"Netflix has been an unsung hero of the last five months, creating one of the pandemic's first pieces of cultural bedrock and filling up our queues with a healthy supply of mindless, guilty pleasure television," says Marianne Dodson. "But the streaming giant's most enticing pandemic Cinderella story comes from a group of ostentatious realtors who are finally cashing in on what viewers want to buy." Yet Selling Sunset really didn't start generating buzz until it returned amid the pandemic. "The show failed to make a sizable splash after premiering on Netflix in March 2019, garnering minimal critical attention save for some lukewarm reviews," says Dodson. "But when it returned to streaming in May 2020 with its sophomore season, the show was released upon a cooped-up, drama-deprived populous. Netflix clearly read the room, announcing in May it would 'surprise' drop season three just two and a half months later. The world was parched for tea, and Selling Sunset's cup overfloweth. Led by soap actress Chrishell Stause and the villainous Christine Quinn, Selling Sunset's cast follow the reality TV blueprint of being glossy, gorgeous, and gossipy. Their conversations aren't groundbreaking nor are their fights ruinous, but as VICE points out, pandemic-era gossip doesn't need to be. There's no better time than now to lower our storytelling standards, and reality television was already considered the bottom of the barrel for quality programming. The genre is predicated on over-the-top theatrics, but Selling Sunset's strengths don't lie in its absurdity (although, to be clear, it is often absurd). The show meets the moment because it reminds us how blissful it feels to care about petty, innocuous drama." Dodson adds: "Selling Sunset doesn't just provide a nice distraction from our problems, though. Sure, part of its appeal is that it takes us out of our current hellscape, but it also reminds us what it feels like to sweat the small stuff. The days of eavesdropping on public transit are over. Snooping by the workplace water cooler has been put on hold. By allowing the bombastic drama to build and marinate, the show reminds viewers they can care about the little things even amidst an unrelenting heaviness. By no means should Selling Sunset be considered great pandemic art, but it might just be the pandemic's best cultural remedy."
The cruelty of Los Angeles emerges on Selling Sunset: The Netflix luxury real estate show could basically be described as "one part real-estate porn and one part office drama, portraying the mild conflicts and even milder friendships among the female employees of the Oppenheim Group, an agency run by the natty, impossible-to-tell-apart twins Jason and Brett Oppenheim," says Naomi Fry. "It borrows freely from many previous shows, including Robin Leach’s voyeuristic nineteen-eighties gambol Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise, and real-estate shows like Property Brothers, Flipping Out, and Million Dollar Listing. The plot is slow going, and often seems scripted." But, says Fry, "there is a certain morbidity to making a show about the luxury real-estate market in a city that is currently experiencing a gutting homelessness crisis—one that is getting progressively worse in the wake of the coronavirus. Selling Sunset, which finished filming before the pandemic began, attempts a brief nod to this issue in an episode that finds Chrishell organizing a charity auction for the homeless, albeit one doubling as an open house for a 4.4-million-dollar property that she is trying to sell in Studio City. But the cruelty of the city—its ruthlessness and egocentrism—emerges on the show in deeper, less intentional ways. It surfaces, for one, in the story of Amanza, a biracial single mom, and the one Selling Sunset agent whose problems feel real."
Selling Sunset's women are the show's true stars -- they shine in spite of the Oppenheim twins, not thanks to them: "The Oppenheim twins and their arsenal of only female real estate agents are not so far off from The Girls Next Door, E!’s reality show about Hugh Hefner and his late-aughts playmates," says Joseph Longo. Jason and Brett are using these starlets as bait to entice and sell their houses, pitting the women against one another. (Seriously, an HR director needs to step in about Jason’s favoritism toward Mary, his one-time ex.) This is why the show is at its best when it disregards the Oppenheim twins altogether. It shines when the focus is on these glamorous businesswomen with legit real estate skills. Watching Maya getting a broker’s license and risk going out on her own in Miami after unfair treatment by the twins is more engaging than any new CBS procedural.... Still, there’s something off about the show’s lens on this engrossing office. Behind the veneer of successful agents parading around the Hollywood Hills is a crude tale of women straining for the approval of two men who’ve bought their affection. Maybe it’s a good thing I don’t know the difference between the Oppenheim brothers after all."
Selling Sunset creator Adam DiVello wanted to avoid making a Real Housewives clone: "We reached out to them, they had already been approached by every other network and kept saying no," DiVello says of the Oppenheim twins. "After we had an initial meeting, they agreed to move forward. I said to them, what sets this show apart for me is I want this show to end up at Netflix. I wasn’t trying to make a Real Housewives. Nothing against the Real Housewives, but we’re just trying to showcase more of the real estate and glamour of it all. Kind of take what I did with The Hills, which is also set in the Hollywood Hills, and show the females’ lives, their work lives, take their relationships and personal lives and use the real estate as a backdrop. We pitched it and Netflix was gracious enough to pick it up and order eight episodes. I think this is the first docusoap for Netflix. It’s going to be fun to see how it does."