Netflix's new reality series "Sexy Beasts" asks singles to find romance while wearing fantastical, highly detailed prosthetics. When the trailer debuted last month, it appeared to be the vibrantly colored lovechild of "The Masked Singer" and "Love Is Blind," and was described with confused-but-can't-look-away adjectives like "surreal," "bizarre" and "deranged." One Twitter user said it best: "I'm appalled and disgusted and will definitely be tuning in."
But the concept isn't new: In fact, "Sexy Beasts," which premiered its first six episodes on Wednesday, is a glossier remake of a U.K. program that aired in 2014, which was followed by an American version on A&E the following year. According to series creator Simon Welton, the absurd conceit combined the plight to "help get rid of all the nerves of a first date" and the fascination with a "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" trope.
"I used to love it when a couple of vampires would suddenly have a chat about mundane things" on "Buffy," he said. "The juxtaposition of these odd-looking creatures talking about the temperature or something like that, I thought that was funny, and quite arresting as a visual."
This wild idea went against the traditional goal of prosthetics, which are regularly used in dramatic biopics and sci-fi fare to sustain the suspension of disbelief. "The goal there is to look as realistic to the eye as possible — to blend into the skin, to be unnoticed, really — so the viewer can just get absorbed with the character without getting distracted by what we've done," said "Sexy Beasts" prosthetics director Kristyan Mallett. By contrast, the Netflix series called for creations that are "meant to be seen, and they're meant to be ridiculously silly."
Due to the series' limited production timeline and pandemic-safe protocols, the prosthetics team encompassed 40 people — double what this kind of project would normally necessitate, said Mallett. They first brainstormed a Netflix-approved list of characters that were "colorful and funny, and not gory, threatening or scary," creating a total of 48 characters — four for each of the 12 episodes that were filmed over six weeks. "Some of them were very complicated, so others had to be simple in order to shift some of the finances from one character to another," said Mallett.
The characters were assigned to the contestants not by personality or preference but by fit — which varied, since they were created generically, rather than tailored to an actor's meticulous life casting as on high-budget blockbusters. "There were situations where somebody was allocated a character but it just didn't fit because their hair wouldn't fit under a bald cap or something," said Mallett. "So they'd keep trying others on, and everyone would have their fingers crossed until something worked."
Each participant worked with multiple prosthetic makeup artists, who took two to three hours to apply and "finish" the sculpts — painting their arms, neck and eye area — before each day's shoot began, and touch them up throughout their dates. The funniest moments came whenever contestants tried their best to share a kiss, despite their prosthetic snouts, buckteeth or facial fur. "Once they'd had them on for half an hour or so, they got used to it and started to forget about them," said Welton. Passing glances from bystanders, as well as Rob Delaney's self-aware narration, further highlight the situation's absurdity.
All characters required three exact replicas, as each episode was shot over three days and each prosthetic could be worn only once. "The heartbreaking thing is that one person gets dumped on day one, so two prosthetic sets were going to be completely unused," Mallett said of the mid-episode eliminations, filmed at England's Knebworth House, which also has played host to "The King's Speech" and "The Crown." "That was quite tough, especially when a lot of time and heart and soul and money goes into those builds, and then they just get boxed up and put away. I'm sure somebody at Netflix is going to have a very fun Halloween party."
The series' intriguing trailer also drew criticism for its challenge to "fall in love with someone based on personality alone," despite casting conventionally attractive contestants — a criticism also levied at "Love Is Blind." It works to comedic effect whenever someone is eliminated — the beast is exposed as a beauty and throws their good looks in the masked face of the person who dismissed them — and leads to the episode's happy ending, when the final two see each other for the first time and are pleasantly surprised by their good fortune.
When asked about the cast's general attractiveness, Welton said, "I don't think everyone is. … I think we were certainly able to make people look as good as possible; good hair and makeup can make a real difference." As for those reveal reactions, "People were being very nice as well. I think everyone was aware that they were also on TV."
Welton explained that the show was cast not by how physically attractive the person is but how entertaining and engaging they were to talk to, since their faces would be covered for the majority of their time onscreen anyway.
"I do think that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, really, and one person's attractiveness is another person's revulsion," he added. "It really is all about personality because, in 40 years' time, that's pretty much all you got left."
Where to watch: Premiered Wednesday on Netflix
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