Netflix’s Obsession is going viral — should you stream or skip?

Charlie Murphy as Anna and Richard Armitage as William in Obsession
(Image credit: Netflix)

Everyone is obsessed with Obsession. Netflix's new erotic thriller has been steaming up the service's Top 10 list in dozens of countries since the series debuted on April 13. Social media chatter is still going strong, particularly about a certain shocking pillow scene that is definitely NSFW. 

Netflix has slowly but surely expanded its erotica offerings, which include the 365 Days movies, Sex/Life and Lady Chatterley's Lover. Obsession is the latest title to titillate, and its sexy scenes and tale of dark infatuation feels similar to Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct and Fifty Shades of Grey.

Despite the popularity and buzz, the show is getting spanked by critics and audiences on Rotten Tomatoes. So, is Obsession worth watching or not? Let's break it down. 

What is Obsession about?

Obsession follows William (Richard Armitage), a renowned doctor at the height of his career. He's just successfully performed a 14-hour brain surgery on conjoined infants. His wife Ingrid (Indira Varma) and adult children are very proud of him. 

Then, son Jay (Rish Shah) introduces his fiancée, Anna (Charlie Murphy), and sparks fly between her and William. They begin a fiery affair that quickly turns into an all-consuming romance that could blow up their lives, relationships and careers.

Lovers on the floor in Netflix's Obsession

(Image credit: Netflix)

Despite that, they are, well, obsessed. They can't resist each other's magnetic pull, which results in a lot of sex. Like, so much sex. 

You definitely do not want to watch this in the company of, say, your parents. If somehow, that ends up happening (why?!), Netflix has a handy list of moments where "you'll probably want to excuse yourself."

Obsession pillow scene, explained

Charlie Murphy as Anna and Richard Armitage as William in Obsession poster

(Image credit: Netflix)

Obsession's much-talked-about pillow scene is one of the reasons why the show has gone viral. 

In episode 2, William follows Anna to Paris. After she checks out of a hotel room, he checks in and sniffs the bed linens in search of her scent. As he inhales deeply into a pillow, he begins to furiously masturbate. 

Viewers have been left traumatized. "F–king hell was not expecting the pillow-sniffing w–k," @NewbyClare lamented. "All I know is that I no longer want to own a pillow," declared @HayleyDavisxo.

Apparently, the pillow scene was somewhat improvised.

"It was really unexpected because it was written as quite a different scene," Armitage told Metro. "There was a tissue with her imprint of her lipstick on which we didn't feel necessarily worked."

He added, "I was really conscious that it shouldn't be in any way comedic so we sort of left it quite open and it was a bit of an improvisation actually. Charlie had —  without me knowing — sprayed her scent that she'd been wearing throughout the shoot into different parts of the bed and I just got the sense of it, and that's where the scene just opened."

Obsession reviews: What critics and audience members say

Anna Barton (Charlie Murphy) enjoys a drink in Netflix's Obsession

(Image credit: Netflix)

Critics and audiences aren't infatuated with Obsession. The show currently has a 38% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (from just 16 reviews, though) and an even lower audience score of 21%. 

The Independent's Jessie Thompson writes, "It gives us an overload of shlock, foreboding string music and some depressing, grunty shagging." Helen Brown at the Daily Telegraph says Obsession has "all the subtlety of an American daytime soap opera."

The Guardian's Lucy Mangan snarks, "For much of the time, Armitage and Murphy both look as if they have eaten a bad oyster and need to make a sharp exit — but not for more nudity parity."

Not all the critics are down on Obsession. Rolling Stone's Chris Vognar praises the "admirable attention to craft" and calls it "far more cinematic than it needs to be."

Obsession: Stream or skip?

The erotic thriller, as a screen genre, has become fallow in the last couple of decades, since the heyday of Unfaithful, Wild Things, Cruel Intentions and Body Heat. Recent entries like Deep Waters have fallen short — not sexy enough, not thrilling enough. 

Obsession doesn't seem to quite hit the mark, either. Yet, erotic thrillers are now so rare that, well, why not watch Obsession on a weekend movie night? (Not with your parents, though. Who's doing this?) The four episodes only run about two and a half hours. And at the very least, you can giggle at that bonkers pillow scene. 

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Kelly Woo
Streaming Editor

Kelly is the streaming channel editor for Tom’s Guide, so basically, she watches TV for a living. Previously, she was a freelance entertainment writer for Yahoo, Vulture, TV Guide and other outlets. When she’s not watching TV and movies for work, she’s watching them for fun, seeing live music, writing songs, knitting and gardening.