Netflix has become a place for experimentation as of late. As the company strays further and further from being a movie aggregating host towards original content, they seem to be taking a shotgun approach. What this means is that Netflix probably receives countless spec scripts a week and has to sift through those and try to greenlight the ones that they think people will watch. This also means that they greenlight ones that are potentially unconventional.
Enter “Bonding,” the new Netflix sit-com about a grad student making her living as a dominatrix recruiting her sheltered GBF to work as her dom assistant. So… this is the kind of show that can only really exist in this era.
The show follows Tiff, played by Zoe Levin (“Red Band Society”) as she navigates her way through the leather and latex filled world of domination in New York. Her life-long friend, Pete, played by Brendan Scannell (“Heathers (2018)”), is recruited to join her as he struggles to make rent, and what ensues is a romp of sex work spread across seven tightly-packed 15-minute episodes.
This seems to be a new format that the streaming service has been experimenting with. Recent comedy releases such as “Special” and “I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson: A Comedy Show” have followed a similar structure of shorter episodes, though the latter is more sketch comedy than sit-com. The format has its benefits, but I don’t know if I’m sold on it yet. Though it keeps things moving quickly plot-wise it can also make certain moments feel rushed and not allow certain jokes or premises to really flourish. “Bonding” suffers somewhat from this issue.
Though the show is entertaining it is another in a long line of questionably funny sit-coms. While it was entertaining, and certain moments had me chuckling, for the most part, the show relied on shock value over well-constructed and executed humor. Though the two protagonists give solid performances, others felt hammy and forced, like those of Kevin Kane (“Inside Amy Schumer”) as Tiff’s predatorial professor, Charles.
This thread of story felt shoehorned into the narrative in a way that felt unnatural. The show did a good job of standing up for and represnting sex workers in a time where shaming sex work is becoming more and more taboo, but it also missed the mark in quite a few spots. The show also had moments of intensity that landed inconsistently. In showing some of the dangers of sex work, there were moments of violence, some of which came off as serious and grounded, and others felt almost cartoonish. In tandem these lighter moments took away from the seriousness the others were trying to achieve.
In all honesty, Tiff, though the main protagonist, takes a backseat to Pete as the show goes on. She’s not particularly likeable and seems to be forcing a toxic relationship with her friend who doesn’t need it. Though the plot attempts to address and overcome this, it’s tied up (pardon the pun) rather neatly in an unconvincing way. Pete’s story, as he attempts to become more comfortable with his own sexuality and his relationship, is a far more interesting character exploration than that of Tiff. Though the show is reliant on the dynamic between the two, it falls short of greatness in the disparity between the quality of the two character arcs.
The more shock-value, explicit moments of domination and Tiff’s clients add to the show’s successful parts. Though the comedy may rely on shticks, it is still effective in entertaining. One of my favorite episodes of the show was “Pete Show,” which chronicles Pete’s insecurities and shyness about peeing that culminates in a rather jarring scene involving him peeing on one of Tiff’s clients. I can’t say it’s anything I’ve seen on television before, and it being in the second episode of the show really threw me right in the deep end.
The show is a lot of fun at parts, but it’s not necessarily great. The romantic aspects of it are lacking and it sacrifices comedy in favor of shock too many times to really achieve anything noteworthy. There is value in its positive message about sex work and entertaining moments, however. Overall, it’s worth a watch, just maybe not with the parents.