"I’ll always remember Sexy Beasts as the reality dating premise that got away," says Alison Foreman of the Netflix reality dating series. "Things started off well enough. When Netflix dropped the first trailer for its new matchmaking game last month, Twitter lit up with excitement. The potential for a The Masked Singer-meets-Love Is Blind hybrid, in which contestants look for love while disguised by zany prosthetic makeup, was immediately apparent. Watching a flirty panda bear spend a night on the town with a robot, a bull, and an alien? You have to admit: It sounds positively charming. And yet, in its final form, Sexy Beasts doesn’t live up to the promise of its fantastical hook. It’s not that its creators and contestants fail to fully commit to the 'hot animals' bit; they genuinely seem to get into the whole campy schtick. But a lack of stakes, a repetitive formula, and a few missed opportunities sink an otherwise good idea."
The biggest problem is that Sexy Beasts undermines its own premise from the start: "Whatever one might think of Netflix’s other shows, they really commit to the gag," says Ari Bundel. “The Circle contestants seem to really be trying to judge if their date is legit or if they’re just being catfished, an experience anyone who has flirted with a stranger on the internet can relate to. Too Hot to Handle does at least attempt to force its contestants to get to know each other as people before getting intimate. But Sexy Beasts, which claims to also be taking appearances out of the dating equation, is doing no such thing. The opening episode, 'Emma the Demon,' features a woman whose job it is to be a model, and whose clearly ultra-conventional good looks are not well hidden beneath her Hollywood-level 'devil' prosthetics. Even those who have wilder, more unorthodox makeup covering their faces (a praying mantis comes to mind) don’t have much more than a bit of makeup on their hands. Contestants know what they’re getting below the neck, meaning male contestants who openly volunteer that they are into 'big boobs,' or a 'large butt' are able (and all too happy) to leer at their dates’ physical forms, even as everyone incessantly worries about ending up with someone who is not blessed with a perfectly symmetrical face. The series attempts to make fun of its own failures by having comedian Rob Delaney narrate."
As a reboot, Sexy Beasts seems influenced by Love Is Blind and The Masked Singer, but lacks what made those two shows work: Love Is Blind, says Caroline Framke, "used its striking concept to examine the strange and painful ways people told themselves stories about love, and love lost. With real and unflinching curiosity, it looked at the narratives people create to justify inexplicable decisions. (What it lacked in a certain humanity it made up for in clarity of purpose.) Rebooting each episode rather than following a season-long through line, Sexy Beasts isn’t trying to achieve precisely what Love Is Blind did, but it doesn’t even get close in terms of insight, novelty, or memorable characters. There’s no time in overstuffed episodes to really consider the oddity of dating at all, let alone to examine how folks might feel about dating under these circumstances, beyond the barest of pleasantries. The entire show feels dressed up in a prosthesis designed to obscure the real, down to an endless voice-over monologue by Rob Delaney (a talent who deserves better), choking the life and tension out of every moment. The brief episodes are so relentless in terms of establishing the situation, explaining the format, setting up a panoply of individual dates, and providing endless and witless editorial comment, that little sparkles through the spackle."
There's an inherent cheat built into the format because everybody is conventionally attractive: "When one of the not-selected contenders is presented without the makeup, the disembodied voice asks, 'Is this face hot enough to make Emma regret her decision?,'" says Brian Lowry. "But hold on, there's an inherent cheat built into the format, lacking even the courage of its slim conceit, since everyone -- stripped of their prosthetic appliances -- is attractive by conventional standards and those of the genre. In one episode, the bachelorette announces that she's a model, and she's not wearing a sackcloth, so as dice rolls go betting on whether she looks OK once she removes the mask isn't much of a gamble. So what does that leave? A show consciously designed to garner attention, which has succeeded in the past."
Why are all the Sexy Beasts contestants hot?: "The most common occupation on Sexy Beasts is model—model!—but even those relegated to not being paid for their DNA are conventionally attractive, usually extraordinarily so," says Claire McNear. "There are no nasty surprises; every beast on Sexy Beasts is, in fact, sexy. It is very nice for all the dashing singletons that they get to discover that their pick of the litter could probably, and might already, juggle a few Instagram sponsors. But it just doesn’t make for very good TV."
