Netflix’s Buying London should be the nail in the coffin for reality TV’s wealth obsession

High-end: Daniel Daggers’ luxury London estate agency is at the heart of the new show  (Netflix)
High-end: Daniel Daggers’ luxury London estate agency is at the heart of the new show (Netflix)

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment in Buying London that well and truly turned my stomach. After all, there were so many potential contenders from the first episode of Netflix’s new property series slash love letter to unfettered greed. There was the scene in which Daniel Daggers, founder of the show’s central luxury estate agency DDRE Global, declares that “there’s no ‘I’ in team… but there is an ‘I’ in super-prime”, like high-end property’s answer to David Brent. Or perhaps our introduction to Oli, an agent who dresses like he is constantly on the verge of being summoned to attend a shooting weekend. “Us poshos stick together!” he declares of his wealthy clientele. On reflection, though, the most sickening scene occurs in the agency’s group meeting, when it’s announced that a £25m property has officially been sold, and everyone starts squealing in glee.

It sums up everything that’s grotesque about this nightmare fusion of Selling Sunset and Made in Chelsea (inevitably one of DDRE’s agents, Rosi Walden, had a brief stint on the latter show before pivoting to property). The programme is a celebration of pure acquisitiveness that venerates lavish displays of wealth for wealth’s sake, with precisely zero self-awareness. I kept expecting to hear a breathy cover version of “Opportunities” by the Pet Shop Boys playing in the background, the “let’s make lots of money” refrain stripped of all the irony. In a zero-star review, The Guardian described it as “probably the most hateable TV show ever made” (for context: even the outrageously awful 2019 film adaptation of Cats managed to drum up one measly star from the paper).

Buying London is just the latest in a string of reality shows obsessed with gawping at the lives and homes of the super-rich. The trend was already feeling tired, but this latest offering is so tone deaf, so unabashedly out of touch, that it makes a convincing case for killing off the micro-genre entirely.

So how did we get here? The success of Netflix’s Selling Sunset, in which an almost parodically glamorous coterie of female agents take brief breaks from moaning about one another to sell multimillion properties in Los Angeles, has spawned a whole extended universe of property shows on the streamer, in locations ranging from the Hamptons to Paris. And last year, the BBC aired Crazy Rich Agents, which doubled up as an excuse for cameras to nose around some of the UK’s most expensive homes; the broadcaster also launched Dubai Hustle, a show about “young Brits fight[ing] to make it to the top of the glitzy world of Dubai real estate” (presumably in pursuit of some big – and tax-free – commission payments).

And then there are the programmes that follow the super-wealthy individuals themselves, such as Netflix’s subtly titled Bling Empire or the Real Housewives franchise. Scripted TV is arguably just as obsessed with money, but at least the writers tend to find ways to interrogate their characters’ wealth, or make them the butt of jokes (from the reliably awful hotel guests checking into The White Lotus to Succession’s squabbling media moguls).

Reality shows like Buying London rely on our desire for escapism (and our natural nosiness). We want to know what life as part of the 0.01 per cent looks like. Maybe we even want to cast our eyes over a bath that has been “carved out of a single piece of stone”, or see some walk-in wardrobes previously installed by Salma Hayek. But there’s surely a limit to how much of this we can swallow without putting these lavish gestures of affluence in their context.

Dissonant: it’s hard to become invested in the show’s manufactured storylines (Netflix)
Dissonant: it’s hard to become invested in the show’s manufactured storylines (Netflix)

London is in the grip of a housing crisis right now. A quarter of the city’s residents are left in poverty after paying for their accommodation costs, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The Office for National Statistics recently reported that London rents were up 11.2 per cent year on year. The capital is fast becoming a place where only the uber-wealthy can afford to live. But Buying London isn’t remotely bothered by London’s status as a playground for billionaires. Instead, it revels in this, with every slo-mo sequence of the agents pulling up to another multimillion residence in a fleet of Range Rovers, and every lingering shot of indoor swimming pools and cinema rooms.

If there was the barest nod to the impact that the likes of DDRE have on an already inflated property market, or, hell, even a half-hearted joke about how frivolous this work essentially is, Buying London might just have got away with it. Instead, Netflix’s show feels dissonant and downright unpleasant to watch. It should surely be the death knell for the “wealth porn” show – not just because it’s crass, but because it’s incredibly dull with it too.

It’s very hard to become invested in its manufactured storylines. The main catalyst for the inter-agency intrigue is squabbles about which immaculately coiffured agent will be placed in charge of a jaw-droppingly expensive faux-heritage property in Radlett (“I’m getting Shakespeare vibes!” trills Rosi). Forgive me for not caring. Later there is drama over a pricey holiday home in Sandbanks. The stakes are so low that they are practically subterranean (just like the basement extension on a Kensington townhouse). Out of two wealthy, successful agents, who will become wealthier and more successful, presumably so that they can start buying up London themselves?

The end result is a show that’s not even worth a hate-watch. Although perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise: it might just destroy the market for this out-of-touch sub-genre for good.