The ‘Fatal Attraction’ TV Reboot is a Master Class in Actually Erotic On-Screen Sex

The sexual chemistry between Lizzy Caplan and Joshua Jackson sizzles in the Fatal Attraction reimagining.

The sexual chemistry between Lizzy Caplan and Joshua Jackson sizzles in the Fatal Attraction re-imagining.Courtesy of Monty Brinton for Paramount+
Not everything in the Joshua Jackson/Lizzy Caplan reimagining—which airs its series finale this weekend—works, but true to its source material, it makes sex scenes hot again.

Hollywood has long had a fraught relationship with sex. Even during the heyday of the erotic thriller in the 80s and 90s (a subject Karina Longworth has been exploring in great depth on her excellent podcast You Must Remember This) the debate about too much sex vs. too little was already entrenched in film conversations–decades before social media would eventually drive it into the ground.

Longworth also does a deep dive into 1987’s Fatal Attraction, directed by the father of the erotic thriller, Adrian Lyne, and starring Michael Douglas and Glenn Close. A classic of the genre, the film follows Douglas’s Dan Gallagher, who embarks on an affair with the magnetic Alex Forrest (Close), after which the married Dan regrets his choice and Alex becomes obsessed with him. The film is insanely re-watchable—soapy and fun, sexy and psychotic, anchored with incredible performances from Douglas and especially Close. (It also cemented the dead bunny as a cultural touchpoint for collateral damage) At the time of its release, the film became a lightning rod for a whole cavalcade of issues from sex to the original casting of Glenn Close (apparently she wasn’t sexy enough) but marriage, masculinity, gender roles and feminism.

Just recently, there was yet another social media discourse about how bloodless sex scenes have become pegged to Penn Badgley’s remarks about doing sex scenes in his Netflix series You. Everyone has an opinion, and of course, sex scenes can advance a narrative in myriad ways, but sometimes, at least for me, it would be nice to just see some hot sex. Maybe I’m not alone. In early 2022, we got a new Lyne film, Deep Water, starring real life exes Ben Affleck and Ana DeArmas, to very lukewarm reviews. But of late, to paraphrase a tweet from Succession writer Lucy Prebble, Hollywood has taken pains not to forget about that all-important demographic, the “bored and horny.” In the past few months, aside from Longworth’s podcast, Fair Play, a sex-heavy drama set at a hedge fund, hit big at Sundance in January, while erotic thrillers starring comedian Mary Beth Barone and Scream breakout Melissa Barrera, respectively, are both in development. And if you need to revisit the classics, The Criterion Channel has had an Erotic Thrillers section for the past month.

In April, Paramount+ released a reimagining of Fatal Attraction starring Joshua Jackson and Lizzy Caplan in the Douglas and Close roles. Claims from its cast and writers that it would be a more feminist-leaning take on the original film don’t quite hold up, but what it does do well is to give a soapy and sexy nod to the erotic thriller of its heyday, while modernizing them, especially as it specifically relates to the sex scenes.

Chemistry is key when it comes to sex scenes. Even the prettiest can’t make it work if it’s not there (sorry to Richard Madden and Gemma Chan). Lucky for Fatal Attraction, they cast two of today’s most enduringly charismatic  actors in, Jackson and Caplan .  They have much the same sparkly and sarcastic inflections that characterized their previous work, not just stealing scenes but elevating their scene partners. So perhaps it’s no surprise that when paired with one another in episode one, their brief time together (a meeting in a courtroom) crackles with energy, even in an overtly innocuous work conversation.

The show seems to realize intrinsically that great sex is all about foreplay. And if you have Jackson and Caplan together, utilizing their inherent charms—all sparkly and sarcastic inflections— is the first place to go. Sexually charged banter is the first step;  the way an appealing couple can make a seemingly banal conversation seem incredibly horny. In this case, the meet-cute begins over cookies.  Dan tells Alex to take a “mystery bite and then throw it on the floor,” (wouldn’t you do anything Josh Jackson told you to?).  She acknowledges his volley and swats it back even harder —”maybe I like having desserts described to me.” The moment continues later as both leave the office with Dan hammered and rumpled in the elevator. The cookie moment still lingering now the big red button invites the pair to wonder what would happen if they pressed it, feeling the sensual pavlovian pull of what would happen behind those closed doors until a co-worker interrupts their elevator sex talk. Between wondering why rainbow cookies are actually cake and long Carol-esque stares at the office, these conglomerations of smaller moments make “when it happens” even better.

In episode two, when Dan and Alex finally seal the illicit deal that will irrevocably ruin their lives—all the build-up just builds up. There’s an argument about the reliability of meatballs. Drunk elevator flirting. And when it’s just the two of them late night at a divey Mexican restaurant over margaritas, the fire alarm and sprinkler go off–in slo-mo no less—and they get soaked to the bone, Dan holding an umbrella over Alex’s head. It’s a romantic comedy moment (soured by the upcoming revelation that Alex orchestrated the whole thing, but still sexy in the moment). And what are two sopping wet people to do, other than go to the nearest apartment to wait for their clothes to try while stripped down to their skivvies. (Jackson makes the case for the resurrection of the tighty whitey).

And the tryst begins much like their first flirty conversation—with one hard look—where Dan and Alex stare at each other in her hallway before he scoops her up as they passionately kiss and fumble all over her modernist single lady apartment. They are basically eating each other alive, with no time to even attempt to take the dreaded sock off before consuming each other. It’s a little voyeuristic, and sexy in equal measure for all parties. The sole male gaze this is not. That it ends with one gasping moan from Alex is chef’s kiss.

It’s a scene that perfectly encapsulates just why these two people decide to get in over their heads with something that they both have to know will end badly. And it neatly establishes the sexual connection that they have in spades, which will continue (and continue to be very hot) until it burns everything to the ground. And while not everything might work in this re-envisioning, hopefully the creators of all those upcoming erotic thrillers are taking notes. This is exactly how you make a  sexy sex scene.

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