Sex/Life and Loving Wives

In episode 3 of Sex/Life on Netflix, we witness Cooper Connelly (Mike Vogel) obsess over his wife Billie’s ex-lover Brad Simon (Adam Demos) to the extent of signing up for a gym membership. In the process, he finds himself sharing the shower space with the man himself.

At 19:55 we see a well-hung full frontal from the point of view of a man who feels cuckolded after reading his wife’s journal entries about this very gentleman, supposedly a sex god and a freak in bed who brings out the best in his wife.

If you’re wondering when does the write-up begins and the essay comes to the point—allow me to remind you—that this IS the plot of Netflix’s latest Sex/Life. Sure, by latest I mean a little over 2 weeks in but nobody got time to report sex on screen, especially if the screen is Netflix, cause let’s be real, PornHub doesn’t make as big a fuss as Netflix does. If you do indeed make a fuss about anything, it gets banned. In this write-up, we tread as lightly as possible. 

Cerebral title aside, Sarah Shahi as Billie shines. She could coach women in porn to look dreamy and I’ll take it, mostly because Sex/Life is an extension of watching porn, a post-porn experience, if I may be bold enough to claim. Softcore- with a plot and by porn standard- decent acting.

I say this, as an Indian, where things are banned on screen because they exist and not because this show is pornographic. If you know, you know.

Sex/Life has a pretty simple, straightforward plot— a loving wife with an unbothered husband who hasn’t gone down on her in 18 months. Upset, she begins journaling about her life and times in New York City as a young woman and in-process recalling her sexual escapades of the past to relieve her thirst in the present. Her “perfect” husband comes across these scribblings (why won’t he, after all, she typed them on a word fucking doc on her laptop and the doc file was saved on her desktop). After discovering these entries on her laptop (without asking her, for all his perfect behaviour) he tries every trick in the book—stalking her hot and well-endowed ex, confronting him, fucking her in the same manner as she described in the entries, ignoring her and leaving her alone at the restaurant with the same goddamn ex after a minor altercation.

You’d really wonder, “hm, my dude has done errythang, why is she still blowing him off?”
Truth is, all the characters written in the show are unbelievably toxic and emotionally stunted. You cannot find empathy in your heart for anyone, for everyone here behaves as though their actions have no repercussions. For more than half the series you’re told Billie is unhappy and suddenly she changes perspective when she realizes that she’s missing her “perfect husband” only to get the same hot and cold reaction from him. In all of the episodes, these emotional pick-up cues and lines become a game of back and forth, pull and push and tug of war. Billie and Cooper want each other at the wrong time and for wrong reasons and never at the same time. As a viewer, this is the most you’ll experience from the show—this sense of uprootedness from their realities as well as that of the supporting character. Nobody is pious, nobody has any ethics or morals. Everyone is out there for one thing and one thing alone— pleasure. If that doesn’t sound like the plot of pulpy fiction, then shoot me in the face.  

Cooper Connelly a self-proclaimed nice guy, reminded me of DJ Khaled— who’s gone on record to state that he doesn’t eat pussy and doesn’t go down on his wife. Yet, our friend Billie, sexual goddess Billie, calls “Cooper” a perfect husband.

I wonder if Cooper has a whiskey flavoured dick? I don’t see why else would anyone continue calling their partner "perfect", who’d rather watch Football than having sex? Maybe I should run an Instagram poll for this. But also, a drinking game idea— down a shot of water every time you see “a” tit and then another shot for every time Billie calls Cooper “perfect”. That pretty much is all you’re going to see.

Long story short, the episodes take you across Billie’s predicament of her past, present, and future all involving these two men (Brad, the hottie and Cooper, the mopey), and her best friend Sasha, who if I may be allowed to say, isn’t exactly a good friend.

I don’t have my moral compass pointing due north but I think fucking your best friend’s ex on the regular while knowing they (Brad) screwed your best friend (Billie) over, isn’t exactly a nice thing to do. Bad choice, Sash. Do you know the whole 7 billion people argument? That, and I also invoke too many fish in the sea reasoning here. Leave Brad alone, Sasha. However, that just adds to my idea, that no character in the show is fleshed out to have the audience’s sympathy.

The suburban friends and the couples mixer (orgy) in the show leave you with a processed cheese aftertaste—it’s all so potent and plasticky that you’re reminded of the American representation of the family system and life, through the gaze of their brown audience. All clichés are made of this, and perhaps this is how their lives are, but to me, The O.C. did it first (doing your friend’s husband in whatever capacity) and, most definitely, they did it better.

While I’m going to go out on a limb and applaud the makers for normalizing sex (and their attempts at that) on screen, there’s something so incomplete and hollow about the television series that I can’t quite point out. Sex/Life isn’t and will not be the first to portray coitus, nudity and discourse on sex on the screen and yet, the affect it tries to evoke through simple actions gets lost in the chase of husband for wife and wife for husband narrative.

Instead of using sex as a tool to advance the plot, sex is sprinkled like mayonnaise on an omelette meal by some Indian food blogger on Instagram. Just as adding hydrogenated fat does not make an egg meal appetizing, adding sexually explicit material won’t help your story. Tightening the script does the job, and unfortunately, that’s something that didn’t work for me, as I felt things to be loose and vague post-half-season mark.

In comparison, Run (2020) on HBO, was a fantastic balance of sex and plot, both advancing each other. There is nudity, narrative, and pace— in both the character development as well as the screenplay writing, being true to the title of the show. There’s also the recent case of Haseen Dillruba (2021) on Netflix India, featuring a thirsty wife and a less than the satisfactory husband. I would still say there’s more character development there, even if it is inspired by a work of fiction in the film, than in Sex/Life where despite all the episodes, journaling, therapy, psychology professor BFF, orgy, and other elements of being self-aware, the characters are all still where they are by the end of the series— equal part frustrating and making a point. Something about that defiance that makes Sex/Life worth writing about. Almost as if the point of the show wasn't to show the feminine desirability but instead point at how life doesn’t always move in a way you think it will and so on.

I usually get, “do you recommend this?” question and I don’t know how to answer without listing pros and cons, asking questions on whether you’ve seen x or y or how do you feel about certain topics. You can watch whatever the hell you want, however you want, or not. Nobody can make that call but you, but if you want to be compelled into watching something, allow yourself to be consumed by it, taken by surprise, and most definitely be enthusiastic about it. If reading this, does the job, dive right in and try it out. If not, then there's no harm done.

Having said that, watch Sex/Life if you’re an Indian to know that such a thing exists on a mainstream platform for all to consume. Do it before they take away the privilege from you to choose. Toxic relationships and feminine energy for the win, I guess.  

 The series is available for streaming on Netflix in India.

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Anisha Saigal

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Pop-culture omnivore. Survived publishing, academia, film school. Struggling with the pandemic.