'Sex/Life' review: All the wrong moves

Netflix's nü-porn is like if "Eyes Wide Shut" was crammed into the "Desperate Housewives" world.

Sarah Shahi as Billie in "Sex/Life" on Netflix.
(Image: © Netflix)

What to Watch Verdict

Eight episodes of a lot of sex, a good bit of life, and a whole lot of bad people doing bad things with bad dialog.


  • +

    🔥 There is, indeed, a lot of hot sex among good-looking people.

  • +

    🍼 Some fairly realistic instances of breastfeeding. (That's the "life" part.)


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    ⛔️ Those good-looking people having sex otherwise are pretty awful.

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    ⛔️ The dialog often is even worse than the characters.

The problem with Sex/Life on Netflix starts with the title. And it doesn't end there.

Over the course of eight episodes you'll be introduced to Billie (Sarah Shahi), her husband, Cooper (Mike Vogel), and their poor kids — one a preschooler, the other a nursing infant. Cooper is an investment banker which, aside from the abs he's apparently not aware of, is the most exciting thing about him. The kids are kids.

And none of them is Brad. Oh, that dreamy Brad, played by Adam Demos. He's a musician and music producer with a club and cool jackets and a cool car in the city. Brad and Billie got together nearly a decade ago, and it was hot. Very hot. And like relationships that run decidedly on the fiery side, it didn't end well.

Brad is the "sex" part of the title. The hot, steaming sex. Cooper and the kids are the "life." Hot so hot and steamy, but still enviable.

And Billie is going to have to make a choice. 

Here's the thing, though. While it's dangerous (and futile) to read too much into a fictional relationship and shout across your home "This is stupid, she's got it all wrong!" — this is stupid. And she's got it all wrong.

You don't have to choose whether to have the sex. Or to have the life. It's just that if you want both you're going to have to work at it.

Billie is bored. She's bored and probably should be far more exhausted than she looks, nursing an infant and all. And when she's not dreaming about Brad, she's journaling about him. Nothing inherently wrong with any of that. Except that she does so on her MacBook, and somehow leaves it up so he can easily come across it. (Never mind device passwords. Or privacy.) And she's doing it, like, all the time, eight years and two kids into her marriage.

Billie's exploits — and not just with Brad, but with that whole time in her life — are hot. She and her friend and former college roommate, Sasha (Margaret Odette), were living it up all over the city. And that time in Billie's life was so hot, in fact, that her husband doesn't really recognize the woman on the page. This is who he's married to? This is what she really wants? What's she doing with him?

All fair questions — especially once Cooper learns that his wife has reconnected with Brad after so many years.

Cooper was right to confront Billie about everything. About Brad. About the sex she wants to be having. About how she's feeling. Want to doom a marriage? Don't talk about the stuff that's actually important. 

But Cooper probably shouldn't have tracked down Brad. He definitely shouldn't have ended up in the shower with him. (Brad's full-frontal scene is downright scary, and I'm still not convinced it's not CGI.) And Cooper (and Billie) absolutely should not have agreed to go to a sex party with his co-worker and her frenemy neighbor. Nothing good was ever going to come from any of that. Just more bad decisions.

Sex/Life is not a particularly good show. Yes, the sex is sort of hot. There's a ridiculous amount of oral. Everyone in it looks fantastic. But it's hard to get past the stilted dialog and cliched narration. The former bounces between the way people might actually talk and the way someone who's never written dialog might think people talk. It's as if someone was trying to have an edgier Sex and the City. Or maybe someone at Netflix said "Hey, that. 365 Days movie that did so well? Do that again." (Never mind all the kidnapping and sexual assault in that one.)

Except that unlike the Polish import of 365 Days, there's no real jeopardy here. Billie just makes a series of bad decisions over and over again. (And Sasha isn't far behind.) We know what'll happen if she doesn't stop — Cooper and the kids are history. And just when you think she's done making them, she makes another. Meanwhile, Cooper commits the cardinal sin of trying to be something he's not, but he's pretty quickly forgiven. And Brad? Brad is a dick with little regard for how his actions might affect anyone. He's emotionally manipulative, and apparently willing to wait for most of a decade to pick up where he left off.

The most realistic part of this entire series probably is the breastfeeding. While accidentally hosing down her husband while in flagrante delicto maybe was a stretch — to say nothing of the always-brushed hair and bleached white nightdresses that apparently is the only thing she ever wears at home — Billie having to express into a sink because she forgot her pump is as real as it gets in a series that tries way too hard to be something it's not. Or maybe never was in the first place. 

It's not as if bad people make for bad storytelling. Often it's the opposite. It's just that there's nothing particularly novel about being in your 40s and remembering how wild and crazy and stupid — and fun! — things were before spouses and and kids. Some of us grow up and take responsibilities like marriage and child-rearing more seriously than Billie.

And even if you don't, you could end up with something like Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, which was wrong and sexy and brilliant and was full of space in that Kubrickian way that allowed the characters to fill in the gaps without actually having to say anything. In Sex/Life, Billie and Cooper and Brad talk about how awful they were and still are for nearly as much time as they spent being awful and how they knew they were being awful but just didn't care because the alternative meant being not-20 years old anymore.

Somebody needs to tell them that it's absolutely possible to be 40-something and be better than you were in your 20s, and that you can have a life and hotter, better sex. (Albeit maybe just not as much.) It just takes work, and occasionally making the conscious decision to not do the wrong thing.

Let's hope they figure it out by the inevitable Season 2.

Phil Nickinson

Phil spent his 20s in the newsroom of the Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal, his 30s on the road for AndroidCentral.com and Mobile Nations and is the Dad part of Modern Dad.