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Sarah Shahi in Sex/Life.
Sarah Shahi in Sex/Life.
Photo: Netflix






1/5 Stars


A suburban wife and mother takes a fantasy-charged trip down memory lane that sets her present on a collision course with her wild-child past.


Warning this review contains spoilers.

Sex/Life tries really hard to be risque. And one can see the bare bones of what it is trying to do – ask difficult questions about monogamy and polygamy and what a woman and wife is supposed to be. But the problem is that it does not go much further than asking the questions; instead, it hides behind many sex scenes, a flimsy plot, underdeveloped characters, and a story that is just frustrating and annoying to watch.

Watching The Twilight Saga as an adult is a different experience. I could not help but wonder why Bella would want to put herself through this toxic relationship with a man 10x her age, becoming a teen bride and mom and living a life of uncertainty. But it's easy to forgive when you realise that Bella is a teenager living in a fantasy world. Not so cute, when your protagonist is a woman in her 40s still making very silly mistakes such as not communicating with her partner, lying and pining for a time before she had any responsibilities. Thinking longingly about your youth is not strange; we all do it, but for Billie (Sarah Shahi), the protagonist of Sex/Life, it becomes more like an obsession. And instead of treating this as the cry for help that it is, the show makes it more into a story about a love triangle.

Sex/Life is the story of Billie, who lives the average upper-class suburban life in Connecticut with her husband, Cooper (Mike Vogel) and her two kids. Through the entry point of an online journal and flashbacks, we learn that Billie had a sexually promiscuous wild-child youth, mainly featuring her ex-boyfriend, Brad (Adam DeVos). And she is struggling with fantasising about Brad while still wanting to stay with Cooper. And this is repeated episode after episode in a frustrating pattern, and even at the detriment of the two men in the series. Emboldened by his hold on her, Brad tries to win her back (while she is still married), and Cooper tries to improve their sex life and, when that does not work, becomes obsessed with Brad himself and entertains the thought of other women. It's chaotic, extremely messy, but not in a good way. As in, it does not feel like an organised, delicious mess; it feels like the storyline got too conflated and stuck in itself that it forgot what it was, and it just kept paddling through unchartered waters.

So what makes the show so bad? Oh, almost everything. A show can be trashy and entertaining; a show can be soapy and entertaining. The thing is, even if a show isn't critically the best, if it keeps viewers locked into its world and eager to click that 'next episode' button, it has done its job (see Ginny & Georgia), but this was not even an easy watch. As mentioned above, the show seems as if it would be an interesting exploration of monogamy vs polyamory, but it is not that. Billie is not interested in polyamory (as is shown by the sex club scene in episode 7). She wants the adventure and thrill of Brad with the security and safety of Cooper. But, on the other hand, she wants to be in a monogamous relationship. For her, it is more of which man does she want to be in a relationship with. And through the course of the season, we see her flip flop between the two men until it seems as if she's made a choice – except in the last ten minutes, she goes back to the undecided character we saw in every other episode. If this was a set-up for season two, they did a terrible job of unravelling the minimal character progression that they did have for a cheap shot at a cliffhanger.

Like with any show, if the plot fails, you have to hope the characters are interesting. And these are not. Firstly, Billie is such a passive participant in her relationships, and she does not communicate what she wants until the very end that it becomes frustrating. Her husband did not even know about her ex until he read her journal, and even then, she consistently lies to him that he spirals into paranoia. We never get to learn why Billie feels the need to live a traditional housewife life; we briefly meet her parents and don't learn much about them other than the fact that her mother speaks out of turn. I mean, I am not a psychology student like Billie, but it seems as if she had a sheltered youth; that's why she's attracted to danger? Or she likes having a project that she needs to fix? I don't know, but the fact that she is a psychology student but is not self-aware or does not recognise that she needs psychological help is a problem.

The rest of the characters as well are equally underdeveloped. Brad's father left him when he was young, so now he acts up whenever anyone gets close to him (put your hand up if you've heard this trope before), and this is supposed to make us feel sorry for him. There is nothing much to Cooper other than being a traditional good guy who has a high-powered job. And Billie's best friend, Sasha, fits into whatever Billie needs at whatever time - a shoulder to cry on, a voice of reason, a sounding board that she does not feel like her own character. This is all a result of weak writing. Even the lines of dialogue seem stilted and inauthentic. Brad is supposed to ooze charisma, but other than a few naughty, knowing smiles whenever he spoke, it sounded like a computer-generated script created from thousands of bad boy characters. I consistently rolled my eyes whenever he spoke because it sounded extremely cliche.

The question in the title is how does one balance the need for sex and the need for life. And while the show spends a lot of time on softcore sex scenes, which becomes tedious after a while, it does very little to investigate what that balance looks like for women questioning their choices in life. There is also very few solutions offered other than just fight through it; Cooper and Billie don't go for couple's counselling; they don't move away from the neighbourhood targeting them and their child; they just take things as they are. It feels like a very outdated look at what monogamy, sex, and marriage should be, as if it was written in the '80s or the midst of second-wave feminism. But it is 2021 now; it is a well-known fact that marriages are hard work, Sex and the City covered the bases between a committed relationship and being sexually adventurous; people live in blended households. I just feel like the show was trying too hard to say too many things and failed in saying anything.

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