15 Shows That Are Basically Lifestyle Porn

15 Shows That Are Basically Lifestyle Porn
Screenshot: Selling Sunset/Netflix, Fair Use

For five seasons (and counting), Selling Sunset has been a solid performer for Netflix, evolving from a reality show ostensibly about the high-power, high-profit world of big-money real estate in Los Angeles to a veritable meme factory filled with pretty people fighting over nothing in particular and occasionally selling mansions. It’s already inspired a Tampa-based spin-off, and Netflix recently dropped a trailer for the latest iteration: Selling the O.C.

For the uninitiated, it’s easy to get sniffy about this type of reality TV, but even high-brow prestige drama television shows typically go to great lengths (and spend an awful lot of money) to show us pretty people in lavish settings: Downton Abbey, Succession, The Good Fight, Anatomy of a Scandal, Hacks, etc. We’ll doubtless be better off as a species when we can muster up as much interest in poor people…but here we are.

So we’re gathered here today not to eat the rich, but to look at their stuff. Here are 15 shows, scripted and otherwise, that represent the best (?) lifestyle porn on TV.

The Gilded Age (2022– )

Lavish Accommodations: The palatial (an understatement) mansion of New York’s nouveau riche Russell family circa 1882, as well as the slightly less ornate homes of the city’s white old money and Black upper class families.

A time of wild income inequality, in which the very wealthiest Americans fought viciously to acquire every loose penny while the vast majority of the population barely scraped by. Can you imagine? The show’s creator, Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes, obviously knows from sumptuous scenery, and fins it here in the mansion of the fictional Russell family, inside of which one could easily fit a train station. In contrast with more modern rich-people shows, the highly detailed period fashions are, naturally, a selling point.

The Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives (2020– )

Lavish Accommodations: From gorgeous homes in Mumbai to global hot spots in Paris and Doha.

Though billed as an exploration of the personal and professional lives of wealthy elites Neelam Kothari, Maheep Kapoor, Bhavna Pandey and Seema Khan, the show doesn’t offer much beyond a chance to ogle fancy cars, beautiful clothes, and gorgeous locations. As a bit of reality TV escapism, its content to stay in its lane.

Succession (2018– )

Lavish Accommodations: Logan Roy’s classically styled Fifth Avenue New York apartment; the skyscraper offices of the Waystar Royco media empire (generally cold, but with impressive views); occasional field trips to locales as diverse as Iceland (for a spot of rehab), Tuscany, and the Hamptons.

This show counteracts the very notion of wealth porn in part by reminding us that rich people can be fairly terrible and still unhappy, but there’s still plenty of extravagance to gape at.

Summer House (2017– )

Lavish Accommodations: Several Hamptons-area mansions, including one currently on the market for $US4.5 ($6) million.

A spin-off from Vanderpump Rules (itself a spin-off from the Beverly Hills-based Real Housewives spin-off), Summer House is the ongoing story of nine-ish wealthy strangers who share the title’s seasonal getaway. Over the course of the series, several different enviable homes have served the needs of its cast of frequently horny young professionals.

Billions (2016– )

Lavish Accommodations: Bobby Axelrod’s ultra-modern penthouse and his more classically styled Hamptons mansion; the cosy brownstone of Chuck Rhoades.

The story of the ongoing war between U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) and hedge fund king Bobby Axelrod (Damien Lewis), this show zips between lavish locations in New York City, with occasional jaunts upstate — typically to more classically styled mansions of the gilded age. The multi-level apartment of Bobby Axlerod, the setting for much of the first five seasons, was not a set, but instead an actual Manhattan penthouse last listed for $US45 ($62) million (it’s not currently on the market, but keep checking back if you’re interested; the views are incredible). Even Chuck’s homey Brooklyn brownstone, meant to contrast with the lavish home Bobby Axelrod, will impress anyone who knows anything about NYC real estate.

Singapore Social (2019)

Lavish Accommodations: A broad swath of Singapore, including gorgeous homes and an emphasis on the city’s nightlife.

Given the broad popularity of Crazy Rich Asians, it would be easy for non-Singaporeans to conclude that everyone on the island is incomprehensibly wealthy. This series serves as a corrective to that mistaken assumption by focusing on residents who are merely obscenely rich. Though much of the typical eye candy is on display here, the show makes a genuine effort to explore the cultural and ethnic diversity of Singapore.

