Fifteen to twenty-ish years and a handful of pounds ago, during the first heyday of crop tops I can recall over my 43 years, (though at that time, they were paired, sometimes crack-flashingly, with flattering low-rise jeans instead of today’s Mom-jean Tweedledum monstrosities), my tanned, toned stomach and off-key contralto singing voice could often be found across St. Louis Bay in the workingman’s town of Superior.
Superior, you see, had the best bars. And drinks? Drinks were cheap. For less than $10, we could have several shots from Frankie’s Karaoke Tavern’s beloved dollar shot list (my favorite was Apple Pucker, though Jag was often on the menu, too) and a bakers’ dozen beers from the Busch Light keg a few blocks down Belknap at CC Taps. And, because we were youthful and fresh-livered, we could do this without feeling like roadkill the next day.
SIDENOTE: Frankie’s also had a pretty cool Bloody Mary with some kind of mutant shrimplike object and a celery stick covered in Easy Cheez.
At the far end of Belknap, the sketchier side of an already sketchy area, lay Stargate, which boasted a multi-level lighted dance floor and a huge screen where MTV videos played (as they still did in the late 90s and early aughts). A small cage perched above the enormous main dance floor (sadly, I could not find this on Google images, but you can probably visualize). This cage was a draw for the nubile young ladies, giving the dancers below a perfect view of suggestive bump-n-grind moves. I spent a lot of time lurking around the cage – low-rise Seven jeans on, tall brunette friend in tow – waiting for a turn to show it off. When we exited our barred spotlight, there were always dudes around to welcome us out. Always.
I was in Superior to drink. To party. To get attention. To occasionally get a little more than that. I was young and I was cute and I was fit and I was fun, and the little rush of a new conversation or phone number was something I found addictive. And I found the rush of attention addictive for many, many years. Decades, even.
So, this is the reprobate history I carry along with me, and it’s the history sitting, a little ashamedly, on the couch next to me as I sat down to watch Netflix’s smash hit, Sex/Life.
You know the psychobabble theory that the thing we loathe in others are actually, deep down, the things we loathe – or would rather forget – about ourselves?
Welp, I loathed everything about the main character, Billie. Every. Single. Thing.
She is awful.
Billie is a sexy, shallow, spoiled suburban housewife with a pretty husband who looks like a model for the International Male catalog (just throwing that reference in with all the rest of my 90s nostalgia). And, of course he’s wildly rich and successful in his career, too. And, moreover, he’s sweet and thoughtful. Billie’s children are perfect. Billie’s hair is perfect. Billie’s lawn is perfect. Everything about, on, in, over or around Billie is completely, totally perfect. She has nothing of substance to ever worry about. Except, you know, her less than inspiring sex life, the kind that generally happens when you’ve got one kid attached to your boob and another attached to your ankle.
With only mediocre marital sex to fret about, Billie’s bored little suburban housewife mind begins to wander. She begins daydreaming back to a time when sequined halter tops, boyfriend swaps and raging hangovers ruled her life. Billie, you see, was an unapologetic party girl, out cruising New York at all hours with her best friend Sasha, and taking home all manner of hot beefcakes. Her favorite? An ultra-rich (of course), well-coiffed, Mediterranean-nosed music producer named Brad. (Yeah, yeah, there’s also that much-discussed shower scene that fully and frontally displays Brad’s other gift, though the weight and sway of the appendage caused both Tom and I to, in unison, yell “Come on!“)
As Billie laments about the good old days when she was never without a bedmate, the series then dissolves into montage after pink-lit montage of her encounters with Brad during her wild party-girl times. Billie begins to obsess about her time with Brad and wax poetic that her hardpartying NYC days were “when I was my best self.” Really?
There’s little by way of dialogue that advances the story, just scene after scene of semi-public semi-nudity. Billie writes all these flashbacks down in her journal in Fifty Shades-level detail, talking about how much she misses “that rush” now that she’s monotonously monogamous. Oh, just FYI – every reminiscent word is housed on an unlocked, un-password-protected laptop, so you can imagine where this all goes from there.
Myself a former hot bar close girl – though, of course, my acting-out adventures happened in a small, economically disadvantaged city while Billie’s happened at high end clubs in Soho – I get the difficulty of no longer being on the receiving end of lots of romantic-slash-sexual attention. Hell, it took me way longer than it should have to grow out of needing “that rush” that Billie repeatedly refers to. I get the difficulty of getting older and finding a few stray grays and having a little trouble with a shifting identity. I get it all, and it can be especially tough when you’re a new mother.
This show could have chosen to really dive into this emotional stage of a woman’s life, and all of its nuance. Instead, it makes Billie’s freakout all about sex. No real connection – besides their eye-rollingly repetitive literal physical one, often up against walls in public spaces – between she and Brad is ever shown. She did it all for the nookie.
The puddle-deep character development alongside the abysmal, embarrassing writing, makes this suitable for Skinimax. Look, I’m no marriage and sex therapist – though I do listen to Dan Savage with hyper-regularity – but most of Billie’s sexual challenges with her hot husband could be solved with, you know, communication.
There was certainly a time when I may have thought being a flirtatious, sequined-haltered attention whore was somehow “my best self.” If wife & Mom-of-two Billie’s “best self” is really most accurately shown with her spread-eagled on a kitchen counter after downing nine Long Island teas, well, I think it’s mayyyyybe time to take stock of one’s values and priorities.
I won’t deny some pain as I transitioned out of that, particularly considering how many years I spent in some version of it. However, “the rush” is fleeting as it is addictive. Billie isn’t suffering from some deep identity crisis. It’s immaturity, pure and simple. I learned, after several disasters, to find fulfillment in other places – my friends, my son, my career, athletics, continued learning. It’s totally possible to do, and the above-mentioned things don’t cause you to lose an entire day moaning on the couch, stuffing in salty junk food (or worse).
Billie needs to grow the eff up. Maybe she needs to get back to that (preposterous storyline alert) PhD she was pursuing at Columbia before she met Brad. These are her best days, with more to come, and her life offers plenty of fulfillment to enjoy, should she chose to do so. After all, there’s nothing sadder than a 40-year-old Mom of two closing up the bars in Soho, leaking breastmilk all over her sequined halter.