When the trailer for Singapore Social dropped two weeks ago, my gut reaction — and probably everyone else’s — is that it’s a Crazy Rich Asians knock-off no one asked for. And now that I’ve seen all eight episodes of it, I’m glad to report that the Netflix show is as vapid and shallow as advertised. Oh well, at least the trailer is honest.
This ‘unscripted’ reality drama — produced by Love Productions USA, an American company that specialises in the genre (check out Westside and Made in Mexico) — is about “the lives of young Singaporeans as they defy expectations and traverse the tricky terrain of career, romance and family”.
And who are these “young Singaporeans”? There’s tech entrepreneur Nicole Ong; fashion influencer Mae Tan; YouTuber Vinny Sharp; Tabitha Nauser, one-time Singapore Idol contestant and now “Singapore’s Beyoncé” (when did that happen?); host, philanthropist and occasional actor Paul Foster; and burlesques dancer Sukki Singapora. They're a good-looking and self-indulgent bunch — the kind of folks you love to hate.
If you're familiar with The Hills or So Cosmo, you know what to expect. When you watch an unscripted series (or reality soap as it’s sometimes called), the last thing you’d expect is realism. To stay sane, it’s best to approach Singapore Social with a a bag of salt, fully expecting it to be one-sided and culturally tone-deaf. Let’s not get too worked up by it, shall we? Remember: it's a Netflix Original Series, not a Netflix Documentary Series. I'm just surprised Xiaxue wasn't invited to the party.
The Singapore in Singapore Social is very alien to me. It recalls that infamous Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders episode. But here’s the thing, while that ep was shot in the US, without any local support, Singapore Social, on the other hand, was filmed here with STB’s knowledge (it says so in the end credits).
By the way, when I say something like Vinny Sharp is a pretentious cad and I want to throw a lawn mower at his face, I’m reacting to the Vinny Sharp on the show, not in real life. The onscreen Vinny is probably, as with everything else on the show, a heightened version of the real McCoy. Like the a-hole Josh Groban on Glee. Or the chee ko pek Al Pacino in Jack and Jill. It’s all an act. Or is it?
Okay, who cares if it’s realistic or not? Stay for the slick photography and gossipy drama, then. Sadly, the drama is eye-rollingly mundane, and isn’t as appealing as its telegenic cast. One cringe-inducing moment sees Vinny explaining to Tabitha his love for music: “I’ve been addicted to music since I heard music. It’s my friend.” Ugh. Are you sure this isn’t scripted?
What they should've done is have a panel of commentators making fun of the characters a la Terrace House. (Mr Brown, what say you?) Now that would be more entertaining than watching the antics of young, rich and restless. That said, if you haven’t seen Singapore Social, I suggest you organise a viewing party and have a blast picking it apart. It's also less painful that way. Here are a few starters…