I wonder what Netflix knows that we don't. Do they know what's in Area 51? What's at the centre of a black hole? How the human brain works? If the Ingrams really did it? What I'm wondering right now is how they knew that this pandemic was going to happen. And how they must have known months in advance. Because why else would they have commissioned a glossy dating show that perfectly mirrors what millions of us are going through? Dating without physical contact - and if you get caught trying, having to pay a fine.
Welcome to a sexy, sun-tanned version of our current dating ecosystem. This is the premise of Netflix's new reality show Too Hot To Handle: a group of Love-Island-on-steroids level of attractive people from across the UK, Ireland, Canada, America and Australia, meet in a villa in Mexico for what they think is a sexed-up "retreat".
But what they don't know is they've actually signed up for a four-week practice in chastity, in which a version of Amazon's Alexa (called Lana) bans them from any physical contact and monitors their every move. The idea is that this group of "serial swipers" learn the value of dating without sex, forming a deeper connection on an emotional level. The prize is a chance to win $100,000 (€92,000), but every hook-up, "inappropriate touch" or kiss results in a fine: each rule break from just two people costs the whole group thousands.
Laura Gibson, creative director of the production company that produced the series, described the show as a cross between The Contest and Seinfeld.
"One of my friends was on Tinder and she showed me an exchange with a guy, and within two messages, he sent her a 'd*** pic'. This is what dating is today," says Gibson.
"I thought: 'Wouldn't it be interesting to do a reality show where, instead of trying to get all of these hot people to get with each other, why don't we try to make them not?' What's sexier than not being able to have sex? Nothing drives you crazier than that."
The show, which has been the most streamed show in Ireland this week, initially looks like a carbon copy of Love Island - they're in a secluded villa, everyone sleeps in the same room and pretty much everyone is white. You have the same cringey dance sequences and intro videos. (The very first guy brags about majoring in Gender Studies at university, and in the same minute says his favourite thing about himself is his penis.)
And, rather than bombshells, they have "grenades" - people who join the retreat halfway through to shake up the process.
And yet, unlike Love Island, Too Hot To Handle keeps our interest piqued throughout. While the ITV dating show heavily manufactures drama through arbitrary "couple challenges", Too Hot To Handle prompts its intrigue organically.
The show is only eight episodes long - sparing the audience from the brutally boring filler episodes that Love Island mostly comprises - and the sexual tension puts everyone on edge. Every fine from Lana creates fresh divides.
The shows also diverge on romance as a framework. On Love Island, contestants maintain that they are there for love (read: the Boohoo deal and a lucrative influencer career). They say they won't have sex in the villa, that they're beyond lust, and act doe-eyed and soppy with each other from the start.
On Too Hot To Handle, however, there are no pretty illusions. It seems that the producers asked one question: "Would you eagerly have sex on television if it were guaranteed that the other people would be equally as hot as you?" and the accepted applicants were those who replied with an enthusiastic "yes".
The revelation that they will not only be banned from touching each other, but that they'll also lose money if they do, is nothing but artful. They get 12 hours of hooking up, groping and throwing condoms around the communal bedroom in a 'make it rain' style before this announcement - one couple has nearly sealed the deal when Lana pipes up telling them all to gather outside.
The looks on their faces when they hear that their month will be sexless, including masturbation, is akin to grief. The woman who was on the cusp of having sex, Francesca, even cries.
Too Hot To Handle comes shortly after Netflix's wildly successful "dating experiment", Love Is Blind, where people date and get engaged in the space of 10 days without ever seeing each other. It's clearly part of a new Netflix strategy to take over the reality genre.
While Love Is Blind might have been deliciously outrageous, Too Hot To Handle triumphs on relatability - something with which Love Island also can't compete.
You see, people aren't pretending to want to fall in love for Instagram followers, or doing something so jaw-droppingly insane as getting engaged with an effective blindfold on. These singles thought they were going on a deluxe, month-long sex-spree before being told to keep it in their pants or lose the cash.
Even pre-pandemic, it would have been easy to empathise with this brutal bait-and-switch, but the drama's bizarre timeliness gives it an even greater bite.
I really wanted to hate this show; find it boring, even. A high-production Love Island knock off? In this economy? It could appear a bit formulaic.
But the show has genuinely exciting twists and moments of real emotional growth - people crying after prolonged eye contact; men stabbing a piece of paper with their insecurities on it with a spear - that will make you laugh and gasp.
Too Hot To Handle is not only a funny, surprising, worthwhile distraction - it's a presciently empathetic one.
© The Telegraph