Skip to main content

Tiff (Zoe Levin) and Pete (Brendan Scannell) star in Netflix's Bonding, the story of a grad student by day who makes a good living on the side as a dominatrix (and her assistant, Pete).

Netflix

Earlier this month I was invited to a special screening and after-party in Los Angeles for a new series on Netflix. Very glam. This seemed odd but nice. The invitation came from one of those top PR companies in L.A. that I deal with occasionally.

I couldn’t go, obviously. And I was a tad surprised to see the series summarized thus: “A New York City grad student moonlighting as a dominatrix enlists her gay BFF from high school to be her assistant.” The series is about sex and sexuality, the dominatrix business, role-playing and, you know, bondage, whips, fetishes and related matters. I was all, “Why invite me?”

Bonding (streaming on Netflix Canada from Wednesday) is the series, and on closer examination of the invitation and the series credits, the penny dropped. It is the work of Rightor Doyle. It’s a Doyle thing. All Doyles are, well, bonded.

Story continues below advertisement

The series, eight episodes, none running more than 20 minutes each, is a gobsmacker. Funny, smart, delicate and yet simultaneously crude – in case you find the details of fetish sex to be crude – and in the end, both moving and liberating.

Yes, it takes us into the day-to-day lives of best friends Tiff (Zoe Levin) and Pete (Brendan Scannell), and the scrapes they get into, both physical and emotional. Tiff is a grad student by day, and makes a good living on the side as a dominatrix. She’s making tons of money and needs an assistant. Pete is broke, and trying to develop a stand-up comedy act, but always pulling back from performing. Tiff hires him and, after first being both scared and repulsed, he joins Tiff’s secret world. Meanwhile, they’re both rather sad and lonely, having little in the way of romantic or family relationships.

What unfolds in the dominatrix world is not for your delectation if you have issues with frank talk about fetishes and what a dominatrix actually does. At the same time, there’s a jaunty quality to the comedy that is adorable. Some of the scenes are hilarious, one highlight being Pete’s interaction with his roommate, a guy who is over the moon to discover what Pete’s secret job involves. It is, he discovers, a good deal more real than the online porn he consumes.

Netflix has created a particular niche with this series and with Special, which I wrote about recently. These are LGBT-content series taken into the mainstream, and there is merit in that. For all its money and might, and for all that it is loathed as a behemoth by some, Netflix is actually doing a very simple but noble act in supporting the work of LGBT creators and giving them a platform that reaches a vast audience.

First and foremost, mind you, the content must be entertaining. And Bonding is that, by the bucketful. (It won the best episodic-series award at the LGBT film festival, Outfest.) It’s droll, deadpan and has an excellent cast. The two leads are wonderful and you’ll also find Micah Stock (Escape at Dannemora), D’Arcy Carden (The Good Place) and Kevin Kane, a regular on Inside Amy Schumer and in all of Schumer’s movies.

There’s a deftly done parallel storyline about Tiff’s graduate course, which covers Freud and sexuality. That story expands the series outward from the closed world in which Tiff and Pete serve clients who want to be whipped and humiliated, among other things. Throughout, there’s the distinct flavour of Pedro Almodovar’s work: lurid, melodramatic, saucy, all brilliantly bright colours and empathy.

The Doyle behind it is an actor on HBO’s wonderful Barry and a writer, too. He’s said Bonding is based on his own experiences in his youth in New York. (He signs off a press release with, “Yours in whips and chains, Rightor Doyle." What a scamp. Very Doyle.) He’s a funny dude and has written delightfully about being the gay best friend forever to various starlets. And with Bonding he’s created something with both heart and formidable sass.

Story continues below advertisement

Live your best. We have a daily Life & Arts newsletter, providing you with our latest stories on health, travel, food and culture. Sign up today.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter