Few things were more alleviating during our collective year inside than virtual tours through palatial Los Angeles homes, views of sparkling infinity pools overlooking the Hollywood Hills, and Christine Quinn’s reliably garish, glam-goth and highlighter-neon fashion ensembles.
That is, of course, if you spent your quarantine bingeing Selling Sunset on Netflix.
The Adam DiVello-produced docu-soap, which focuses on the equally glamorous and industrious female agents at luxury real estate brokerage The Oppenheim Group—and their male bosses—became a reality sensation in its second and third seasons that aired in 2020. Season three, in particular, experienced the now-typical reality-TV fate of capturing a major storyline that first appeared in the tabloids and had viewers anticipating its portrayal on the show: the divorce of the series’ main star Chrishell Stause from her ex-husband, This Is Us actor Justin Hartley. By the season finale, the response to this bombshell by her colleagues causes an even bigger rift between Stause and the show’s delegated villain Quinn (and her sidekick in snarkiness Davina Potratz), leaving the scorned soap opera star-turned-realtor with some bridges to burn and a new path to embark on as a freshly single woman.
Season three of Selling Sunset may have made the case for Stause as the ultimate reality-show protagonist audiences want to root for. However, season four finds her playing second, third and sometimes fourth fiddle to everyone else’s more riveting personal woes. The 10 latest episodes, which are all available on Netflix, will also disappoint viewers who were eager to see her current romance with one of her bosses (Jason Oppenheim) play out on-screen (according to a teaser after the season finale, it’s coming soon).
However, this season’s central and really sole drama primarily highlights Quinn’s necessary contributions to the franchise as one of the few cast members who’s not afraid to be unlikable. Like most seasons of reality television that center around one cast member’s bad behavior, watching Quinn take her sloppy puppeteering to new extremes makes for a mostly exhilarating season—until it isn’t. The season finale, in particular, culminates to an underwhelming moment that made me, as a fan, briefly nervous for the future of the franchise—of course, until I realized that finding women who are willing to play the role of the bitch on a hit Netflix show probably isn’t that difficult a task. Still, few are as adept as Quinn.
The first episode finds the women in what seems like the middle of a pandemic funk. While the show is as visually bright and glowing as it typically is, everyone is initially lacking their usual energy and sunniness due to the COVID-19 pandemic that barely gets a mention. (While it might make many viewers uneasy, others will certainly appreciate the complete lack of mask usage and disclaimers of group activities being “COVID-safe” that was very distracting on Real Housewives last year). Of course, all it takes is for Quinn to finally meet with some of the women after giving birth to her son to really get the show on a roll, particularly Oppenheim Group’s latest agent Vanessa Villela, another soap star-turned-realtor from Mexico City who Quinn manages to dig her claws into.
The scenes between the two of them as Quinn manufactures an oppression narrative regarding her relationship with the rest of the women, who all (besides Amanza and Maya) have had it with her BS, are as delightfully frightening and disorienting as Regina George’s attempts to convert Cady Heron to a Plastic in Mean Girls. Likewise, Villela’s presence on the show seems mostly for the sake of Quinn to have an amicable scene partner and, most importantly, a mediator between her and the rest of her co-workers, as the show doesn’t really dive into her personal life or even her professional developments on the show. While she feels akin to Chrishell in season one, she’s hardly her heir. Additionally, despite Villela’s often annoying attempts to defend Quinn and play peacemaker, the women are shockingly patient with her at times when I would’ve enjoyed more irritation.
“The scenes between the two of them as Quinn manufactures an oppression narrative regarding her relationship with the rest of the women… are as delightfully frightening and disorienting as Regina George’s attempts to convert Cady Heron to a Plastic in ‘Mean Girls.’”
Meanwhile, another newbie to Oppenheim named Emma Hernan, who somehow is more statuesque than Quinn, seems more fit for a multi-season run—unless her empanada empire takes her away from us. Positioned as an old enemy to Quinn, Hernan, of course, turns out to be pretty likable and drama-resistant in the face of several convoluted stories about an ex-boyfriend Quinn claims they once dated at the same time and were both engaged to. More of a certified #bossbabe than Villela and some of the other cast members, Hernan seems like she has a lot to offer simply from a voyeuristic perspective, as the show heavily relies on giving audience’s a glimpse into the lives of the West Coast elite. Between discussing her choice to fly private because of her large dog, her childhood stock investing and her cheeseburger empanadas, she seems like someone Twitter will have fun gawking at.
Outside of the cast, there’s noticeably a bigger celebrity presence on this season of Selling Sunset than in years past, presumably due to the show gaining in popularity over the years. We get a multi-episode appearance by Shang Chi star Simu Liu, who Stause attempts to find a new home. There’s a season-long storyline involving Mary Fitzgerald attempting to sell French Montana’s home, including a FaceTime appearance with him. Former Lakers player Thomas Bryant shows up for a couple of episodes. And there’s also plenty of mentions of Harry Styles.
With every new turn that the show offers, including the reappearance of Davina, who left The Oppenheim Group after failing to sell an overpriced estate last season, there still feels like there’s an ingredient missing, particularly when there’s a focus on Stause. Now that the former “underdog” is on top at work and has gained the acceptance of mostly the entire cast—and later on, the romantic love of her boss—it doesn’t seem like there’s much intrigue left in the part of her life she’s willing to share on TV.
It’s surprising that she mostly brings up the death of her parents over the last year in passing and speaks generally about the ways Quinn tried to hurt her after her divorce, despite the fact that their rift is harped on throughout the season. Instead, Stause’s storyline mostly consists of trying to buy a multi-million-dollar house, something she repeatedly ties to her experience of growing up in poverty and naturally being kicked out of her ex-husband’s home after their divorce. As much as she appears emotional about it, it’s not necessarily the evocative, relatable moment she thinks it is, especially in relation to fellow agent Amanza Smith receiving calls from child protective services and dealing with the abandonment of her children’s father.
While season four eventually hits a dead end in terms of the women’s myriad conflicts with Quinn, it feels like a pivotal point in the series that might awaken the producers to some of its current problems, like the lack of an interesting dynamic without Quinn. Selling Sunset will never be table-flipping, glass-breaking fare, and it’s a more unique show in today’s reality ecosystem because of it. However, the series needs to hold true to its initial promise of competitiveness and a toxic “family” work environment if it wants to hold our attention in the coming years.