'Sex/Life' Doesn't Elucidate Much About Sex Or Life

The bonkers Netflix show about desire leaves a lot to be desired.

  
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This is the free edition of Rich Text, a newsletter by Claire Fallon and Emma Gray. Rich Text is a space for the indulgent and the incisive, for witty and wistful explorations of the cultural, the personal, and the political in both written and audio formats. If you like what you see and hear, consider becoming a paid subscriber. Rich Text is a reader-supported project — no ads or sponsors!

We’ll admit it: we weren’t exactly champing at the bit to watch “Sex/Life,” the new lightly pornographic Netflix drama. The trailer, and first twenty minutes, suggested that the show would be both heavy-handed (a butterfly in a jar to symbolize a hot mom being smothered by the confines of domesticity? groundbreaking) and bizarrely menacing in tone. If we’re going to watch a campy, graphically sexual romance, we prefer a bit more spark and frothy fun and a bit less foreboding voiceover.

But then, well, everyone started watching it. A lingering moment of male full-frontal fueled a think-piece cycle. Reviews were, uh, less than kind. Against our own initial instincts, we grew intrigued. And so, at last, we binged.

“Sex/Life” tells the story of Billie, a ragingly hot and miserable Greenwich stay-at-home mom. She has a preschooler and a newborn, a sculpted Greek god of a husband who is also a successful hedge funder and living saint, a long-abandoned career as a psychologist and PhD candidate, and a throbbing need for sexual adventure and fulfillment that has begun to explode messily all over her life.

In a melodramatic voiceover, taken from the pages of her Word doc journal, Billie recalls the explosive sex she used to have with her bad-boy ex, Brad, who broke her heart, and yearns for a rekindling of that part of herself. And then, oops, her husband reads the diary — AND she runs into Brad, who she learns has been hooking up with her best friend, Sasha, but still has feelings for her. Who will she choose? What will her husband do? The drama unfolds from here, but all the plot is crammed into a handful of minutes in between endless explicit sex scenes, which manage to feel more grim than sensual.

In this discussion, we cover the first four episodes of “Sex/Life”: getting to know the paper-flat characters, unpacking the themes, and breaking down the credulity-stretching plot turns. We hope you enjoy!

We’ve been reading…

Filthy Animals, the new short story collection by Brandon Taylor, author of the recent novel Real Life, which I absolutely adored. There’s a thread of linked stories, about an unusual relationship that forms between three young people at a university — two dance students, who are dating, and a man who becomes entangled in a sexual game between them — that serves as a spine for the collection, but the stories also dip into the lives of a desperate nanny, a tenuously closeted woman in her first lesbian relationship, and more. The whole collection is acutely observed and emotionally nuanced, a true pleasure to read. -Claire

We’ve been watching…

“My Unorthodox Life,” a reality show on Netflix about Julia Haart — current CEO of Elite World Group, and former member of an Ultra-Orthodox community in Monsey — and her four children. It’s a fascinating look at religious fundamentalism and the path one family took in walking away from it. -Emma

The second season of “I Think You Should Leave”! I almost cried with joy when I saw a new season of Tim Robinson’s relentlessly uncomfortable, painfully funny sketch comedy show in my Netflix carousel. The new season is rife with absurd bits that spoof office politics, social niceties, and the death throes of capitalism. (If you’ve never watched the show, start with this season 1 sketch and then watch all two seasons.) -Claire

We’ve been listening to…

“Drama Queens,” the podcast where former “One Tree Hill” stars Bethany Joy Lenz, Sophia Bush and Hilarie Burton recap the series, episode by episode. The first episode gave me all the nostalgic feels about my days of WB-watching. -Emma

We’ve been buying…

Heeled sandals from Zara. I decided I needed to mix up my shoe collection and wanted some fun heels that also weren’t super high and weren’t super expensive. I landed on these fun pearl-trimmed ones! -Emma

I’m on a personal spending fast after months of trying to figure out what my summer style would be, in a postpartum world — I’ve figured it out, it’s floaty dresses and high-waisted shorts with tank tops, next question — but my neighborhood park has a composting drop-off site, so I got a compost pail for our kitchen counter! It’s part of my long-term plan to suck less at making sure everything in our home is recycled and disposed of in the most sustainable possible way. Recently I’ve also been trying out Bee’s Wrap and Stasher bags to cut down on our plastic use, and reusable paper towels. -Claire