When Netflix released Too Hot to Handle during the early days of quarantine, I, and many other drama-hungry teenage girls, was ECSTATIC. As a true intellectual, People Looking for Love in a Villa is just about the only TV genre I watch, so I was over the moon to see a new program enter the lineup. This one promised to be good. And by good I mean dumb. The dumber the better. Netflix was going to pay a bunch of bored, hot, young people to hang out in a villa by the beach and not have sex with each other. What fun! After spending the previous few months binging Love Island UK, Netflix was providing me with the perfect palette cleanser.
I’m not going to lie to you guys: I was disappointed. I can’t even bring myself to say this, but the show was about… self growth.
Based on the promotional material, I was going in expecting something dumber than dumb, something blissfully mind-numbing that would allow me to escape this confusing coronavirus hellhole and make my brain go smooth. I was planning on watching a bunch of beefcakes and Instagram models gossip and drink copious amounts of alcohol. Instead, the producers tried to get the contestants to grow as people. Why would they do such a thing?
I think Netflix misjudged their audience on this one. Just as nobody is watching Love Island for the compelling romantic storylines it presents, nobody is tuning into Too Hot to Handle to witness the spectacle of young adults working through the life-changing challenge of not having sex. People watch trashy reality TV to get away from their problems by laughing at the triviality of someone else’s. We don’t want to watch people grow! There are shows for that, sure, but this shouldn’t be one of them.
As I was rewatching the show to write this article (and celebrate the one year anniversary of its debut), I found the self-growth aspect to be not only boring and detracting from the show, but troublingly puritannical. Netflix was advertising the raunchiest Beach Villa reality show around, but the end result was staunchly anti-raunch.
Netflix wants to pretend that the cast of this show is in need of serious help because… they are at a stage in their life where they prefer sexual relationships to romantic ones? That sounds fine to me. Normal, even. Definitely not an ailment worthy of a bunch of “workshops” and some preaching from a plastic cone. The show’s message is that liking sex outside of the context of having a “deeper connection” with someone is wrong, and that one must strive to form deeper romantic bonds with others before engaging in sexual acts. The cast were regularly described by the narrator with demeaning language for participating in hookup culture, implying that they were desperately in need of help. Girl, if you want to hook up with someone (safely and consensually, of course), do it!
Here lies the central problem with the show: self-growth was supposed to be the overarching theme, but instead it felt like filler. Although my roommate and I groaned every time the workshops and conversations about self growth came on, without them, the show is empty. After all, the entire premise is people not doing something. Telling people they aren’t allowed to do one BIG thing and not giving them something else to do doesn’t make enough material for a TV show.
With only 8 episodes and most of the couples settled by around episode 3, not much actually occurred for a majority of the season. Thus, the producers had to over-rely on bells and whistles to keep the show well-paced. They went for a Love Island style comedic narrator (and far outperformed Love Island at their own game), but the narration was constant. Too Hot to Handle reads more like someone telling you a story than a usual chaotic reality TV show. Without the self-growth content filling the gaps, the entire story could have been told in around 2 hours.
However, the show isn’t without its redeeming qualities. For one, the casting was great. Although I would have liked to see a cast that was more willing to break the rules, the choice to include cast members from several countries was genius and the producers effectively shaped their crazy cast into loveable characters. Kelz became “The Accountant” and Matthew became “Jesus.” Chloe, now starring on The Circle, was ditzy but big-hearted, and Harry Jowsey is… well… Harry Jowsey. The phrase “naughty little possum” is now permanently etched into the recesses of my brain. The naughty little possum in question, Kardashian-lookalike Francesca, was the de-facto protagonist of the season. I wonder how on earth they will manage to top this cast in the future.
All in all, Too Hot to Handle presented a thrilling premise, then proceeded to flop. The show has potential: its unique narrative techniques, solid writing, and great cast of characters make it a worthwhile program. To go to the next level in the reality TV show world, more depravity is needed. The show is too tame and too lame. And please, can we at least get sex positive messaging in season 2, which comes out June 23rd? I’m looking forward to see where Too Hot to Handle goes in the future. But for now, I rate it as disappointingly easy to handle.
Lauren Douglass is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com.