I have a milquetoast confession about the reality TV show Selling Sunset, the Hollywood Hills real estate extravaganza thrust upon us by Netflix’s algorithm: The best way to watch it is by fast-forwarding through the dialogue entirely.
That’s not to say Selling Sunset isn’t a sparkling reflection of Western excess, or that the show’s central characters aren’t worthy of interrogation; it is, and they are. The New Yorker’s Naomi Fry threads her review with references to gross income inequality, the coronavirus pandemic, and even the Manson Family Murders, all of which are gritty reference points for what is, ostensibly, a formulaic reality TV show.
Then there are the agents of the Oppenheim Group themselves, the apex of a certain brand of girlboss feminism – self-sufficient businesswomen, building clout and financial independence through real estate, winning at a game that produces an endless supply of losers.
Selling Sunset is obviously ripe for this kind of critical analysis (even if hate-watching the show seems unlikely to expose hidden truths about wealth and class), and if you do find yourself genuinely invested in the lives of its glamorous stars, well, that’s fun, too. But even Fry’s piece lets slip that Selling Sunset’s greatest appeal is its anaesthetic effect, saying, “these home tours are a visual Xanax, sending the viewer into a state of soothing dissociation.”
Stripped of dialogue and context, Selling Sunset is the closest thing Netflix has to a dream sequence. Numbers flash on screen, but they don’t really matter. It’s all glass and brushed concrete, with cavernous living rooms, glowing, purgatorial. The agents often tell clients to admire the view of Los Angeles; even this is numbing, as the view is never really good, but there’s just so much of it, so brightly lit, even at night. Watching Selling Sunset in Melbourne is to be transported from my own apartment, where standing on the balcony means staring at the broad side of a hospital. You can be taken, away, too. Just hit fast-forward. Play. Fast-forward. Play.
I should say I mainly watch Selling Sunset after work, when my mental faculties have deteriorated beyond their usual state, and I just want to say “Yup!” or “Nup!” to a stream of ridiculous houses. Parsing the razzed-up beefs of real estate agents just might not be my thing. Not in that state, at least. But Netflix may benefit from a ‘wish fulfilment’ cut of Selling Sunset, where agents aren’t jostling for commissions and I don’t have to worry about someone stepping on those poor, tiny dogs. Just mansions, hilltops, sunlight, and sunsets.