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‘Sexy Beasts’ dresses up ‘The Dating Game’ in ‘The Masked Singer’s’ makeup

<i>Netflix</i><br/>'Sexy Beasts' dresses up 'The Dating Game' with a masked-contestant wrinkle.
'Sexy Beasts' dresses up 'The Dating Game' with a masked-contestant wrinkle.

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

Dating shows keep getting weirder, but the basic formula remains remarkably faithful to the early days of television. So on the heels of Netflix’s “Love is Blind” (which returns next week) and in advance of HBO Max’s “FBoy Island” comes “Sexy Beasts,” which weds the hidden-face conceit of “The Masked Singer” to “The Dating Game,” yielding predictably ridiculous results.

In every episode, a participant in heavy prosthetic makeup is presented with three potential matches, each similarly adorned in different guises. The idea is for the chooser to get to know the candidates without being unduly influenced by looks (Netflix really likes this construct), before the big reveal when he or she and the audience gets to see what the bachelors/bachelorettes actually look like.

Like other Netflix dating entries, this British-originated show also features a cheeky narrator offering wry asides. When one of the not-selected contenders is presented without the makeup, the disembodied voice asks, “Is this face hot enough to make Emma regret her decision?”

But hold on, there’s an inherent cheat built into the format, lacking even the courage of its slim conceit, since everyone — stripped of their prosthetic appliances — is attractive by conventional standards and those of the genre. In one episode, the bachelorette announces that she’s a model, and she’s not wearing a sackcloth, so as dice rolls go betting on whether she looks OK once she removes the mask isn’t much of a gamble.

So what does that leave? A show consciously designed to garner attention, which has succeeded in the past. In reality TV, making fun of a concept is fine as long as you get the name right, and 15 minutes of fame is always worth it, even if that means donning the equivalent of the cumbersome makeup that Tim Curry wore in “Legend.”

“FBoy Island” appears to employ a similar strategy of tweaking an existing format, representing another permutation on “The Bachelor” with a provocative title. Premiering later this month, the concept features three women choosing potential mates from a collection of two dozen competitors split into “Nice Guys” — those seeking a genuine love connection — and “FBoys,” who are after something else.

The perceived viability of the dating formula is evident in the way networks and services keep churning out such shows — differentiating them with small strands of new DNA — yielding a bumper crop that currently includes a second season of “Love Island” on CBS.

If programming executives can keep enticing viewers with such slight wobbles on familiar themes, it’s hard to blame them. Still, for those who are discriminating at all — or at least prefer that a show’s premise isn’t a lot of hooey — the main regret after “Sexy Beasts” will be the decision to waste much time watching it.

“Sexy Beasts” premieres July 21 on Netflix.

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