but Sexy Beasts pushes irony to the extreme. The other shows at least have obstacles: Too Hot To Handle forbids contestants from hooking up, Love Is Blind only allows them to see each other after they’ve communicated with and chosen a partner from isolated pods. In Sexy Beasts, the main participant in each episode meets with three suitable (pri)mates and judges them based on conversations, character, and chemistry. After one gets eliminated, the remaining two go on a first date with the bachelor/bachelorette, and the final sexy beast scores a coveted second date. Their faces are revealed only after the final selection. All of this effort just to go on date number two means the stakes are basically zero. It’s tough to care about two humans dressed as a wolf and an owl at a gin distillery, or whether they’ll make it work, when only a few minutes of their interactions are shown.
Sexy Beasts is ultimately a frustrating bait-and-switch. The official Netflix synopsis states the show “takes looks completely out of the equation,” but it forgets to mention this tiny fact to every person featured. They’re all unnerved at the prospect of going out with someone whose face they haven’t seen (which, fair enough), but they can’t stop gabbing to the camera about whether or not the person behind the prosthetic will be “hot.” What if they eliminate a good-looking person? For most of these contestants, that would be nothing short of a Shakespearean tragedy. When the prosthetics finally come off, the participants’ looks are more important than ever, a fact that’s emphasized by the glamorous framing of their “real selves” after the reveal. The purpose of the show is immediately rendered moot.
The gaping hole in the show’s arbitrary premise is that only the contestants’ faces are masked up; their bodies aren’t hidden behind some animal garb. It means the man made up like a beaver can proclaim a woman’s ass his biggest priority, then quickly confirm whether she fits the bill by pulling out her chair to check out her backside, and boast about it. In the same episode, while a pixie is on an ice-sculpting date with the same beaver (a sentence no one has ever wanted to write), she asks him what he would do if she gained 300 pounds. His answer, and her takeaway, are unsurprising and in line with the show’s frivolity. Sexy Beasts is already an irksome watch, but it also throws in a dose of fatphobia to cement its unpleasantness. For a dating competition purportedly trying to rise above the superficiality of its contemporaries, the lack of body diversity in participants is striking. Those involved in casting made no efforts to widen the pool beyond the customarily thin candidates often seen in this genre.
Delaney’s comical, self-aware narration is the saving grace. It’s as if he’s in on the joke that the show is preaching personality over beauty, but those rules are clearly meant to be broken. Prosthetics and makeup director Kristyan Mallet, best known for his work in The Nevers, Mission Impossible: Fallout, and The Theory Of Everything, does a phenomenal job here of getting the eccentric prosthetics right, even if it means most of the competitors can hardly sip the drinks they’re meant to bond over. The troll, the panda, the bull, and the rooster are standout looks.
That attention to detail doesn’t extend past the makeup, as the show is neither subversive nor insightful. The predictability of the final choices even takes the mindless fun out of it. Most of the daters’ dispositions are only heightened—is a reality show ever truly real?—by the ordeal, whether it’s the 24-year-old panda announcing herself as “nutty” and “a psychopath” looking to get married right away, a party-loving mantis with a self-proclaimed elite personality, or a rhinoceros who practices “sex kung-fu.” These traits, along with the animal prosthetics, make for plenty of absurd drama, but Sexy Beasts doesn’t lean into its concept enough to make the whimsy shine. We can count ourselves lucky that the episode runtimes are as brief as these romantic flings.