Netflix is leaning into reality dating competitions, following viral success “Love Is Blind” with “Too Hot to Handle.” But the shows have something more interesting in common than genre. Their plot twists are sexless.
On “Love Is Blind,” contestants were pushed to get engaged before ever laying eyes on their fiancés. Singles dated on opposite sides of a wall, spending hours talking with prospective spouses, then taking the plunge after a matter of days. “Too Hot to Handle,” which debuted on Friday, bars contestants from “kissing or sex of any kind.”
That wasn’t much of an option on “Love Is Blind.” But on “Too Hot to Handle,” the really, really, really, ridiculously good-looking contestants are isolated together on a tropical island, where they seem to have packed mostly skimpy swimwear. Cast members were not informed of the no-sex rule until cameras started rolling.
Here’s what’s most interesting: The sexless twists in both shows are explicitly premised on the notion that delaying physical intimacy creates better relationships. “This retreat is to help you gain deeper emotional connections,” the robot host of “Too Hot to Handle” informs contestants.
This is something “The Bachelor” has grappled with in recent seasons, hyping the virginity of certain contestants, then hyping the friction this causes (or doesn’t) during fantasy-suite week. Let us not forget the windmill incident.
It’s fair to wonder whether Netflix thinks the “Girls” generation, millennials who’ve dated in the so-called hookup culture, are intrigued by overt subversions of that culture and its expectations for sexual intimacy. Maybe not. Maybe these plot twists are just irresistible reality TV gimmicks, interesting without tension between the shows and their broader cultural contexts. But even so, they’re still predicated on a subversive argument, that “deeper connections” are fostered by delaying sexual intimacy.
It’s an argument traditionalists have been making for years, much to the ridicule of elite libertines perched atop our pop culture. Yet those arguments are central to the premises of these millennial-targeted shows, and nobody is batting an eye.
“Too Hot to Handle” may not match the success of “Love Is Blind.” It’s certainly being hyped by the press, and with the nation in lockdown, Netflix viewership is up. The climate is ripe for a binge-worthy successor to “Love Is Blind.” Whether “Too Hot to Handle” takes off, it’s at least interesting that the streaming giant decided to put resources behind both experiments, which are casually premised on an idea that undercuts our swipe-happy dating culture.