One of the best things about Netflix’s programming is that due to the lack of restrictions on what the platform can explore, no subculture can be untouched. So, with the first season of their BDSM comedy ‘Bonding,’ they were really able to experiment, not only when it came to the subject matter but also seeing whether a show of this style and theme could be molded into the short-form comedy format. The premise was simple but odd, but gave the writers the opportunity to pull great gags that would encompass the emotional core of each episode. 20-something Pete (Brendan Scannell) is a struggling stand-up comic and comes into his own when he becomes an assistant to his high school best friend Tiff (Zoe Levin) who works as a dominatrix in an underground dungeon.
What is the story about?
In the second season, we go beyond the whips and chains to meet the people underneath ‘Mistress May’ and ‘Carter,’ the pseudonyms used by both in their double life. The walls of insecurity and emotional unavailability that both have built around themselves are slowly unraveled as they not only form loving relationships but also gather the courage to go after their true calling.
Partly based on the writer’s own experiences, the entire structure of Bonding’s first season was like that of a workplace comedy. With almost none of the episodes running over the 17-minute mark, each episode would pick up on some odd quirk of a client that would need to be fulfilled by Carter and May, all the while it thematically seeping into their own character. We did learn little things about Pete and Tiff, but not enough to truly invest in them as people. The unhealthy co-dependency between the best friends really shone through by the penultimate episode, but the season finale was an overdramatic cop-out just paving the way for a follow-up season. In a way, you can say that Bonding season 1 was promising in its wacky premise and some genuine hilarity but lacked that connection that made it a show worthy of longevity and a specific fan following.
It isn’t actually a big surprise that the writers choose to go a very rooted and serious route for season 2, because that is the only way that this story can hold resonance in its continuation. What we have seen so far is that Tiff has built a steely exterior around herself that keeps her from sharing her innermost trauma, and Pete is desperate for her love considering he’s spent most of his life aching for someone to love him as he is. It is obvious why the two are platonically ‘best friends in love,’ but these themes also tie into why they’re constantly attracted to the damaged and despondent people who seek pleasure in the basement. There is a complexity to their relationship with each other and with the rest of the world (it’s messy), and each episode this time around, be it through the lens of a client or a friend, allows them to be more open as people.
This season is also especially respectful of the world of BDSM and the “craft of dominatrixes.” We get introduced to Mistress Mira, who plays Tiff’s mentor into this unique world, a charismatic and confident woman who has found a respectable livelihood by training young hopefuls and passing the baton. She has an understanding family and is secure in her solo professional endeavors. Throughout the season, we see Tiff and Mira grow even more fond of each other with respect to this common skill that they both possess. It gives us a human perspective on the BDSM subculture, but it also allows for the exploration of the concept of consent, permission, and boundaries, whether it comes to kink, or to relationships.
If the show’s first season was largely dependent on the chemistry between Levin and Scannell, well that remains consistent. But both actors are charming enough to hold the fort in their own scenes too. In this season, we see Scannell shine as he finally takes the stage for the first time, giving a youthful edge to his absurdist humour - mostly routines made up of strange stories from his time as Carter. And Levin actually starts feeling more human and less creepy-one-dimensional doll. There’s a host of other whimsical characters who make an appearance in this season with meatier parts - Micah Stock as Doug, Tiff’s classmate-turned-boyfriend, Alex Hurt as Pete’s couch-potato flatmate Frank, and Alysha Umphress as Murphy, who owns the club where Pete performs.
Music & Other Departments
As with the previous season, the cinematography and production design is especially popping considering it has to capture the dark yet colourful world of underground BDSM.
Bonding is more dramedy territory now than comedy, and that diminishes its LOL value, but whatever the show limits in-jokes, it makes up for in character development and strong structure. If you’ve seen the first season and are mildly interested in Pete and Tiff as much as ‘Carter’ and ‘May,’ then it would be easy to breeze through the eight episodes that adequately look into the imperfections that make up their approach to love, career, and life. It’s more a millennial tragedy where the two protagonists are still coming to terms with loving themselves, with subliminal comedy thrown into the mix. And each episode is 17 minutes.
Perhaps this season’s biggest strength is the show’s biggest downfall because the general expectation from short-form content is to be zippy and light, which this season isn’t. It also brings the writers into a strange conundrum for season 3. The sheer emotional baggage of season 2 disallows fans of LOLs to continue from the last season, while newbies won’t get into this season directly either. If no one is watching Bonding, there’s not much hope for a series renewal, and then all this character work goes to waste. The finale to has brought things into a very climactic predicament. I don’t know how season 3 will pick up from that point at all.
Did I enjoy it?
Yes! Went through it like a breeze.
Do I recommend it?
Now I do, club the two seasons and you’ll really see the show build itself into something special.