People adhere to the rules at first. But over time, their repressed sexual energy begins to bubble over. Kisses are exchanged on the sly; midnight liaisons happen.
None of this is lost on the all-seeing eye of the authorities. So the transgressors incur a fine, and are publicly shamed.
In an uncanny case of real-life-meets-reality-television, this dystopian scenario of romantic life (or lack thereof) under circuit breaker has been translated into the premise of Netflix’s new reality television show, Too Hot To Handle.
The show features a bunch of horny men and women who are dumped on an island and stand a chance to win $100,000 as long as they don’t touch each other.
You’d think that the show is a depressing reminder of the unquenchable thirst most of us are suffering from lately. Or is a flaming heap of garbage that has as much nutritional value as a cup of bubble tea. You wouldn’t be wrong on either counts.
But take it from me: in times of crises, syrupy bubble tea, not hand-picked gyokuro is what we need. So put aside all the free streamings of Met operas and Broadway theatre shows. Banish any sense of embarrassment.
Fire up Too Hot To Handle, and prepare yourself for the most ridiculous—and yet oddly relatable and moving—show in recent memory.
This is how the contestants introduce themselves to the rest of the world:
“I’m a feminist,” Sharron, one of the contestants, begins. “I studied Women and Gender Studies at college.”
So far so good.
Then he goes on:
“If you really pay attention, you get the blueprint to how to pick up women.”
Well … at least Sharron was paying attention in class.
The camera then pans over to Haley, a sorority girl.
“I have [a tattoo] on my back,” she says, as she lifts her hair and Sharron helpfully lifts her bra strap.
“What language is that?” Chloe asks.
“I don’t know,” Haley replies. To be fair, I can’t tell what it is either, but hey, I’m not the one who has something I can’t read inked permanently on my body.
And then there are the koans that David likes to spout and really get me thinking:
I don’t want to go into the specifics and spoil what happens, but if you really need some hints, I have three words for you. University. Orientation. Camp.
I’m not saying this because I enjoyed watching the topless muscled men smear mud on each other’s chests, or witnessing the unnaturally well-endowed women examine and flirt with their yoni (read: vagina), all in the name of growth and self-development.
The workshops, by making the participants reveal their fears and insecurities to each other, started a process in which they see themselves—and each other—differently. Not just as beings defined by their bodies or sexual activities, but humans who are shaped and scarred by their past experiences. Who are afraid of failing, of trusting other people, and are struggling to make sense of their identities and relationships with other people.
Some of the men even started tearing during these workshops. Watching them, I shed manly tears too, their confessions sinking into my heart.
Je suis Sharron. Je suis Harry.
So while I wanted to punch most of them within the first hour of watching the show, I gradually got off my moral high horse and grew invested in their emotional and romantic developments.
My nails dug into my palm when ****** went on a date with ***** because ****** was supposed to be with *******. And when **** appeared and threatened the hard-won romance of ***** and *********, I wanted to throw him off a building.
The narrator, somewhat creepily, even throws in quips about being a voyeur and narrating a bad reality television show. In other words, it knows it’s trashy reality TV, and it wants us to know that it knows it’s trashy.
So it’s pointless to lambast Too Hot To Handle as shallow and insipid.
Clearly, Too Hot To Handle won’t teach us profound lessons about relationships and sexuality. (In fact, its premise that refraining from having sex will lead to more genuine connections is deeply problematic and psychologically untrue.)
Instead, the show works because it combines the two things we need and want now: commiseration and mindless entertainment.
Watching hot people get sexually frustrated and dry hump their bed, you’ll feel like someone is finally articulating the thirst you’ve been feeling, even as their antics make you forget, for a few blissful hours, that you, too, are in the same boat over a very dry and parched land.
Best paired with cheap moscato and Calbee potato chips on a Saturday night, with your partner on a Zoom chat in the background.