Having caused a sensation with steamy and explicit sex on “Bridgerton,” Netflix dips into that genre again — minus the costumes — in “Sex/Life.” Sarah Shahi stars as a wife and mother in the throes of a not-quite-midlife crisis, pining for all the wild sex she used to have. Alas, thanks to the overwrought Harlequin Romance trappings, there’s a lot more guilt here than pleasure.
Inspired by the book “44 Chapters About 4 Men” by BB Easton, the eight-episode series features Shahi (last seen on “Person of Interest”) as Billie Connelly, seemingly living a life of suburban bliss with her two young children and Adonis-like husband, Cooper (Mike Vogel), a budding Master of the Universe (in author Tom Wolfe’s literary coinage) whose career has taken precedence over her own.
Appearances aside, Cooper has become a person of little interest (a mini-Cooper, if you will) in their marital bed, prompting Billie to begin reminiscing and fantasizing about her carefree, club-hopping youth as a single gal in Manhattan with friend Sasha (Margaret Odette), who’s still living that life while reminding Billie how good she has it.
Billie, however, is less convinced, thinking a lot about former boyfriend Brad (Adam Demos), an Australian sex god/record executive with whom she enjoyed soul-shattering, spine-tingling, gauzy-montage-worthy encounters, even writing a journal detailing their trysts that her husband, naturally, finds.
Nor does Brad remain strictly a figment of Billie’s past, coming back into her orbit in an unexpected way that tests her repeated insistence about how happy she is and what a wonderful life she and Cooper have built together.
Under the stewardship of producer Stacy Rukeyser (whose credits include the underappreciated “UnReal”), “Sex/Life” takes off in all kinds of ridiculous directions thereafter, leaving one of two choices: accept the show on its wacky terms, like the sexual version of a “Fast and Furious” movie, or check out what else is trending.
The concept actually might work better if everyone wasn’t so conspicuously gorgeous, reinforcing a sense that the goal is less to relate to these characters – and this latest made-for-TV version of a desperate housewife – than simply to ogle them.
Granted, that push-the-envelope approach has worked before in terms of garnering attention, and “Sex/Life” — with the title’s either/or implications — might operate for some viewers as the TV equivalent of a trashy summer read, those novels with airbrushed shirtless perfection gracing the cover. It’s a tactic premium networks have tried periodically, usually with mixed results.
Yet whatever inherent truths the show explores – marriage is hard, the magic/romance fades, etc. – get overshadowed by the wanton silliness. The risible subplots range from the narrow-minded moms in Billie’s social circle to Cooper’s work dynamics, which include a boss (Li Jun Li) who looks at him the way kids eye an ice-cream cone.
Overall, chalk up “Sex/Life” as another one of those series where the people in it — as angst-ridden as they might be — look marvelous and act miserable. And even with that, unless you’re really eager to check your brain at the door, they appear to be having more fun than you’re apt to have watching it.
“Sex/Life” premieres June 25 on Netflix.