Sharron and Rhonda having an intimate moment by the beach in Netflix's Too Hot To Handle.

Too Hot To Handle

Dept. of Blue Balls and Botherations


Here’s the thing. You just couldn’t make a series like Too Hot To Handle with Asians. It wouldn’t work. We’re far too practical when it comes to money. Pleasure can wait. Especially if there’s a $100,000 at stake. Even the randiest of 22-year-olds is going to be able to abstain for a mere four weeks.

Fortunately for Netflix, the 14 horny individuals they picked for their latest experiment in reality television are far more profligate.

Meet the players of Netflix's latest reality TV experiment.

The show goes like this. A gaggle of self-proclaimed serial swipers have been duped into thinking that they’ll be spending a month in paradise where they can debauch themselves and those around them without fear of consequence. They think it’s Love Island. They think it’s Paradise Hotel. It isn’t. The catch, as it is revealed to them once they get there, is that they need to abstain from any kind of sexual contact – self-inflicted or otherwise – in order to win the grand prize of $100,000. Flout the rules, break them in any way, and it’ll cost everyone. The bigger the indiscretion, the more money you stand to lose.

This sexless twist really brings us full circle. There was a time when the rustling of sheets on Big Brother was enough make the news. These days, sex is so commonplace on reality television that it takes abstinence to make a show interesting. Or at least an attempt at abstinence.

Chloe takes an outdoor shower in Netflix's Too Hot To Handle.

This concept, however, isn’t sold as merely a clever twist on every other show we’ve come to loathe over the last two decades. Of course it isn’t. Instead, the contestants are told that the reason for all of this is so they can make deeper connections and form more meaningful relationships. It’s about helping them help themselves. It’s the kind of woolly, Goop-y, personal growth gobbledegook that’s laser targeted towards precisely this kind of millennial.

As for just what kind of millennial that is? Well, there’s Haley, a sorority girl from Florida, who has a tattoo on her back in a language she can’t identify. And then, there’s Chloe, from Essex, who keeps reminding us that she’s not the “brightest spark in… the book?” But it’s this exchange between Matthew (chilled-out hippie Jesus) and Kelz (built like a brick shithouse) that probably sums it up best:

Kelz: Do you see yourself with her long term?
Matthew: Bro, I don't even know if I believe in marriage.
Kelz: When I say long term, I mean, like four weeks.

Every last one of them looks like they were born at a SoulCycle, bronzing lotion in hand, and with at least 300,000 Instagram followers.

You get the idea.

The bromance is strong with David and Sharron in Netflix's Too Hot To Handle.

Too Hot To Handle is terrible in the same way that every other reality TV show is. It is also addictive in exactly the same way. Watching it, you will experience the five stages that everyone does with this sort of content.

You begin by despising the show and everyone on it. Three episodes in and you start hating yourself for still tuning in. Another episode and you begin justifying it to your friends: “Hear me out,” you say, “these are people too, they’re just looking for love, and looking to be loved.” By the time you get to episode six you’ve become despondent with the rest of the world. What do they know anyway?

Next thing you know it’s the finale and you’re completely invested. You’re screaming at Francesca for being weak. You’re amazed at just how much Sharron has come out of his shell. You’re Googling: “where are they now?” You begin to get Chloe. Like really get her. In fact, she was so right in episode five when she finally figures everything out. When she says: “It’s actually just hit me, that this whole experience is like so deep, man. It’s like we’re in sexual rehabilitation, but with our minds.”

It hits you too. It hits you hard.

Francesca and Harry have a heart-to-heart in Netflix's Too Hot To Handle.

The problem with Too Hot To Handle is that it sets itself too high a bar in trying to create suspense by way of unfulfilled sexual tension. This goes out the window as the question of whether they will or they won’t gets answered very quickly. Spoiler: they will, and they do. Sometimes because of love. Sometimes because of lust. But also out of spite.

As it becomes clear that these people are happy to lose thousands of dollars for a few brief moments of self-gratification, it also becomes increasingly obvious that the producers kept scrambling to find new ways to keep pushing the drama.

It is unfortunate for the programme that the players keep sabotaging its deliciously lurid premise by just giving into temptation.

Meet Lana, the all seeing, all hearing AI in Netflix's Too Hot To Handle.

The one aspect of Too Hot To Handle that was both fascinating and frightening came in the form of an all-seeing, all-hearing Alexa-adjacent smart device. This one’s called Lana and her job is to monitor the players. She watches their every move. She tells them how to behave. She plays both matchmaker and instigator. All the time boasting – rather brazenly – that she is gathering personal data on everyone.

No one really thinks twice about this. Much like in The Circle, everyone takes to taking orders from a computer rather quickly. We’re already slaves to our technology, so this isn’t too much of a leap. Things do get scary, however, when one-by-one, the various contestants start going on about how Lana was right all along.

How long now before our A.I. overlords start dictating who we should love and just when we’re allowed to love them?

Piggy back rides are kosher in Netflix's Too Hot To Handle.

With every new show like this one, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell where the reality begins and ends. We all know what “unscripted” really means. But more and more, we have programmes that are populated by players who have grown up on a steady cultural diet of just this sort of thing.

Everyone at this retreat knows how this works. They understand every trope. They are aware of what is expected of them and from them. And so they settle into their individual roles and play their respective parts. The dumb stud. The drama queen. The backstabbing bastard. The indecisive floozy. They wear these labels like badges of honour. (Until the very last episode when, in a cunning play by the producers, they’re forced to discard them in one final act of self-improvement.) And you can’t help but wonder how much of their actual selves they’ve brought with them.

Then again, you can probably say the same about their Instagram feeds.

Too Hot To Handle
Netflix, Season 1, 8 Episodes
Showrunners: Charlie Bennett and Laura Gibson
Cast: Bryce Hirschberg, Chloe Veitch, David Birtwistle, Francesca Farago, Harry Jowsey, Kelz Dyke, Lydia Clyma, Nicole O’Brien, Rhonda Paul, Sharron Townsend, Kori Sampson, Madison Wyborny, Matthew Smith, and Haley Cureton

Too Hot To Handle is now streaming on Netflix.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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