After Love is Blind, Netflix tries for another guilty reality TV pleasure by denying a group of sexy singles any pleasure of their own.
Too Hot To Handle
Credit: Netflix

If a group of sex idiots sit on a beach and don’t actually hook up, is it really worth watching? That is the question posed by Netflix’s new reality competition Too Hot to Handle, which promises a gaggle of horny hotties $100,000 if they can cohabitate for a month without engaging in any hanky-panky. Though it is the exact opposite of prostitution — paying people not to have sex — the show turns what could have been a gleefully vapid conceit into a listless, criminally boring slog.

In Too Hot to Handle (premiering Friday), 10 singles — hailing from the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Australia — arrive in Mexico bearing flashy intro packages and emotional baggage crammed with narcissism. “What I’m most proud of is my penis,” notes Sharron from New Jersey. “Dating apps are like a part-time job for me,” chirps Chloe, a self-described “ditzy” 20-year-old from Essex.

After the contestants spend a day steeping in each other’s pheromones, the show’s “virtual” host — a white, cone-shaped speaker named “Lana” — gathers them all for the big reveal: If they want to win the money, they will “have to abstain from sexual practices for the entirety of [their] stay.” (And yes, that includes self-gratification.) Every time contestants break the rules, money gets deducted from the prize pot.

This announcement brings the predictable gasps and despondent moans from the shallow singles. No sex for a month? (Quarantine viewers be like, Cry me a river, bitches!) But just as Netflix’s recent reality hit Love is Blind framed itself as a psychological experiment about the fragility of physical attraction, THtH pretends to have a lofty goal as well. “The purpose of this retreat is to help you gain deeper emotional connections in your personal relationships,” explains the talking cone.

With these contestants, though, it’s kind of like watching a bag of flour try to “form a connection” with a mailbox. Most of the cast of Too Hot to Handle aren't built for anything deeper than a foot bath — and the prospect of $100k split 10 ways isn’t enough to keep many of them invested for long. And so we watch as Harry, a dimwitted Australian who looks like a Muppet version of Eddie Haskell, tries to convince his crush Francesca to make out with him. “No one will know,” he says, while sitting within shouting distance of a working camera crew. The majority of the drama in the first few episodes comes from contestants arguing with each other about breaking the rules and moping over lost money they never really had.

In between tense group meetings with “Lana,” the singles participate in quasi-self-help workshops (build trust through Shibari, the art of Japanese rope bondage!) and go on “dates” without ever leaving the grounds. Out of all the contestants, only two — Rhonda, a soft-spoken single mom, and Sharron (a.k.a. proud penis guy) — form anything resembling a mature human relationship. For the rest, the personal growth is incremental at best, as when one young woman realizes her 24-hour crush on a male contestant was just a “void-filler,” and she likes a different guy instead.

Too Hot to Handle steals shamelessly from, and suffers wildly in comparison to, Love Island U.K. The contestants sleep in a large rectangular room adorned with two rows of platform beds; the singles spend ample time gossiping and spackling on their makeup/hair product in shared, brightly-lit dressing rooms; and there’s non-stop color commentary from a wisecracking narrator. Comedian Desiree Burch gamely tries to foment viewer enthusiasm with a relentless stream of quips, but her breathless delivery only serves to underscore how dull it all is. (Side note: Love Island producers, give Iain Stirling a raise. That guy is funny.)

At least with Love Island, producers have the good sense to build the storylines around the relationships (such as they are). By leading with the sex, THtH hinges the heft of its narrative on whether or not a group of fameosexuals can stay celibate for $10,000 each. The suspense, I suspect, will not kill you. Even adjusting for these quarantine times, if Too Hot to Handle is the void-filler, I’ll take the void. D+

Too Hot to Handle premieres Friday on Netflix.

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