Sexy Beasts exposes dating for what it truly is: absurd

Patrick Lenton on the surprising authenticity behind the dating show’s bonkers costumes

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I’m Michael Sun, Netflix Culture Editor at Junkee and titular sexy beast. This week, I chat to former Junkee editor and eminently dateable author Patrick Lenton on the one scene from Sexy Beasts that blows the whole dating spectacle apart, revealing to us the sheer chaos at its heart.

MS: Patrick, both of us are clinically insane. If we were alive in the 1930s we would be getting Shutter Island-ed but because we are alive in 2021, we are here in the hallowed halls of this newsletter. You have also just released a collection of short stories called Sexy Tales of Paleontology, containing, amongst other things, “a sexy robot rebellion”, which is also how I would describe the scene you have chosen from Sexy Beasts

PL: Yes! It's hard to choose a single scene in this show that manages to stand out, because the whole experience is like having fireworks shot into your house, a lot of sound and light and screaming, and your dog is in the corner barking at the show. There's so much going on. But I did find one scene amongst the cavalcade of chaos which I THINK exemplifies the beating absurdity at the core of this show. And that's in episode 3, when the dude dressed as a Tin Man shows his first hint of emotion in the entire show after he's rejected by the extremely talkative and self-described sociopathic Kariselle the Panda. (Side note: does a Tin Man count as a ‘sexy robot’? Is a Tin Man just a steampunk robot? What is a Tin Man if not a robot stripped of pretension, without any fancy gadgets? I digress.)

The incredibly dour Tin Man, whose greatest claim to fame was being able to hold his breath for four minutes ("On purpose???" Kariselle asks), literally leaps into the air and whoops when Kariselle decides to get rid of him. I think it's perfect because we've all been on dates where the primary feeling is "relief" when it's over (one of mine was with someone who claimed to be a "giraffe scientist" and then told me that was "just a joke" — I wanted to talk about giraffes goddamnit) and this scene manifested that feeling perfectly. I didn't come to this show to feel seen, to have realistic depictions of dating reflected back to me; I came to this show to see a bunch of people in prosthetics get horny. But sometimes you get more than you bargain for.

Then there's the kind of dating show, Sexy Beasts included among them, that realise true love is so rare and strange and inscrutable, that it almost doesn't matter what you do.

Okay before we go any further I need to know more about this giraffe scientist in question.

He was a Tinder date who listed his occupation as "giraffe scientist", and because I'm someone who practices radical optimism when dating (much like the beautiful idiots in Sexy Beasts), I took him for his word. When I arrived at the cocktail bar, all primed with multiple questions about giraffes, he laughed awkwardly at me, and then after the third question had to admit that it was "just a joke" and he "wasn't really a giraffe scientist, I just thought it was funny to say that". Turns out he worked in finance or something. Men only think about ONE thing, and that's giraffe facts! He also lied about his age. Also he left me to pay for all the drinks. I never saw him again and I forget his name.

Men will literally lie about being a giraffe scientist instead of going to therapy. Look, if there’s one takeaway from your terrible date, it’s that dating is uniquely and so often absurd. It goes back to what you said earlier too: try as we might, we can’t escape the feeling that Sexy Beasts is somehow…relatable in its chaos?

There are two types of reality TV dating shows in my opinion — those that try to elevate the concept of romance and true love in the dating world, believing that a huge TV budget and a cast of well-meaning idiots could truly encourage the necessary alchemy needed for true love. I'm thinking of The Bachelor for example, where love is lauded and sought and something to strive for. 

Then there's the kind of dating show, Sexy Beasts included among them, that realise true love is so rare and strange and inscrutable, that it almost doesn't matter what you do. Sure, we know the basic ingredients needed for love — people meeting, and attraction between the two of them, but recreating those things flawlessly in any environment is literally impossible. Not just for a TV show — for literally any person. That's why dating culture has become such a thing — every date is literally a roll of the dice, a huge cosmic gamble to see if the person you meet has all the correct and utterly mysterious components needed for love. 

So, Sexy Beasts and shows like Love is Blind and Too Hot To Handle seem to just... lean into the absurdity of trying to find love, in real life, and just gamify that for television. Is wearing a prosthetic Tin Man mask actually any more deranged than going to a bar and meeting a stranger and hoping that 2-3 hours of small talk will create the hot damp environment necessary to grow old and die with that person? Sexy Beasts says... no. 

Finding moments of authenticity and reality are desperately needed, a hint of salt in an ocean of sugary confection — and it makes this show somehow make a real statement about the insanity of dating.

This scene, then, where Tin Man storms out, feels like a strange breath of reality in a very surreal show. He’s had enough of the antics! He is — as we hope to be — finally enlightened. Finding love isn’t worth spending another minute with the panda in front of him.

Yeah, it wasn't just real, it wasn't just relatable content — we've all felt like walking out of a date before, we've all been absolutely appalled by a woman wearing a panda mask — but it was also authentic. It's hard to tell exactly where the theatrics, the posturing, the made-for-TV emotions, the desire to WIN above all else ends in a show like this. So having an authentic moment of joy, even derived from a negative feeling, takes us back down to earth a little. 

This show is spectacularly heightened surrealism, from the ever-present masks, the constant shots of prosthetic animals and monsters dancing sexily, to the unexplained fact that this is all shot in a British castle. Also, why is the unseen host basically Troy McClure?

Finding moments of authenticity and reality are desperately needed, a hint of salt in an ocean of sugary confection — and it makes this show somehow make a real statement about the insanity of dating.

What you are saying is “this show makes a real statement about dating”, and what I am hearing is you have signed up to audition for season two of Sexy Beasts

You know, it's the kind of show I think would be harmless to be on, but unfortunately I don't hit the contestant brief, which is "find the hottest people in the world who want to be seen for more than just their beautiful faces and physically perfect bodies". The reason I don't hit that brief is because while I, too, am shallow and attractive, I'm under no illusions as to why people find it hard to date me: it's my terrible personality.

Patrick Lenton is a freelance culture writer, and an author. His latest book is called Sexy Tales of Paleontology. He tweets @patricklenton.
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