It’s hard to say exactly which scene in Million Dollar Beach House — the new Netflix reality show about a high-end real-estate firm in the Hamptons — left me feeling the most despondent.
There was the time the two wealthy realtors who look like Bonobos models discussed “the future of the real-estate business” while skateboarding around the lush backroads of the Hamptons, forever tarnishing the name of skating in my mind. There was the time one realtor, Michael, complained about getting his pregnant wife a “push present,” a gift someone gets for their pregnant partner to say “Thanks for the baby,” I guess? (Michael said that while he appreciated her carrying his child around in her womb for nine months, he had carried the baby “in his balls for 30 years.”) And of course, there was the time the three white guys in the firm got together to make fun of the clearly scripted but escalating drama between the one woman and the one Black guy in the main cast.
“They are a little bit newer to our brokerage,” Michael says by way of explanation, even though the man standing directly next to him, J.B., seems to be the firm’s newest hire.
I had hoped Million Dollar Beach House would be the spiritual successor to Selling Sunset, Netflix’s other reality show about a high-end brokerage firm. Clearly, Netflix hoped so too. The two have similar sweeping shots of multimillion-dollar homes, similar upbeat EDM music cues, and similarly attractive casts who say things like, “This is the money shot, right here,” whenever they walk outside. But whereas Selling Sunset follows a pack of perfectly coiffed and terrifyingly energetic women working in the Hollywood Hills and the two bald, identical twins who lead them, Million Dollar Beach House is centered on the mostly male employees of a brokerage called Nest Seekers. In addition to Michael “I Carried My Child in My Balls for 30 Years” Fulfree, there’s also J.B. Andreassi, Michael’s best friend and a former Dartmouth football player; Jimmy Giugliano, a quiet guy who’s just trying to do his job; Noel Roberts, a cello lover who dropped out of high school with his twin brother to compete in ping pong tournaments; and Peggy Zabakolas, who is always fighting with Noel.
If watching Selling Sunset feels like resting your brain in a nice, cool infinity pool overlooking Los Angeles, watching Million Dollar Beach House feels like dropping your brain into a recently divorced financial adviser’s expensive new hot tub: an experience that’s ostensibly picturesque but also uncomfortable and deeply sad.
The fact that it’s male-centric isn’t the problem. A good broker bro can make for great television. Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles and Million Dollar Listing New York are full of immaculately groomed real-estate guys who love expensive suits and gleefully yell at people on their cell phones while getting chauffeured around. They have short tempers and sharp tongues and clearly delight in starting drama wherever they go. So far, though, none of the Beach House cast seem to have the TV savvy of, say, Million Dollar Listing New York’s Ryan Serhant or Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles’s Josh Flagg, who once slapped his colleague, Josh Altman, for talking about his grandmother.
Even when there are staged, dramatic confrontations in Million Dollar Beach House, they feel flat. At one point, Peggy gets mad at someone named “Sara,” whom the producers had seemingly pulled from thin air, for not inviting her to a showing at a hotel where no one can figure out the accurate square footage. “You are officially the fakest person I’ve ever met,” Peggy says. It’s a great line, but I had absolutely no idea who this woman “Sara” was, so I didn’t really care.
Of course, most of the drama on Selling Sunset is also clearly staged as well. But on Selling Sunset, the cast seems more aware of what they signed up for, more in tune with the performative and campy aspects of good reality TV. Just think of Christine Quinn in season two, showing up to a work event in a massive fur stole, her new fiancé on her arm, demanding to know why Chrishell won’t be her friend. Inspired! The cast of Million Dollar Beach House, on the other hand, seem like they’re just recording a video journal of their luxurious but regular and overworked day-to-day lives.
Ultimately, everything on Million Dollar Beach House seems bleak in a way that is too real and tangible to allow for any kind of escapism. As Laura Bradley at the Daily Beast put it, too much of the show “simply reflects reality.” The white men in the office clearly have formed a boys’ club — a kind of discrimination all too familiar to non-male and nonwhite viewers. The cast seems stressed about work and bored by all the conflict producers try to manufacture. All the wheeling and dealing that usually makes real-estate shows fun to watch is performed joylessly. Even the clients seem sad. They arrive, stern and unsmiling, eye-poppingly wealthy individuals who don’t seem to be having any fun at all with their money.
Without the over-the-top performances or exuberant absurdity that are key to reality-show success, Million Dollar Beach House just ends up being depressing. There’s no escapism here, just a grim reminder that some people can have all the money in the world and still not have any fun.