Gossip Girl (2021– )

Lavish Accommodations: Lots of New York locations, including the neo-Georgian Museum of the City of New York, which stands in for the Constance Billard School for Girls, where all these rich brats occasionally go to class.

Though the ongoing sequel series has a bit more diversity and places a greater emphasis on social media, both it and the original foreground fashionable Manhattan private schoolers lounging about in rarified spaces, making them fun to watch on a visual level even if you hate everyone onscreen.

The Big Day (2021– )

Lavish Accommodations: Bright colours, ornate fabrics, and plenty of flowers in bright and sunny locations.

There’s not a tremendous amount of depth to this show, but there are definitely pleasures to be had in following the planning and preparations as six couples of Indian descent ramp up to their wedding days. Though each couple does things differently, the stereotypical image of the incredibly lavish Hindu marriage ceremony is hardly challenged, though the inclusion of a same-sex couple does make things a bit more interesting.

Ballers (2015 — 2019)

Lavish Accommodations: For the first two seasons, the show’s location scouts made Miami a character, visiting everyplace from high-end steakhouses to pool bars that would absolutely not let me in.

As a financial capital, New York is always a go-to setting, but Ballers, which follows a bunch of elite sports agents, lets the sun shine into the world of the ultra-rich, setting (and filming) its first two seasons in Florida; the last two seasons were filmed largely in Los Angeles and set in that city and Las Vegas. Even if it’s not strictly the case, it certainly feels as though we’re getting a taste of what it might be like to be Dwayne Johnson.

House of Ho (2020)

Lavish Accommodations: A blend of Texas big-money styling with traditional Vietnamese elements. Also, lots of pretty cars.

The growth of Asia as an economic powerhouse (and the growing willingness of Americans to acknowledge that fact) has lead to a string of reality shows that offer a different kind of diversity than the Real Housewives and Kardashians franchises This one involves the Ho family, Vietnamese billionaires based in Houston. Though there’s plenty of wealth porn on display, it’s a tad darker than other shows of its kind — the generational conflicts that form the basis of many a family-focused reality series don’t exactly resolve neatly for the younger members of the Ho family, particularly the women.

Entourage (2004 — 2011)

Lavish Accommodations: All of Hollywood, baby.

Similar to the old money/new money divide that defines a period show like The Gilded Age, there’s a similar split between shows that involve lavish mansions and high-powered boardrooms and those that deal with the other trappings of money: sex, fast cars, and well-tanned people lounging near pools. Entourage definitely falls into the latter camp, and all the sunlight is enough to make my eyes hurt. It’s probably the difference between being rich in the northeast, versus being rich in places where one is willing to go outside regularly.

Empire (2015 — 2020)

Lavish Accommodations: Luscious Lyons’ extravagant, classically-styled mansion — the real house, in suburban Chicago, recently sold for $US7.5 ($10) million.

Though many shows about the wealthy focus on people born into their fabulous surroundings, Empire offered a memorably modern take on the new-money/old-money clashes more common to period dramas. Terence Howard plays Lucious Lyon, one-time drug dealer and current patriarch of a music empire locked in battles his ex-wife (Taraji P. Henson) and facing constant manipulation by his sons as they vie to be chosen as his successor.

Dynasty (2017– )

Lavish Accommodations: Mansions that aspire to Renaissance Revival grandeur (without quite getting there).

Of course, for wealth porn par excellence, you could do a lot worse that the 1980s-era original set in Denver. At five seasons and counting, however, the Atlanta-set (and filmed) revival is providing the earlier Carringtons and Colbys with stiff competition when it comes to wealth porn. The look is appropriately lavish if slightly unimaginative, a reminder that money can’t buy interesting taste.

Yellowstone (2018– )

Lavish Accommodations: The open fields of Montana, and the very upscale classic log cabin that serves as the family home.

In this series, the mega-rich Dutton family (led by Kevin Costner) controls the largest ranch in the United States. It’s less about fast cars and bikinis than it is open skies and cowboy hats, but you can still practically smell all the money onscreen. It smells fresh!

Bridgerton (2020– )

Lavish Accommodations: Plenty of eye-popping estates, but the bespoke, Regency-inspired costumes are the real draw.

Bridgerton represents a heightened sense of Regency-era style, adding a hint of fantasy to the Austen-esque trappings familiar to many a period drama.

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