When I first learned Netflix was working on a reality TV show that follows a group of wealthy Asian and American friends around Los Angeles, à la Crazy Rich Asians, I was intrigued. Listen, I love reality TV. I am an avid Real Housewives watcher and always will be, but Bling Empire just wasn't it for me. The issue wasn't entirely rooted in the fact that I didn't find anyone from the cast likable (OK, with the exception of Anna sometimes), but mainly, I just don't think this is the energy we need coming into 2021.
If we learned anything about television in 2020, it's that people want shows with substance.
The show stars Kane Lim, the son of a Singaporean billionaire; Christine Alexandra Chiu, the founder of Beverly Hills Plastic Surgery with her husband, Dr. Gabriel Chiu; fashion influencer Jaime Xie; "superfamous DJ" Kim Lee; model Kevin Kreider; "denim empire" heiress Cherie Chan; socialite Anna Shay; producer Kelly Mi Li; and actor Andrew Gray, aka the Red Power Ranger. It features the group attending over-the-top parties, going on expensive shopping sprees, and traveling the world, and of course, there's lots and lots of drama. While I understand that this is a common basis for a reality show, the timing of it couldn't be more wrong.
If we learned anything about television in 2020, it's that people want to watch shows with substance. They want content that helps them escape their daily lives, makes them feel real emotions, and tackles important real-life issues head on. Hence, why shows like The Queen's Gambit, Schitt's Creek, and The Umbrella Academy received such high praise last year. Bling Empire does none of those things. I'm sorry, but who honestly wants to watch a show about rich people frivolously spending money and fighting with each other about being rich (see: #necklacegate) while dealing with a global pandemic? Please read the room.
Bling Empire is also another example of the normalization of toxic relationships on TV. From the very first episode, producers paint Kelly and Andrew as this clearly dysfunctional couple who are in an emotionally abusive relationship yet they just can't seem to quit each other. We see Andrew constantly manipulating Kelly into believing that he truly loves her and wants the best for her, even though his actions prove otherwise. At one point, he even reprimands Kelly for discussing their issues with her friends and tells her, "Because whatever happens between you and I, nobody needs to know." Viewers are then expected to sympathize with Andrew as he's shown dramatically praying on his knees at their therapist's office (after the therapist kicks him out so she can talk to Kelly alone, by the way) and we learn about his childhood trauma.
If we're demanding that celebrities do more to support and speak out about important causes, we should hold TV networks and streaming services accountable, too.
This manipulation and emotional abuse go on throughout the entire season, and yet at no point during the show do producers or Netflix warn viewers about the potentially triggering content. This is flat-out socially irresponsible. I understand that reality TV shows are meant to reflect things exactly how they are, but producers could have used this opportunity as a teaching moment. Instead of highlighting Kelly and Andrew's relationship for the sake of having the finale's happily-ever-after moment, this could have been a real opportunity to educate viewers on an issue that rarely gets addressed on TV, which is far more important, if you ask me.
After all, it is 2021, and if we're demanding that celebrities do more to support and speak out about important causes, we should hold TV networks and streaming services accountable, too.