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Sex/Life isn't very good, but Sarah Shahi is a revelation carrying the Netflix series on her back

  • While the full-frontal shower scene has been dominating the conversation around the Netflix series, "it's far from Sex/Life’s greatest asset," says Shaun Kitchener. Sex/Life, he says, "does have one genuinely brilliant ace up its sleeve in the form of leading lady Sarah Shahi. Playing frustrated housewife Billie, the former star of The L Word and Chicago Fire is a revelation; and pretty much ends up carrying the entire thing on her back. She hasn’t had many opportunities to lead a series like this, and she gives it her absolute all; whether Billie’s caring for her kids, struggling with which man she wants, or having a difficult discussion with best friend Sasha in a station toilet while dealing with leaky lactating breasts. In the first episode, she even just about manages to salvage a hideously on-the-nose speech about a butterfly that’s trapped in a jar and needs to fly away because it can’t breathe (DO YOU SEE?). That she manages to take the better parts of the script and make Billie a convincing living, breathing human with clear motivations and rationales is quite something; especially given that the series generally spends far more time on its 4.2 billion sex scenes than it does on the creation of complex, three-dimensional characters. As sex scenes go, they’re certainly done in the right way: it’s the woman’s pleasure that’s always the top priority, and the camera lingers on the male body for much longer than it does on theirs. I mean, we see Brad’s full-on penis, for crying out loud. But the fact is that there’s so much sex and so much raunch that it often feels as though it’s coming (!) at the expense of a good story; and at the price of what is, potentially, a really rich premise about a woman who settles into suburban family life and yearns for the excitement of her past."


    • How sexy is Sex/Life? There are 2.75 sex scenes per episode: "The average number of sex scenes per episode is, by my highly scientific calculations, 2.75, which is considerable, given that each episode runs for about 45 minutes," says Karen Han. "Some sex scenes are brief, some are sex montages, but nevertheless, there are still a lot of them. That’s especially true in the first episode, which manages to pack in a whopping five sex scenes. In other words, this show’s purpose is fairly transparent, i.e., to try putting the 'chill' in 'Netflix and chill.'" Han adds: "Most of the sex feels borderline parodic—the biggest fetish on display is for sex in public places, whether it’s in a pool, in an elevator, in a stairwell, etc. (All three are actual examples from the show, and they aren’t even the tip of the public sex iceberg.) Otherwise, the sex is mostly basic, apart from a brief flashback in which Billie and her best friend swap boyfriends, a scene at a sex party, and a very brief shot of Brad eating melted chocolate off of Billie’s butt. In relation to your typical, largely sexless TV show, it’s pretty nuts, but it’s fairly mundane in relation to a show like Game of Thrones or, you know, actual porn—the desire for which seems to be driving Sex/Life up the Netflix charts."
    • Sarah Shahi admits "I was a bit scared and a bit turned on at the same time" when first reading the Sex/Life script: "It was a very risqué project in a lot of ways. Emotionally, I was going to have to go to some pretty raw, vulnerable places that I hadn’t had the opportunity to do on screen before, and physically, it was a very revealing side of myself," she says. "But more so than that, it was a super-cool opportunity to just be a part of something that’s so women-driven. It was written mostly by women writers, and every episode was directed by a woman. We also have a woman showrunner. So to be able to tell Billie’s story from such a broad female perspective was really cool. And a lot of times, when you have female sexuality on screen, it’s portrayed through the male POV, but this time, we really put it on its head by portraying everything through the female gaze. So I thought that was just something that was so important to be a part of."
    • Shahi's Billie has got to the most selfishly horny character in TV history: "In essence, Billie is just a character who yearns," says Meghan O'Keefe. "She is a vessel gobbling up sensations without emotions attached to them. This could be interesting if the show was willing to treat her with a sharper lens. Instead, we only see the world through Billie’s perspective, which is shockingly flat considering we’re privy to her inner monologue. Billie might not have the most sex on TV, but she has got to be the single most sexually-obsessed character on TV. That’s because wanting sex is the only interesting thing about her. Ironically, Sex/Life is a show that would be a lot hotter if its characters seemed to live real lives."
    • Whether Sex/Life's full-frontal scene features a real penis or a prosthetic is being kept under wraps: "People usually ask is it real or is it a prosthetic?" says creator Stacy Rukeyser. "And I can tell you what Adam Demos says about it which is, a gentleman never tells. So, we are leaving that up to the viewer's imagination."
    • Adam Demos says filming sex scenes is totally not-so sexy: "It's not, I mean, hopefully it looks convincing, but it's so mechanical, it's ridiculous," says the Australian actor, adding: "People ask if you get carried away, but you've got sound guys and cameramen right around you with the big beards. That's a bit of a turn off." 
    • Sarah Shahi and Adam Demos are taking their budding off-screen romance to new heights with flirty Instagram comments
    • How Sex/Life stars reacted to that shower scene

    TOPICS: Sarah Shahi, Netflix, Sex/Life, Adam Demos, Sex