New dating shows are ubiquitous on Netflix or network television, the vast majority of them showcasing the same kinds of people we’ve seen many times before: young, beautiful, heterosexual and clueless about how to pick a partner. This latest attempt doesn’t actually take looks out of the equation; it just delays the big reveal. Underneath those sweaty beast costumes, everyone is hot. And their personalities are less compelling than their costumes. It’s a similar premise to Netflix’s 2020 hit, “Love Is Blind,” in which contestants bonded while separated by walls and could see one another only after they proposed marriage.
We spoke to Simon Weston, the “Sexy Beasts” executive producer, about how he decided who’s a baboon and who is best personified as a dinosaur — and whether there’s freedom in wearing a mask. The following interview is edited for clarity and length.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for this show?
Simon Weston: When you’re about to go on a first date with somebody, it’s quite terrifying. What do you say to this person?
Seven years ago, I had this idea for a show called “Mrs. Datefire,” where we’d use prosthetics to disguise people. This character was sort of like Mrs. Doubtfire [Robin Williams’s character in the 1993 film comedy], where we’d use prosthetics to disguise a man as an elderly female TV presenter who was doing a show about love. She would interview a woman, and this woman would tell her what she looked for in a guy and what she didn’t like. In the guise of Mrs. Datefire, this guy was learning all about the person he was going to date and therefore had some things to talk to her about later. Looking back on it, it sounds slightly creepy. So that didn’t work.
But I did like the idea of using prosthetics to disguise people before they went on a date. Prosthetics are best for constructing creatures — wonderful animals and weird aliens and everything else. It makes the show visually cool as well. So that’s how we arrived at “Sexy Beasts.”
Q: Often we’re not showing someone who we really are on a first date. People are performing and are somewhat disguised, even if they’re showing up with their real face. Is there freedom in wearing a mask?
Weston: In the first episode, Emma, the demon, found herself being much more confident in the mask than she normally would be. I think every one of us has something about our face or our looks that we’re not happy with. We’re taking that anxiety away before you go on a date. Hopefully it’s quite freeing.
We’re taking looks out of the equation, albeit in a different way from “Love Is Blind.” That’s quite important, because in 40 years, personality is all you’re going to have. Certainly our looks will fade, unless we have a very good plastic surgeon.
Q: It seems like all the show’s daters are young, heterosexual, good-looking and never been married. Did you think about casting other types of people?
Weston: We cast the people who applied to the show. Nobody was rooted out of the process on account of their looks. But I would argue very strongly that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. One person’s highly attractive is another person’s turnoff.
When we took the prosthetics off everybody ... it looks horrible, because their poor skin has been sweating away. Before a dater’s true face is revealed, they have a couple of hours of being beautified by some of the best makeup artists out there. So everybody looks at their very best.
If we get to do the series again, we’d really like to broaden it out — age, sexuality, also celebrities. It would be quite good fun to hide a celebrity in there and the three people that are dating them are fans of theirs but have no idea that they’re actually dating.
Q: How did you decide who would be a wolf or a bull or a mouse or a dinosaur?
Weston: There was two-stage casting going on, really. We were casting the visuals in the show — the animal and alien masks — as well as casting the people. So we would look at the masks and ask ourselves: What are good combinations here? Let’s say we have the beaver, James. That’s a brown furry mask, so we need something that’s got a different skin color there, so we have Amber the pixie, which is blue and very colorful against his brown. And then we have Tamiko who’s a zombie with a jaw hanging out and not very much hair, while Amber’s got this beautiful wig. And then you’ve got Alexis the leopard, which has orange tones.
When we were casting the people, Sarah Clarke, the series producer, and I would watch everyone’s videos. Once I pressed play, I would look away from the monitor and just listen to their voice and the things that they were saying, because that’s really how it’s going to be in the show. You’re not going to see their face. You’re going to hear their voice through a beaver mask.
Q: If you were to be a cast member on the show, what kind of animal would you like to be?
Weston: I’m quite a sci-fi nerd, so I might like to be some sort of odd alien. What would you be?
Q: My spirit animal is the peacock.
Weston: We do have a couple of birds across the episodes that we’ve shot. I think a peacock would be a really interesting one. I bet the prosthetics team would love that.
Q: There are a lot of dating reality shows on Netflix right now. What sort of niche does “Sexy Beasts” fill that’s different from the other shows?
Weston: What we wanted was escapist fun. One of the shows that was an influence in my thinking was “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” I used to really love it when you get a couple of vampires and they suddenly break off from a fight and have quite a mundane chat.
One of the best chats in the series — and it didn’t make it into the cut in the end — these two guys talking in a waiting room. They were chatting to each other and one guy said to the other: “Guys, when I was working in IT, I wasn’t very confident. But when I became a fitness trainer, I really got a lot of self-confidence.” The other guy’s going: “That’s really great.” They’re having this really lovely conversation, but it’s a Sasquatch talking to a parrot.
Also the voice-over is really key. We were thrilled to get comedian Rob Delaney to do the voice-over, who I just think is one of the funniest people.
Q: Are any of the couples still together?
Weston: All I can tell you is that a lot of them are still in touch. I have these very lovely pictures on my phone of a lot of them watching it together, which is quite sweet.