If you’ve scrolled past Selling Sunset and decided against watching Netflix’s first foray into the docusoap genre (yes, that really is a portmanteau of the words “documentary” and “soap opera”), you may be missing out on your newest reality television obsession.
You may not be a fan of reality television, let alone a reality TV show about real estate agents. In fact, you may loathe the existence of television that showcases over-the-top personalities surrounded by obscene displays of wealth, exchanging vapid dialogue, and getting into dramatic confrontations on a regular basis. Plus, there’s the fact that “reality” on TV is constructed, scripted, and often bears little resemblance to actual reality. Selling Sunset isn’t immune to those criticisms, but its combination of these dramatic elements fuelled by the competitive nature of real estate and beautiful shots of luxurious California homes, creates a show that is fast paced and ridiculous, yet very difficult to turn off.
Selling Sunset is about a group of young, successful, and highly competitive female real estate agents at The Oppenheim Group, a high-end Los Angeles brokerage run by twin brothers, Jason and Brett Oppenheim. The show follows Christine, Mary, Maya, Heather, Davina, and newly hired Chrishell, as they sell multi-million dollar homes in West Hollywood, San Fernando Valley, and across LA. This show is high-drama and contains a multitude of interpersonal confrontations between clashing, and often mean, characters. However, the most interesting parts of the show are not the passive aggressive dinner interchanges, or the poolside spats after too much Veuve Clicquot. Instead, it is the highly dramatized glimpses into each agent’s professional journey that makes Selling Sunset so compelling.
Much of the show’s entertainment value stems from the unpredictable twists that come with working in the high-end real estate market. Market knowledge proves crucial to each agent’s success, as they compete with one another to find a buyer for a 20,000 square foot home with a $40,000,000 price tag in the Hollywood Hills. The successful selling agent is set to earn an extravagant $1,200,000 commission. Understanding how to highlight the best features of each property within the larger market context is just as important. Throughout season one, we watch as Christine uses twilight showings to emphasize a home’s glamour, but struggles because it lacks the city views, typical of properties within the seller’s desired price range.
Selling Sunset also emphasizes the importance of using staging to emphasize a property’s best assets, but when a miscommunication between Heather and the staging company causes a one-week delay in putting a home on the market, Heather finds herself in hot water until she makes a big sale. When Chrishell’s first potential sale falls through, Selling Sunset shows the importance of being overly prepared and the pitfalls of resting on your laurels.
The struggle to work as a team in a competitive industry is shown in episode seven, where two pairs of agents work to double-end a deal, where both the buyer and the seller is represented by The Oppenheim Group agents. While Chrishelle and Maya are able to work together and find the perfect home for their client, one of the co-creators of Wag!, Heather and Christine prove unable to put past grievances aside — a potential showing devolves into a made-for-reality-TV screaming match in the driveway of a multi-million dollar home because the property manager forgot to unlock the front door.
Selling Sunset also uses the seemingly frivolous medium of reality television to depict challenges faced by many women in the workplace in a simple but effective manner. In the first episode, Maya struggles with maintaining a warm and friendly veneer while assertively turning down the advances of a prospective buyer who fills their home viewings with inappropriately flirtatious comments. It’s awkward and difficult to watch, but Selling Sunset presents an easy to understand depiction of the struggle between likeability and being taken seriously for women in the workplace.
Gendered struggles between personal and professional lives are addressed in Selling Sunset by Heather, the agent whose status in the brokerage is diminished after beginning a serious relationship with a professional hockey player. Heather makes career sacrifices which garner her boss’ admonishment, yet seem largely unacknowledged by her boyfriend. The expectation that Heather’s career is not of equal importance, mirrors a Harvard Business Review who found that even among high achieving Harvard Business School graduates, the, “Vast majority of women… anticipated that their careers would rank equally with those of their partners.” Yet, over half of the men surveyed, “Expected that their careers would take priority over their spouses’ or partners.”
Is Selling Sunset a masterpiece of empowering, intelligent, well-written media? Absolutely not. It is, however, an entertaining docusoap that isn’t afraid to intersperse footage of luxury homes with typical reality-TV drama, alongside the highs and lows of trying to succeed in a highly competitive real estate market. If you can stomach the idea of putting a docusoap on to begin with, you too may find yourself sold on Selling Sunset.
Images courtesy of Netflix