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Too Hot to Handle, Love is Blind, The Circle: Netflix and its love affair with garbage TV?

Ahead of the release of Too Hot to Handle Latino, here trying to analyse why Netflix chose to back mindless dating shows one after another.

Shreya Paul
Sep 14, 2021
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A translucent wall, and two strangers across either side. They talk, exchange feelings (in a matter of five days) and decide whether they want to marry each other; sight unseen, faces unknown. Netflix’s reality show Love is Blind almost opened the floodgates for shows that were touted as “new-age television”. A flurry of similar online dating shows followed, with the likes of Too Hot to Handle, The Circle et al. The shows unravelled a barrage of social media activity, with people debating their “worth” or “quality (or even the lack thereof).

Yet such shows, which claim they are pushing the bill about ‘love’ or ‘companionship,’ need to be investigated more keenly. Whether they’re just harmless frivolity, pathetic television or just garbage content.

The main agenda with such shows always revolves around their marketing gimmick of being ‘real’. They promise a world away from fake courtesies and small talk, into a zone of fast emotional transactions. So, you end up keeping up with the Kardashians, see the rose acceptances or even town-hopped with the housewives.

That is not to say, all is bad. Certain shows are genuine microcosms of a cultural narrative that allows the representation of races, genders, sexualities, mental and physical drawbacks. But there are some that do not occupy such realms of sensitivity. What’s most surprising is that they’re still watched the world over; by some who accept it is escapism at its best, and by other bashful ones who term it a ‘guilty pleasure.’

Queer Eye, Cheer, Are You the One?, Born This Way, or even RuPaul’s Drag Race celebrate the othered and in doing so, offer new aspects to the question around them. Though they may be packaged with the pizzazz of debauched excesses, their core seems centred, with the right intentions. Even something like the Kardashians on television provides a semblance of cultural peek-a-boo into the upper-class, Hollywood royalty, filled with privilege and access.

And there are some shows which are purely based on the inane. The fact that they run for as long as they do makes no sense when weighed under the lens of socio-cultural merit. Not even one laced with the outward sheathe of “light entertainment.”

For example, in Too Hot to Handle, the contestants (all ribbed and model-figured) are promised a hundred grand worth of crisp US dollars if they can “keep their hands off of the other.” This premise commences a show that essentially charts the struggles of the contestants to not jump each other at any opportune moment. Their personal hormonal strife then becomes our collective entertainment, but why? How? No one has the answers. Voyeuristic pleasure and its Freudian theories in place, such shows still do not make sense. Except if we were to conclude that people who would otherwise while away time sliding into each other’s DMs or incessantly watching Instagram reels, may want to indulge in shows that provide little to no mental fodder.

Too Hot to Handle is now a full-blown global series with spinoffs from each country. It’s understandable then, that the cultural impact of such shows may be greater than we are presuming.

The surprise lies in the attraction towards such epically pathetic concepts. What is undeniable though is that such shows (as much as we’d happily ask you not to subscribe to it) are charting the future of mass content viewing (both on television and OTT). These high concept dating methods are attracting global audiences into suspending their disbelief into gargantuan proportions (I mean, you actually propose marriage after a week of blind dating).

Having said that, it’s also clear that the percentage of investment in such shows is little to nothing. You don’t care if The Circle may have a catfish on the other side, and how it hurts a particular person’s emotions who was till then involved with the betraying party; you don’t really bother if the contestants find love after hailing concepts of making ‘true connections without seeing each other’. All these shows provide is instantaneous (cringe) gratification.

The context in which these shows thronged Netflix was also worthy of note. As the pandemic created vulnerable vacuums in people’s lives, such hyper fantasies (which border on the implausible) seemed the go-to option.

So, whether these shows are good or just downright abominations, is completely irrelevant. What is of consequence though, is how they’re changing the narrative of content consumption. That it’s a downhill graph is a mere (unfortunate) coincidence.

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