Sexy Beasts is surprisingly boring despite its ridiculousness: "Alas, Sexy Beasts is more interesting to think about than to watch," says Kate Knibbs, adding: "If anything, Sexy Beasts is the rare show that feels like it would’ve worked better as a Quibi offering. If each episode was, say, five minutes long, it’d be a stronger product, as the premise and the end reveal are the only compelling parts. But while it doesn’t get high marks for entertainment value, it is notable for how forthright it is as a dating show. Despite grabbing attention for its outlandish costumes, it features courtship behavior that is far more down-to-earth than its dating competition predecessors. One contestant admits she’s only there to break a dry streak, and she is visibly relieved when she’s eliminated. An American participant notes that choosing a suitor from England makes a real relationship between them unlikely, but she had fun anyways."
Sexy Beasts may be the most harmless, commitment-free dating reality show out there: "All shows like this attempt to play out some version of a Cinderella fairy tale," says Melanie McFarland. "This one presents itself as nothing more than algorithmically calculated entertainment. It may be built upon the notion of 'it's what inside that counts,' but it comes off as the well-mannered issue of a drunken hookup between the makeup reality competition show Face Off and MTV's Singled Out. The real stars of this show are the makeup effects specialists, who conceal each person's looks completely enough to make the reveals actually exciting."
Sexy Beasts is shallow in concept and creaky in execution: "Its heavy production choices—obtrusive narration, rigid structure, inorganic set-ups—feel especially dated," says Laura Bradley. "Sexy Beasts still bears the hallmarks of its cable upbringing—production choices and genre conventions that Netflix itself has helped to make passé. Consider Dating Around, which debuted in 2019 with a lower-key approach as subjects went on dates around New York. Even Love Is Blind, a more manipulative format, offered a unique vantage point into how people form emotional connections through conversation. But more sinful is this show’s apparent refusal to do anything remotely interesting with its concept. Its mind-numbing repetition of the same punchline—people in funny costumes getting pedicures and, when they’re lucky, struggling to get their prosthetic noses out of the way for a kiss—gives diminishing returns each time. Also: If Sexy Beasts is all about exploring the various kinds of connections people make on dates, why are all the fuzzy-faced daters we follow straight? And if this is really an exercise in connecting based on personality alone, why are all of these people so conventionally hot?"
Sexy Beasts pushes irony to the extreme: "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," says Saloni Gajjar. "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."
The problem is that Sexy Beasts is just bad television: "Sexy Beasts’ prosthetics are well-made and fun, and the over-the-top orchestral score is having a blast (I particularly love the music over the credits)," says Andy Dehnart. "But the rest of the show doesn’t dare go beyond skin-deep. This Lion TV’s third attempt at producing this show, and the third time isn’t charming, it’s just a wreck."
Sexy Beasts is completely bonkers and surprisingly authentic: "Sure, it’s a little odd at first to see two people going on a date while clad in bizarre prosthetics – whether they’re disguised as a devil, a panda or an alien – but you soon get sucked into the strange world of Sexy Beasts and are able to enjoy the show for what it’s really about – people getting to know one another and see if they can like someone purely for their personality rather than their looks. Initially, the crazy costumes act as an ice breaker on dates, with the contestants making awkward jokes about their new look and sometimes copping a feel of a pair of large ears or an elongated nose," says Grace Henry. "It’s all good, clean, light-hearted fun, but it’s also quite a nice way to ease the contestants in, with some revealing they were able to be themselves more behind the mask as they didn’t worry about how they would be perceived physically."
How Buffy the Vampire Slayer influenced Sexy Beasts: “I used to love it when a couple of vampires would suddenly have a chat about mundane things” on Buffy, says Sexy Beasts creator Simon Welton. “The juxtaposition of these odd-looking creatures talking about the temperature or something like that, I thought that was funny, and quite arresting as a visual.” His idea went against the traditional goal of prosthetics, which are regularly used in dramatic biopics and sci-fi fare to sustain the suspension of disbelief. “The goal there is to look as realistic to the eye as possible — to blend into the skin, to be unnoticed, really — so the viewer can just get absorbed with the character without getting distracted by what we’ve done,” says Sexy Beasts prosthetics director Kristyan Mallett. By contrast, the Netflix series called for creations that are “meant to be seen, and they’re meant to be ridiculously silly.”
Sexy Beasts presented a challenge for prosthetics director Kristyan Mallett. He didn't know who was going to be wearing a given design, and masks and prosthetics are normally fitted to a specific person. “I was asked to produce 44 different characters, and they all had to be ready for day one,” he explains. From sculpting to molding to adding feathers, Mallett and his workshop team built masks from foam latex and additional prosthetic pieces.