The Singapore Social crew.

Singapore Social

Dept. of Balder and Dash


There is a moment of pure poetry towards the end of the first episode of Singapore Social. Vinny (grandiose and somewhat caddish) is on a prawn fishing maybe-date-maybe-not with Mae (fashionable and somewhat adorable), when he says: “I am searching for a prawn.” After a brief moment of silence, she replies: “I am searching for a prawn too.”

It’s like the poor man’s version of Ross and Rachel’s “you’re my lobster” scene in Friends. Sure, it’s like the stony broke, sharp-set, homeless man’s version. But still.

Vinny and Mae are just searching for some prawns.
Image courtesy of Netflix.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present, your next guilty pleasure. But first, a quick guide on how to best experience this brand-new reality television series. 

Step 1: Gather a panel of critics. Terrace House style. The bitchier the better. 
Step 2: Pour yourself some shots. 
Step 3: Take cheap shots at the characters as the episodes play out. 
Step 4: Drink every time someone says “traditional Asian parents” or anything like it.
Step 5: Feel self-righteous and superior.
Step 6: Pass out after 30 minutes in a blithely drunken stupor.

The girls night out...
Image courtesy of Netflix.

Just because it’s called reality television, it doesn’t mean it’s real. I know this. You know this. When you hit play on a series that was clearly born as a consequence of Crazy Rich Asians, you’re not expecting to see the true-life tales of heartlanders or learn the plight of the ageing aunty forced into picking up plastic cups at the Newton Food Centre because of the rising cost of living. When you hit play on a series called Singapore Social, you have a pretty good idea what you’re in for.

Now, if you aren’t Singaporean, you’re not going to know anything about the five young upstarts that make up this particular social scene. There’s Blockchain entrepreneur (and girl with mummy issues) Nicole Ong, filmmaker (and guy who really loves music) Vinny Sharp, fashionista (and girl who pulls a face every time someone talks about Vinny) Mae Tan, philanthropist (and man of the house) Paul Foster, former Singapore Idol contestant (and Singapore’s Beyoncé?) Tabitha Nauser, and the island nation’s first burlesque dancer (and girl who keeps reminding us that she’s really an IT geek) Sukki Singapora.

Then again, if you don’t belong to a certain class of Singaporean, you’ve probably not heard of them either.

But it doesn’t really matter. Because these are all characters that have become reality television archetypes. Characters that have been built by blending a wee bit of fact and plenty of fiction in order to create just the right amount of drama. They have been tried and tested. They make up the foundation for the best kind of trash. And yet, despite having all the right ingredients, Singapore Social doesn’t quite attain that enviable label of being “so bad it’s good”.

Nicole and Nara at the food court.
Image courtesy of Netflix.

The problem with Singapore Social doesn’t lie with its five leads. They are as good looking and self-important as anyone you’ll find on The Hills or Laguna Beach or Jersey Shore. They too are as compelling to watch as they look for love and happiness while trying to navigate the complexities of their Asian existence. And boy, it sure is complex

No, the problem with Singapore Social lies entirely with the piss poor production of the series. It reached a point when I started feeling bad for Nicole, and Mae, and Vinny, and Paul, and Tabitha, and Sukki. Here they are, telling us about their struggles in trying to be true to themselves while still conforming to societal expectations – whether in becoming a successful female entrepreneur, or making a decision to go back to school, or being a filial son, or making the choice to give up your day job and pursue a career as a burlesque artist – only to have their stories undermined by some truly terrible production decisions.

Every setup and beat is amateurish. And while they may not have been scripted, they come across as being awkward and staged. Bad editing decisions mean you don’t really get to learn anything meaningful about these five individuals. It feels like the producers were so focussed on fluff that they would cut away just when it felt like we were about to get something substantial. 

Sukki and Tabitha having a laugh by the beach...
Image courtesy of Netflix.

And then there is the dialogue. Who decided that it would be a good idea to get all five leads to speak as if they were constantly explaining things to an American audience? Not just when they are doing their confessionals, but also when they are talking to each other. I can’t remember the last time I was pouring my soul out to my best friend only to punctuate the moment by saying: “You know what we Asians are like!”

All eight episodes are also crammed full of the kind of travel show b-roll that cuts between skyscrapers and hawker stalls, between temples and nightclubs. Because, juxtaposition. 

But the real accomplishment here is how the producers somehow managed to make a series that lacks any kind of sexuality. God knows it must have taken some real effort to create an environment where five, attractive, young Singaporeans come across as being completely asexual. Something that’s all the more tragic given how hard the Singaporean government is trying to get its citizens to sleep with one another.

After Singapore Social premiered on Netflix, I was curious as to whether there was an “official” Singaporean response to the series. What did Big Brother think about this portrayal of their carefully curated island state? Remember that this was a government that once responded to an op-ed in the New York Times about “Singlish” by claiming that it “makes light of the government’s efforts to promote the mastery of standard English by Singaporeans”. 

Which is why their silence with regards to this series was telling. This tacit approval from the powers that be spoke volumes. It told me that Singapore Social was yet another marketing exercise. A controlled effort at “dirtying up” the place. “Look at us. We’ve got burlesque dancers, and hip-hop, and young, creative people, some of whom might be gay, but wink-wink-nudge-nudge, don’t ask, don’t tell, you know. We’re hip. We’re cool. We’re not the soulless automatons you’ve come to think we are.”

Singapore Social
Netflix, Season 1, 8 Episodes
Cast: Nicole Ong, Mae Tan, Sukki Singapora, Vinny Sharp, Paul Foster, and Tabitha Nauser

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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