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In reviewing Bonding, Netflix's new comedy drama about a pair of old school mates who run a dominatrix service, I feel I have to place a couple of cards on the table. I've known a few kinksters in my time, I've dated some, I even used to hang out with a retired dominatrix, so I have a bit more insight into BDSM than Bonding seems willing to share with regular audiences. Considering how many kinksters are probably going to want to watch this show, I think they are going to feel a little let down.
Bonding's heart is in the right place. "It's about no longer having to feel shame," explains Tiff, our dommy deuteragonist. The show says its important for people to be comfortable in their own skin, expressing themselves how they want - sexually or otherwise. This is neatly reflected in our other main character, Pete, who aspires to be a stand up comedian but fears the stage. The problem with Bonding - or at least one of the problems - is that it mocks its kinksters anyway. Pete, the newcomer to the S&M world, dislikes meeting his clients wishes to be tickled, buggered, or peed on, and yet Tiff forces him to do the job all the same, consent be damned. On top of this, it's pretty wussy about the sex stuff. Even with an 18+ rating, all nudity is kept offscreen and all sexual acts kept out of sight. It's unsexy for a show about sex, and doesn't sell kink very well to anyone.
Then there's the issue of authenticity. Television likes to present the sex industry as this rewarding, fun environment full of sexy people (which it is, sometimes). But it expunges the unpleasant aspects; the deeply unattractive, unclean and unfaithful clientele, and the horrific things they might request. Peeing is too much? How about a broke guy with a fetish for giving away this month's rent money to strangers? Or the person who wants to suffer a racially aggravated assault, or re-live fantasies about parental abuse? It's a minefield of ethical dilemmas, and Bonding leaves all of that complex stuff by the wayside. Practical stuff like safewords, safety, and consent are also left out, which is kind of dangerous in a show that openly endorses BDSM.
When it's not talking shop, Bonding does better. It's a character driven show with some charming characters. Take Doug; he's a college classmate attracted to Tiff. At first he seems like a generic, obnoxious stoner jock. But it turns out he has a lot of emotional intelligence and perceptiveness, that winds up making him the most endearing character. Pete is also kind of sweet; a milquetoast, bumbling guy who hates being held to gay stereotypes. Postergirl Tiff is actually the weakest character; a stereo-typically haughty bitch even outside of the latex - a woman whose career is governed by Freudian excuses.
Bonding is okay. As long as you don't use it as an education on kink, and treat it as a short, cute drama you can watch through in a single sitting, you won't have a bad time.
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