Devon Thomas27 May 2022 | 10:00

All beauty, no brains: an appropriately unhinged review of 'Savage Beauty'

The focus on a badly constructed convoluted plot diminishes any weight 'Savage Beauty' could hold, writes Devon Thomas.

All beauty, no brains: an appropriately unhinged review of 'Savage Beauty'

Netflix's 'Savage Beauty'. Picture: X/NetflixSA


Contains some spoilers.

Netflix recently released its newest foray into original - by name only - South African content with the scripted series, Savage Beauty.

Much like many on the Twittersphere, I assumed that this had something to do with Rihanna. Alas, it is yet another South African show tackling the dynamics of a rich family with a dodgy business and all the shenanigans that ensue.

Unlike The River, The Queen and Legacy, I had hope for this one, seeing that it involved the beauty industry, a promise of high fashion, and social commentary on colourism.

Even if it wouldn’t be a high-art depiction of the underbelly of the beauty industry, its standards and the consequences, I was eager to see rich people do messy things while looking hot.

At the end of it I was left feeling disappointed but, unfortunately, not surprised.

Set somewhere in a South African city nondescript enough to be any of the affluent metropolises in the country but still assumed to be Joburg, Savage Beauty centres around Zinhle (Rosemary Zimu), a mysterious woman seeking revenge who “embeds herself in a powerful family who possess a global beauty empire – and dark secrets”.

Perhaps I should have read the IMDb synopsis first so I knew what I was getting myself into, but Twitter seemed to like it and I prefer to go into new things as blindly as possible. You can’t have high expectations for something you know very little about, after all.

Still, after the first episode, I knew that what I was watching wasn't going to be good, but I thought, "It’s the pilot, give it time". But then came episode two, then episode three… and just like that I found myself needing some vino to get through it all without giving in to the visceral anger slowly brewing in me.

I was thankful it was capped at six episodes because wth was that? I want answers, and I want them now.

There is a decent concept and some pretty solid subtextual themes to work with here: toxic beauty standards, the aforementioned colourism, classism, homophobia, and, and, and... But the show does very little to try to tackle the myriad issues a concept like this has at a vaguely serviceable level.

Not every show needs to have subtext but the feeling the show gives is that it tries to be something it clearly is not. And therein lies my core issue with the show: it’s lazy.

Savage Beauty takes itself too seriously but gives us little reason to suspend our disbelief enough to give in to its plot, characters, lore, and overall story arcs.

Go on, girl, give us nothing!

If it were up to me as the director or creator of the show, I would have taken a much campier approach.

Take a show like the Dynasty reboot, for example. On a technical level, Dynasty is far from being the best show I have ever seen, but I found myself falling in love with the show and its characters easily because it knew what show it was and it didn’t try being anything else.

Dynasty was a fun, campy, and utterly entertaining take on the super-rich family with dark secrets and a protagonist with a hidden identity looking for revenge. Instead of trying to be deep, it was smart enough to give in to the soap opera-esque absurdity of its story and the characters in it.

I’m not saying the show shouldn’t have tried to tackle some deeper issues or take a more serious tone. But if that’s the approach you want to take, then you have to at least try to put in some effort in conveying this.

Savage Beauty falters at almost everything it does: the acting is meh for most of the cast, the directing is misguided, the writing is bare bones, the production is iffy, the score is amateur, and the styling looks like ZARA on a budget.
The storytelling and general continuity of the show is where it flops the hardest and, more than anything, this is where the laziness of the show is glaringly obvious.

Several plot points make no sense, becoming increasingly convoluted and difficult to follow, or are entirely abandoned only to sometimes be brought up again for convenience or when they realise, “Oops! That was supposed to be important! Teehee!”

The show provides us with no one to truly root for because almost everyone is an awful person. The sporadic displays of exposition in order to build up the main “protagonist’s” motivations are done so poorly and take so long that I stopped caring halfway through. There is almost no character development to anyone in the show, an android phone has an iPhone ringtone, so much filler plot happens that the heart of the story is lost, and, at some point, I even forgot that Bengu Beauty was even a thing.

The worst offender seems to be that the show thinks its audience is dumb. At some point, I gave up and started audibly laughing at some of the bold, bold choices that were made.

There was a scene I’m pretty sure I was supposed to be emotionally affected by, but the way it was set up and executed had me cackling. Like you really expect me to care about a character’s death that you spend so little time developing and killing off stupidly in such an utterly bizarre fashion?

Lmao, like, the family covered up this murder by saying they died by suicide with lead poisoning, but they were shot and killed instantly with a single bullet to the shoulder? Who believes someone would kill themselves with lead poisoning?

Girl, I guess.

This isn’t even a spoiler because, like many things just thrown in here for sh*ts and giggles, it had very little impact on the show at large. I would even go as far as to say that this death was yet another shameless utilisation of deus ex machina, solely there to drive the plot forward and nothing else. It’s not even giving aesthetically.

There are things that the show does a serviceable job on.

Nathi Moshesh shines as the matriarch, Grace. When Zinhle is full-on wilding, Zimu does a good job at conveying this. There are two genuinely likeable (side) characters in this. When the plot gives in to absurdity, it actually is fun to watch even if it makes absolutely no sense (why did Grace threaten someone with what looked like a pretty gnarly nurse-accompanied injection just for her to take a regular pregnancy test? And that borderline incest plot is wild).

Also, Jesse Suntele is so hot. But not even Suntele’s abs are enough for me to give the show a pass.

Beauty without brains, and with the depth and intelligence of a baby’s first words, Savage Beauty ultimately suffers from its hyper-focus on an increasingly convoluted plot that diminishes any sort of weight that its core concept and potential commentary may have.

I'm giving it a light 4/10.