The bar is so low for ‘Too Hot To Handle’ yet it still disappoints

Illustration of two women and a man in swimwear playing with a football on the beach.
Lucy Yang/Staff

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Grade: 2.5/5.0

Deny it all you want, but trashy reality television is a cornerstone of the entertainment industry. In the golden age of streaming services, watercooler TV has become moot because everyone is watching different things at different times. If there is one pop culture phenomenon that people still buzz about in real time, however, it’s reality shows. And during these uncertain times in our quarantined living rooms, the world of reality television remains a constant escape. 

From the social media obsession “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” to the oddly prophetic isolation dating show “Love Is Blind,” Netflix has been releasing a steady stream of hit content to reel us in and make it seem like we chose to spend 10 hours in the living room, rather than think about how we have nowhere else to go. And its latest offering, “Too Hot To Handle,” is no exception.

In a series that was seemingly created after a producer saw “Love Island” and asked themself, “How can we add even more sexual tension?” the show puts 10 attractive 20-somethings from all around the world — and by world, we mean English-speaking countries — in a nondescript beach villa. 

The show’s host, which is essentially a cone-shaped replication of an Amazon Alexa, wastes no time in announcing the show’s main twist. These too-hot-to-handle contestants are supposed to last an entire month without any physical intimacy, which includes kissing, masturbation and, of course, sex. To keep the rules in place, the host announces that there is a $100,000 prize at the end of the show, but every time a rule is broken, money will be deducted from the pot. Cue the first-world groans!

The show’s entire premise revolves around sexy people forbidden to have sex. This show somehow makes “The Bachelor” feel like “The Wire.” The bar is buried 10 feet under the sand, yet somehow “Too Hot To Handle” still does not live up to the minimal expectations it has set up for itself.

This is partially because the stakes are apparently not high enough to stick. The show’s whole “lesson” is to show these sexed-up youths how to make meaningful connections by removing sex from relationships. The contestants, however, are constantly breaking the rules, and emotional connections are still intertwined with various hook-ups and kisses that cost at least $3,000 each. 

Maybe it’s because they know they’ll make much more from the inevitable social media fame: In the show, one contestant says the money doesn’t matter to her because she already makes a killing on Instagram. But for the most part, the monetary motivation does little to keep the rules — rules that are supposed to be the show’s foundation — in place.

Ultimately, it’s the show’s lack of structure that prevents “Too Hot To Handle” from being a memorable reality show, despite its promising binge-worthy premise. It has the gameplay of a dating show, the prize of a game show and the framework of a lifestyle show, but none of the elements quite fit together. Aside from seemingly arbitrary eliminations by the show’s host for “not showing signs of self-improvement,” there is no sense of competition. New contestants are introduced at random intervals. Once initial relationships are formed, the supposed dating show turns into hot friends chilling on the beach, while their cuffed friends lose money from the pot.

Because the show can’t quite figure out what it is, it loses part of its entertainment factor to confusion. What’s the end goal: money or a relationship? Why are various elements being introduced as the show goes on and then treated as if they’ve always been there? Is it really that hard to go without sex or masturbation for a few weeks?

But the beauty of reality television is that it can be dumb both in content and structure, yet people will still watch it to fulfill their guilty pleasures. With “Too Hot To Handle,” the best part of reality television — the digital watercooler talk and the internet infatuation — still applies. Because even if you don’t understand how the show works, you will still be tuning in to watch hot people on a beach.

Contact Julie Lim at [email protected].