too hot to handle

'Too Hot to Handle' Is Netflix's 'Love Island' with One Crucial Difference

The reality series uses a reliable format: Throw a bunch of attractive people in a remote, tropical location and see what happens. Except there is a big hook.

The year is still young, but Netflix has been churning out successful high-concept reality shows at an astonishing rate. Already this year we've gotten The Circle, Love Is Blind, and now there's Too Hot to Handle. Looking a lot like Love Island, the newest series takes a reliable format: Throw a bunch of attractive people in a remote, tropical location and see what happens. Except there is a big hook, and then a bunch of small hooks along the way. The ostensible idea of the show is to make these hotties undergo personal growth, but Too Hot to Handle is also about watching a bunch of barely clothed people getting, uh, close. So what is the actual deal here? Let's explore.

Who are the contestants? 

Single hotties!!! To be more specific: These are hot people who absolutely know they are hot. They are also hot people who would probably self-identify as "players." They are people who take pride in the fact that they got a lot of action that's not at all meaningful. Some examples: There's Chloe Veitch, the chatty, self-professed ditzy girl from Essex. Sharron Townsend is a dude who brags about measuring his dick against a can of air freshener. Francesca Farago is an Instagram model with a Kardashian-esque fry. Harry Jowsey is the Australian with the maturity level of a pea. Haley Cureton is a sorority girl who could not give a shit. Matthew Smith is a self-righteous hippie with Jesus hair. There's also the David Birtwhistle, who fancies himself Prince Harry pre-Meghan Markle; the serious Kelechi Dyke, who goes by Kelz and gets deemed the "accountant"; Irish party girl Nicole O'Brien; and the self-confident Rhonda Paul, who instantly strikes up a bond with Sharron.  

What's the catch? 

Even though all the contestants are super eager to rip each other's swim shorts and teeny, underboob-flashing bikinis off, they have 12 hours of unrepentant flirtation before they are introduced to the show's big twist. There's a cash prize of $100,000, but the winners only get that money in full if they refrain from any sexual activity whatsoever. So no kissing. No hanky panky. No intercourse. Any time they break the rules, money is deducted from the pool. Policing them is Lana, a cone-shaped AI with a pleasant British accent, who has been spying on them this whole time, collecting data. Wait, what? 

Who gets the money? 

This is actually sort of unclear! But it's basically distributed however Lana sees fit. So one person could win. Or multiple. It's all up to Lana. 

So, what do they do if they aren't having a bunch of sex all the time? 

Well, it's not like some of them don't break the rules almost immediately with some makeout sessions, but other than that, they do workshops meant to foster intimacy. In one episode, they practice shibari, a Japanese bondage art. In another, a "heart warrior" has all the dudes rub mud on one another and share their innermost feelings. They also go on Lana-sanctioned dates. There's also a fantasy suite of sorts where couples can spend time alone, but even there they can only boink with Lana's permission.

lana too hot to handle
Lana, herself | Netflix

Is Lana terrifying? 

Absolutely. Lana takes the concept of "what if your Alexa was watching you at all times?" and runs with it. She essentially has the guests under constant surveillance, so she can tattle on anyone who breaks the rules. Given that she's been assigned a gender, there's also a weird Her thing going on where the contestants anthropomorphize, and sometimes flirt with, her. I've reached out to Netflix to get more information on just how Lana works, but the company is staying mum for now.

Is there any other weird technology? 

Yes! Eventually the contestants are given bracelets that light up green when Lana gives them permission to break the rules and lock lips or whatever.

Yikes! Okay, any more twists? 

Yes! Despite the ostensible mission of "personal growth," the producers keep throwing temptation at the initial crop of horned-up pretty people with new additions to the retreat, some of whom don't give a single shit about the cash prize. The first arrival is Bryce, who lives on a boat. Three more are shipped in later to cause drama. 

too hot to handle

Can people leave? 

Yes. And they can get kicked out by Lana for being assholes. 

Is Too Hot to Handle progressive at all? 

Lol, no. Heteronormative gender roles are alive and well in the show, and same-sex kissing (between girls) is used as retaliation. Outside of the AI, it would be right at home in 2002. 

Who's the house villain? 

There's always one! Francesca is immediately deemed as the hottest of the hot, and she gets the villain edit, even when it's not always deserved. (Harry was a total dick to her early on, lying to the other guys and Lana about their hookup!) She also is afforded the biggest chances at actual emotional development, so it's complicated. Early on, Francesca gets a teammate in Haley, who quickly proves that she doesn't care about much beyond causing havoc and being a jerk.  

And who is the narrator? 

The entirety of Too Hot to Handle is narrated by comedian Desiree Burch, who provides color commentary as if this were a sporting event, similar to Michelle Buteau's cracks on The Circle and Iain Stirling's cheeky one-liners central to Love Island. Burch serves as the viewer's internal monologue. She's very much an outsider who has no qualms about judging everyone on screen, and at times her quips even border on mean! For instance: She sarcastically remarks, "Wonder what the girls are discussing, climate change?" and "Chloe and Nicole are talking about their favorite subject: The environment. Sorry, I mean sex." Ouch!

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.