Length: 8 x episodes (35-45 minutes each approx)
Reality TV is here to stay. Like a form of cultural herpes, the much maligned genre continues to throb below the surface, breaking out at inopportune moments. It may manifest as shows about groups of people - usually beautiful idiots - who are: trying to get married, being married at first sight, living in a house under constant surveillance or just getting drunk and rooting one another stupid.
Apparently the bottom of the barrel is vast and chockers with content.
Now that the many-headed, sausage-lipped, hydra of the Kardashian family has finally been banished to the televisual underworld, it was perhaps inevitable another snarling beast would rise in its stead. This time around it’s Netflix who have unleashed a great evil upon this land, and lo ye mighty shall wail and gnash thy teeth: because the time of the Bling Empire has arrived.
It’s a show that bravely asks the question, “What if Crazy Rich Asians but charmless?”
Bling Empire follows the lives, loves and unholy shopping sprees of a group of obscenely wealthy Asians in America.
So, who are these fancy folks? Well, there’s Kane Lim: whose cheekbones have been so augmented he looks like he was bitten by a radioactive squirrel.
There’s Christine Alexandra Chu, a perpetually startled, sentient David Jones mannequin, who after the traumatic birth of her son, “Baby G”, is being hounded by both her husband and his family into having yet more children.
There’s Kevin Kreider, an absurdly beautiful male model, who inexplicably has all the self confidence and dating game of a clammy-palmed teenage boy.
Oh, and there’s Kelly Mi Li, who also acts as a producer on the show, and appears to be blithely unaware of the fact she’s in a toxic relationship with actor Andrew (who played the Red Ranger in Power Rangers Megaforce once upon a time).
This last point is one of the many ways in which Bling Empire gets its trash factor wrong. Sure, it’s fun to laugh at the vapid pronouncements of people who’ve never worked a day in their lives, but watching Kelly get gaslit and going back for more isn’t entertainment. It’s being complicit in a toxic dynamic.
Now, due to the usual tricks of misleading editing, ADR nonsense and general fakery, this subplot may have been exaggerated to create more drama. But is that any better? Either way, heavy manipulation is taking place here and it’s absurdly uncool.
But even aside from that more serious issue, the entire show is just kind of flat. Sure, there are some fitfully amusing moments that can be enjoyed when hungover and full of self-loathing, but it’s nothing you haven’t seen before and done better.
There’s a kind of emptiness at the core of most of these characters, a result perhaps of having few desires other than the acquisition of further wealth, and while watching Kane Lim spectacularly misunderstand Buddhism or Kevin bumble head-first into the friendzone is sporadically entertaining, it’s not enough to sustain eight full episodes of TV.
Reality TV is a carnival sideshow for the modern age. We’re allowed to stare and gawp with minimal judgment, but this time around the main attractions just aren’t that engaging. Yes, the clothes are shiny and the parties opulent, but it’s not enough to hide the fact Bling Empire is less Crazy Rich Asians and more Tedious Wealthy Brats.
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