When it comes to the millennial mindset, there are certain things we all know to be true: (1) attention spans are short, (2) sex shaming is no longer a thing, and (3) “Netflix and chill” is very much still a thing. Bonding, Netflix’s new original seven-episode series, is an uncensored look at life for 20-somethings today, and it provides a quirky and quick (each episode is only 15 minutes) viewing experience for those fascinated by the fetish world — or not.
Based in New York, the series follows Pete (Brandon Scannell of Heathers [the series]), as he joins his high school best friend Tiff (Zoe Levin of Palo Alto, The Way Way Back) in her underground dominatrix business. When it comes to the world of kink, the show pulls no punches; especially not for those who get off on them. Exploring everything from pee play to penguin dress-up, the show goes places very few do, which is one of its greatest merits. Some of the show’s funniest moments also come from these no-holds-barred kink scenes, although writer/director Rightor Doyle is careful to make sure the humor comes via the characters, not the kink itself. Like we said, shaming ain't hip these days.
While the writing is fantastically witty, Bonding struggles early on primarily due to the naïveté of its leading players. Being Doyle’s professional directing debut, and with leads Scannell and Levin driving the show on their own, the first couple episodes lack consistent pace and tone. There's also not much chemistry between Scannell and Levin, at least not until around episode 3, so it's hard to believe the premise of the show — that they really are “bonded” as besties.
Scannell’s performance comes across as forced until he loosens up and we see more of his life, especially his romantic life (the approach to modern gay dating here is honest and refreshing too … I mean, what gay man hasn’t been taken on a date that features go-go dancers and music so loud you can’t actually talk?). Levin seems out of place in the dominatrix role early on too — but that might be the point. As her story develops we start to see that she’s multi-faceted enough to pull off both studying and spanking … hard when necessary.
While the leads have hit and miss moments, Bonding boasts a superb supporting cast. Standouts include D’Arcy Carden (The Good Place), in a fantastic turn as an uptight soccer mom seeking some aid in her and her husband’s sex life, and Micah Stock (Escape at Dannemora), Tiff’s graduate school classmate and love interest who delivers a beautiful monologue about what drives him to pursue psychology as a profession.
The winner of the Audience Award for Best Episodic at Outfest 2018 and a selection at the Canneseries Festival, Bonding is the definition of binge-worthy TV, even with a few stumbling blocks along the way. Despite its campy delivery and outlandish scenarios, it manages to deliver a lot of relatable moments. At its core the show is less about S&M and more about two 20-something’s trying to figure out what the hell they are doing with their lives and surviving however they can. In this way it’s several shades deeper than anything else you can watch about the fetish world right now.
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