Demolition of Dreams and Neighbourhoods

Demolition of Dreams and Neighbourhoods

Review: The Curse

Showtime’s The Curse takes aim at the ubiquitous reality television landscape with a darkly comedic pitchfork. Starring Emma Stone, Nathan Fielder and Benny Safdie, the series cleverly dissects the genre’s formula — not just hammer and nails but it’s a biting social commentary using awkward humour and unsettling mystery.

The show centres on Asher (Fielder) and Whitney Siegel (Stone), a newlywed couple brimming with eco-conscious ideals and a yearning for reality TV stardom. They live in the close-knit community of Española, New Mexico, and are armed with dreams of flipping houses and a naive belief in sustainable gentrification. Here, The Curse exposes the inherent hypocrisy of such a notion. Sustainable might imply environmental responsibility, but gentrification rarely considers the existing social fabric. Whitney’s dream “passive homes” are out of the realms of affordability of the local Española community. The home design literally mirror the surroundings to highlight how out of place they are in the neighbourhoods they are constructed in.

The series masterfully parodies the familiar tropes of home renovation shows by keeping cameras rolling to show behind the scenes tensions and hypocrisy. We see the staged “reveal” moments after construction, complete with Indigenious art work that nods to community collaboration. Asher and Whitney, with their forced cheer and manufactured conflicts, perfectly embody the archetypal “flipping couple.” They are oblivious to the community’s subtle resistance.

But The Curse goes beyond mere parody. It weaponises humour to expose the consequences of gentrification. As Asher and Whitney establish new expensive “passive homes” and disrupt established businesses, the humour takes on a darker tinge.  Their “dream renovation” becomes a metaphor for the homogenisation of neighbourhoods, the erasure of culture, and the displacement of residents.

The show doesn’t shy away from portraying the human cost. We see local businesses literally set up for the filming of their television series Flipanthropy which they hope to continue after the show and the erosion of the community’s character when people are brought in to purchase the houses for the filming of the show.  The humour recedes in these moments, replaced by a powerful, albeit uncomfortable, portrayal of the dark side of the “home improvement” narrative.

Further amplifying the critique is the show’s exploration of the supernatural. The alleged curse becomes a tangible manifestation of the community’s discontent. Asher can’t quite shake an early confrontation with a young girl that was set up for the show, when he is cursed for taking money away after the cameras stop rolling. This niggling doubt and the need to satisfy this mistake follows him through the series.

The Curse also cleverly employs the awkwardness that Fielder has built his comedic career on. Asher’s social ineptitude, his desperate attempts to connect with the locals, and his increasingly strained relationship with Whitney create an atmosphere filled with tension and discomfort. This discomfort mirrors the unease many viewers might feel while watching the destruction of a community in the name of “progress.”

However, the series doesn’t offer easy answers. It doesn’t demonise Asher and Whitney entirely; even though on the surface they are deeply flawed people and the nature of their relationship shifts and changes with each challenge they are faced with. This ambiguity reflects the complexity of the issues. Can gentrification ever be truly sustainable? Can development coexist with preservation?

Ultimately, The Curse is a show that burrows under your skin. It’s funny, yes, but it’s also unsettling and subversive, forcing viewers to confront the uncomfortable realities hidden behind the glossy facade of reality television.

It’s hard watching the show and not thinking of flipping celebrities like Chip and Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper fame, Tarek El Moussa and Heather Rae Young who front Flip or Flop, and Erin and Ben Napier of Hometown. These shows are all full of good intentions, but what is the cost to the neighbourhoods they are changing? For some of us these shows are guilty pleasures, but what does reality look like for these communities once the cameras stop rolling?

The Curse will definitely make you question the true cost of pursuing the dream at the expense of a community’s soul.

The Curse is brilliantly uncomfortable, unnerving and awkward at times, which will mean it won’t be to everyone’s taste. It skewers everything and everyone in its hyper-realistic and subversive take on celebrity behaviour, relationships, reality TV, class and self-awareness. And as you watch the final episode, you will witness a truly bizarre hour of television as Asher and Whitney grapple with the consequences of their actions.

It will leave you wondering: who, or what, is truly cursed?

The Curse is streaming with a subscription to Paramount +


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