Just about every character who appears in the steamy Netflix series “Sex/Life” is hot. The suburban housewives and the suburban dads are hot; on this show, “dad bod” means you have a minimum of a six-pack. The best friend is hot, the ex-boyfriend is hot, the boss is hot — even the mentor characters and virtually all the patrons at bars and nightclubs and art galleries and health clubs are pretty darn attractive. There’s some doctoral thesis-type exploration of themes such as how a woman will sometimes abandon her authentic self when she gets married to fit into expectations men and society have — but at its core, “Sex/Life” is a good-looking soap opera about good-looking people who have fantastic lives but seem hell-bent on screwing things up in the name of personal gratification.
It’s as if a Lifetime movie crashed head on into an extended episode of the old “Red Shoe Diaries” erotic anthology series from the 1990s. Even as I was rolling my eyes at some of the insanely stupid actions of the lead characters and chuckling at the at-times overwrought score, I can’t deny “Sex/Life” had a certain binge-worthy quality. It’s a soft-core guilty pleasure of a series.
Inspired by the novel “44 Chapters About 4 Men” by B.B. Easton and developed for Netflix by Stacy Rukeyser, “Sex/Life” stars Sarah Shahi (“The L Word,” “City on a Hill”) in a luminous performance as the beautiful and sweet Billie Connelly, who has left her party days in New York City behind for the outwardly idyllic life of a Connecticut mom of a preschooler and a newborn who lives in a beautifully appointed home with her hunk of a husband, Cooper (Mike Vogel), a successful investment banker who is the nicest guy in the world, charms the socks off everyone he meets and looks so good in a suit and tie it’s a wonder this guy isn’t running for the United States Senate.
Billie loves Cooper, truly she does — but in between breast-feeding and taking her little boy Hudson (of course he’s named Hudson) to preschool and maintaining the household and opening bottles of wine with the other moms in the neighborhood, she has intense flashbacks to her wild days a decade prior as a Ph.D. student in the city, where she lived with her equally whip-smart and equally sexually adventurous best friend Sasha (Margaret Odette) and they tore up the town, hooking up with random dudes on a regular basis. One night Billie met the dashing bad-boy Australian-born record producer Brad Simon (Adam Demos), who took her back to his penthouse loft, which was so awesome there was enough room for a stage for bands to audition for him and a pool on the rooftop deck. Also, Brad was basically Sex in a Leather Jacket, and he rocked Billie’s world and she rocked his world (“Sex/Life” might just set the all-time record for sultry and graphic sex scenes between one couple), and Billie almost instantly fell in love.
So how is it Billie wound up with the wonderful but rather vanilla Cooper instead of the love of her life, Brad? She’s beginning to question that herself, as she starts journaling on her laptop about the electric charge she felt when she was with Brad. (If you think Billie carelessly leaves the laptop out and Cooper reads her journal, you’re not not right.) As Cooper begins to question Billie’s fidelity, he finds himself attracted to his boss, Francesca (Li Jun Li), who makes it very clear she’s ready to pounce the moment Cooper leaves Billie. (She literally hands him a key to her apartment.) Meanwhile, Brad and Billie’s best friend Sasha have been casually sleeping together for about a year now — but Brad starts texting Billie after all these years, telling her he wants her back.
Oh, and we haven’t even talked about the suburban sex club where it’s like “Eyes Wide Shut,” only with hors d’oeuvres and family photos on the mantle.
Filmed in Toronto, “Sex/Life” has a first-rate production design and some creative lighting choices; the flashback sequences are bathed in neon tones reflecting Billie’s wild lifestyle, while the scenes in present day have a bright and cheery but slightly unsettling, “Stepford Wives” vibe. The choice of songs is perfect, e.g., “Stop this Flame” by Celeste and “Big Bang Blues” by Breanna Barbara reflecting Billie’s dilemma as she yearns for Brad and has romanticized their tumultuous and destructive relationship even as she tells herself the “85%” level happiness she has with Cooper should be more than enough.
Problem is, the other 15% is … sex. The sex she had with Brad and his big brain. And Billie might just walk away from everything to recapture that feeling.