Wrestling penguins and other sexual fetishes: all in a day’s work in BONDiNG
Oh dear, oh dear. This Netflix Original Series, which is set against the backdrop of the world of BDSM, has upset legitimate sex workers, with criticism ranging from the carpeted floor in the dungeon – a no-no for obvious reasons of cleanliness – to the manner in which the lead character presents herself, and how the whole dominatrix business is portrayed.
All valid opinions, but two things.
First of all, it’s a fictional dark comedy series, not Real Sex Workers Of New York; and secondly, with only seven episodes of about 17 minutes each, it’s the shortest of short-form series with a total running time that’s lower than that of a movie, and even than some episodes of Game of Thrones.
There are no prizes for binge-watching it in one day, sunshine. This is something you can finish before breakfast.
Within this timespan, it’s simply not possible to dive into the complexities of dominance and submission, the roles and relationships assumed, or the fetishes that number as many as you could possibly imagine (and then some more that had never previously occurred to you; wrestling penguins is all I’m saying here).
If these are the things that interest you, there is an abundance of material out there in the world that will assist with a broader, clearer picture.
What we have here is a premise for a comedy series in which a psychology grad student, Tiff (Zoe Levin) moonlights as Mistress May. Her friend Pete (Brendan Scannell) desperately wants to do standup comedy but is too scared. He needs to make ends meet so he accepts Tiff’s offer to become Mistress May’s assistant/bodyguard.
BONDiNG is based on the real life experiences of Rightor Doyle – writer, director, showrunner, and executive producer – when he was 22 years old.
Fun fact: Doyle is now 35 and has a role in HBO’s comedy Barry (Season 2 just launched on Showmax).
And while black latex, leather, studs, whips, masks and other assorted accessories are employed in each episode of BONDiNG, and various fetishes are touched upon, the series is not only about this.
In fact, it’s all merely a means to an end – that end being the personal relationships that pre-exist, as well as those that form during the course of the show.
Of course, if you watch the trailer you are going to believe you will be titillated, maybe privy to some dark frissons of fantasy. Maybe, we’re not judging. Like oh so many television shows, these aspects are pretty and safe, although – full disclosure – some rather graphic moments are implied, at the very least raising some eyebrows.
But in case it should make anyone uncomfortable or squirmy (in not a good way), these are bubbled-wrapped in comedy. There are plenty of giggle-out-loud moments, and some outright guffaws, both a lot rarer when watching comedy series than you’d think.
Pete is a darling geeky freckled ginger, cute as a button in his awkwardness, and completely out of his depth most of the time; working with Mistress May is merely the deep end of that pool. To his credit, he does put in a lot of effort. Even though he is so obviously writhing with embarrassment inside, Pete steps up and claims a new name for his new job: Carter. You will see him grow into that alias, and cheer him along all the way.
Tiff is a complicated gal. She’s tough and scary all the time, not only when she’s wearing corsets and the most fabulous thigh-high boots. There are some strong, high walls up around her, and much like there’s not enough time to explore all the issues of BDSM, we also never actually get into what her story is.
What we do learn, however, is a bit of Tiff and Pete’s background, and what happened to them the night of their high school prom.
Each of our protagonists also encounter new romances, which don’t come easy. Both are sweet and endearing to watch.
So you see, ultimately this is a story about relationships: mainly Pete and Tiff’s, who fall out and argue and make up just like any other friends who love each other in an almost indefinable way (there’s a line about Pete’s soul, look out for it, which says it all) that transcends gender and sexual preference.
The supporting cast includes Micah Stock as Doug, a psychology classmate of Tiff’s, who is lugging around a few issues of his own; and Theo Stockman as Josh, the handsome older guy who is just who Pete needs to help him overcome his insecurities.
Side stories providing drama and humour respectively are the sleazy professor and his touchy-feely antics of which Tiff does not approve, and Pete’s roommate Frank, who is keen to do some, um, exploring, of his anatomy.
“Absolutely not,” says Tiff. “But it’s for a month rent-free,” says Pete…