SINGAPORE — Last Friday (22 Nov), Netflix dropped Singapore Social, an eight-episode reality series that follows the lives of six young, affluent Singaporean influencers who also happen to be friends.
Who are the six talents? They are pop star Tabitha Nauser, actor-model Paul Foster, fashion influencer Mae Tan, burlesque performer Sukki Singapora, filmmaker Vinny Sharp and blockchain entrepreneur Nicole Ong. Netflix describes the show as such: “Peer into the lives of young Singaporeans as they defy expectations and traverse the tricky terrain of career, family and romance.”
This is one of those shows that I can’t decide on whether it’s so bad that it’s actually good. The most obvious problem is the cringeworthy dialogue throughout the series. Another problem is that, despite their seemingly glitzy lives, the stories and the cast are just not that interesting.
Surprisingly, Singapore Social wasn’t produced by locals. Somehow alarm bells didn’t ring at Netflix when they were pitched this show by the American unit of a British production house, Love Productions. Why did Netflix executives think that a bunch of ang mohs could make a reality show that reflects Singaporean life?
Oh, if you play a drinking game where you drink every time Chinatown appears, or the cast dine or party with the Marina Bay skyline in the background, you’ll get drunk pretty quickly. (The Singapore Tourism Board was involved in the production, so they might have shared some of the costs with Netflix in return for embedded tourism advertisements).
The series has been criticised by netizens for being unrepresentative of Singapore society. On this point, I will defend the show: reality TV doesn’t need to be “representative” of the masses to be interesting television, but the cast or characters need to be relatable in some way, in the way their lives mirror viewers’. After all, shows in the US like The Hills and Keeping Up With The Kardashians have gained huge followings even though they feature casts who are rich and privileged. But in Singapore Social, there are too many side stories involving characters besides the main cast that never got me invested in their lives.
The producers seem to think that an unvarnished look into the lives of this group of physically attractive people would make for good TV. They are probably perfectly charming people in real life – but the show mostly just documents things that happen to them and they rarely make decisive actions. Vinny’s main story is that he has an ex-girlfriend who he remains close friends with, who still pines for him – but he never resolves his relationship with her at the end of the series. However, Paul and Nicole will tug at your heartstrings through their relationships with their mothers.
We all know that so-called “reality TV” is manipulated, scripted, or edited to some extent to create drama and interesting stories for viewers. Some plots in Singapore Social feel manufactured and contrived, like a saga where Vinny tries and fails to get Tabitha to use him as the director for her music video. At least we know that nobody could possibly have scripted the vacuous conversations that these characters have.
To be fair, the most cringeworthy bits are in the first one or two episodes, and in real life we all say nonsense to our friends. These folks do talk about deeper things, like how they need to persevere in their dreams despite their conservative Asian parents holding them back. But the editing choices to feature random inane dialogue is baffling. It feels like the producers threw the cast together in scenes hoping that they would utter interesting things. Then during editing, they padded the dialogue with random bits that they thought would showcase the cast’s personalities – but they’re really just random bits of verbal filler. I reproduce some examples below verbatim and let you judge for yourself.
This is Mae and Nicole discussing day-drinking at a restaurant overlooking the Singapore River while waiting for Vinny to show up for brunch/lunch:
Nicole: Is it too early for wine?
Mae: Are you thinking of wine already?
Nicole: Yes, I think it will help.
Mae: I’ll have wine with you!
Nicole: (squeaking excitedly) Yes! OK… red or white?
Mae: Are you eating? Have you eaten?
Nicole: No, I haven’t eaten. Good point. Let’s see if Vinny has wine. Do you know that “Vinny” plus “Mae” equals “Minnie”? (Both giggle at this fantastically funny joke.)
Here, Nicole gets the hiccups while on a date with her romantic interest Alson, which was randomly left in the final edit:
Nicole: *Hic* Oh, gosh.
Alson: You gotta flip your back. Hurry, flip your back! Flip your back! (What does “flip your back” mean anyway??)
Nicole: I’m trying to hold my breath! *hic*
Alson: Just drink this. (Offers her beer)
Nicole drinks the beer. Thankfully for our sanity, the hiccups subside and they carry on with a conversation about how Nicole is stressed out at her mother nagging her to pursue a conventional career over being an entrepreneur.
Maybe non-confrontational Singaporeans just can’t really produce the interesting personalities needed for a reality show. How many local reality docu-series can you think of? The closest that things got to a catfight was when Tabitha indirectly accused fellow artiste Sukki of being jealous during the launch party for Tabitha’s music single.
For reality TV to work, even if it’s fake to some extent, you need your cast to respond to their problems, to work through conflicts with the people around them, and to bring their stories to closure. You need villains and heroes. You need a reason to root for whoever’s onscreen. But Singapore Social doesn’t give you those reasons.
Mae, while discussing the meaning of their existence on this earth with Vinny at the beginning of the second episode, says, “Sometimes I question, like, where am I going? What is all of this for? Like, what’s the purpose? Why am I here?”
Indeed, those are questions that will cross the mind of anyone watching this show – if they can bring themselves to do so.