Scrotal Recall is not your typical Netflix Original.
The British rom-com series, which originally aired on Channel 4 in 2014 before being snatched up by the streaming company, initially appears like a jarring lump of juvenile toilet humor nestled between the more polished House of Cards and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, a naughty protuberance on the service’s otherwise vanilla original programming. When Netflix emailed subscribers about the series last month, many thought it was a belated April Fool's Joke. What the hell is this show, and what’s up with its ridiculous name?
Scrotal Recall seems like your typical 20-something Bildungsroman, cut from the same cloth as How I Met Your Mother or a watered-down iteration of Girls. The series centers on shaggy-haired blondie Dylan (Johnny Flynn), sleazy best mate Luke (Daniel Ings), and unrequited love Evie (Antonia Thomas) as they navigate romance and personal relationships in a non-descript British borough. But while the name and synopsis may hint that Scrotal Recall is a tamer version of the UK’s imperiously libertine Skins, what separates the series from its various young-people-romance peers is that it centers entirely on Dylan’s junk.
Following an alarming Chlamydia diagnosis, leading man Dylan sets off to do the responsible thing and inform his past sexual partners, reliving his romantic encounters (albeit in alphabetical, not chronological order) in a sexual version of High Fidelity. Flashbacks make for a great narrative conceit, allowing us to peek into the romantic development of Dylan, Luke, and Evie over the years, but it’s also unique for a post-collegiate romantic comedy: It’s the invisible shadow of a sexually transmitted disease that binds the episodes, as it does Dylan and his past lovers, together.
STDs aren’t usually represented with a straight face on American television, if at all. Series like The Secret Life of an American Teenager and How I Met Your Mother (Barney Stinson, really?) rarely discuss STDs, their treatment, and repercussions in a realistic and compelling manner. Even shows like Sex in the City pretend like their characters can engage in unrealistic sexual impropriety and ignore the potential health consequences. British series like Skins (and to a lesser extend The Inbetweeners) have been far more open and visceral in their portrayals of youthful sexual promiscuity: Perhaps it’s a symptom of America’s Puritanical streak that led groups like the Parents Television Council to flip out over an MTV adaptation of Skins that focused on STDs.
Scrotal Recall isn’t an after school special (nor should it be), but the balance between predictable sophomoric hijinks and a serious health issue produces a show that’s both a light-hearted sex comedy and a tempered romantic drama. While viewers jump between Dylan’s sexual conquests, his diagnosis remains both in the background and at the center of each episode, propelling Dylan, Luke, and Evie’s complicated relationships forward. Somehow, a series predicated almost entirely on sexual innuendo has managed to dredge up some honest-to-God introspection in its main characters, rendering them deeper and more relatable than the vapid cutouts of the American sitcom landscape.
And that, perhaps, is what makes it so relatable. Shows like Girls seek to capture the lives and habits of those idiosyncratic, listless (and extremely valuable) 20-something Millennial audiences, but attempts to make the convoluted world of modern sex and romance palatable for a mass audience tends towards caricature (ABC Family, I’m looking at you). Scrotal Recall manages to capture the modern moment with style, seriousness, and steady stream of smart, pithy laughs. With only six episodes so far, fans will have to wait for the renewal of Scrotal Recall’s second season with, er, bated breath.