In the newspaper racket, changes in reader behaviour were noted during the past year when COVID-19 kept people isolated and away from others in the workplace and wherever people congregate to gossip, swap stories and blather away.
There was an uptick in readership for advice columns. Makes sense. Deprived of gossip and other people’s news, big or small, readers devoured columns that advised people what to do about nosy neighbours, partners who declined to shower or suspicions that friends were having a secret fling and ignoring pandemic safety regulations to get their kicks. Listen, I even read some of that stuff, too. A certain serious newspaper upped the ante with increasingly lurid crises to be solved. One advice column opened with this crisis: “I caught my daughter having sex with her pregnant sister’s boyfriend.” Me, I said, “Whoa!” and skipped to the sports section.
But Netflix noted the trend. The result is Sex: Unzipped (streaming on Netflix), a one-off special that is erroneously presented to the world as a postpandemic tonic, a celebration of sex-positivity in which a gaggle of pseudo-celebrities tell personal stories about their inclinations and a swarm of puppets behave very rudely. It might be the absolute worst, most terrifyingly crude and cringe-inducing thing Netflix has ever unleashed.
Officially, it is described as this: “Saweetie and a cast of sex-positive puppets teach you the A-B-C’s of S-E-X in Netflix’s funniest, filthiest and furriest new comedy special.” Right, well, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Saweetie, a rapper of some note, react with a mortifying rictus smile as puppets masturbate around her. In fact, you can easily live without the whole experience. Me, I wish I had.
The idea, it is alleged, was to be educational but funny. Wonder how others have sex and do it well – cisgender, transgender, straight and all those who are under the LGBTQ+ banner? All the info is here. Talking heads and comedians talk about it and the puppets enact it. Don’t be embarrassed, is the message. Great, but the puppets appear to be on such a drug-crazed high that they squeal like sea lions and you get the feeling you’re watching an episode of Sesame Street created by Satan’s minions. Like Saweetie, you don’t know where to look. I looked at my feet and pondered if it was time to invest in a new pair of Adidas Sambas and if they were even available now because of supply-chain problems. Anything to distract from the embarrassingly awkward waste of talent and time on the screen.
How to review this thing? I was thinking about that. What came to mind, for some reason, was the late Bernard Levin’s pithy review of a production of Othello: “For the eye, too much; for the ear too little; for the mind, nothing at all.”
Othello? I was becoming unhinged, obviously. So I tried to concentrate on the gaggle of comedians who offered anecdotes about their sex life. Two of them are vaguely familiar. (The show is a British production, which is a big part of the problem.) Canadian-born Mae Martin says some sensible things about being in the right mood for sexy time. Canadian-born Katherine Ryan gives far too much information about what her body looks like from the neck down. It’s not even clear that anybody asked her about that. Also, Ryan announces that she gets in the mood for sex by placing a certain part of her husband’s anatomy in her mouth. I did not know that, now I cannot unknow it and, in any case, how is that helpful to anyone?
There is one moment of Sex: Unzipped that offers sound advice, one supposes. A sex expert tells viewers that expecting real-life sex to be like a porn video is a bad idea. Porn videos are edited and the people are acting, he points out. That info will probably arrive like a sudden squall of knowledge and revelation in the brain of someone who is, say, 12 years old. Then it’s back to Saweetie, with a facial expression that would stop a clock, surrounded by puppets doing things that can’t be described in a newspaper.
People, what you do in your private life is no concern of mine. Nor should it be Netflix’s concern. There are many helpful sources of information for those who are curious, worried or unsure. There are online columns and forums written by kind and helpful people. There are podcasts. There are advice columns in newspapers, from the lurid to the dry and clinical. Television isn’t the place to get what you need. Let us never speak of Sex: Unzipped again. Zip your lips about it, as I will mine.
Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.