Created by: Kulap Vilaysack
Premieres: Thursday, March 17th on Seeso
Two episodes watched for review
“If you’re sober, you need the good stuff.”
Even before Nick Kroll appears in the post-credit season preview of Bajillion Dollar Propertie$’ premiere, it’s difficult not to draw a line from his masterwork, Kroll Show, to this effort created by Kulap Vilaysack. Both have a clear knowledge of their subject matter, reality television, and maybe even something bordering on appreciation of the format. Though comparisons may seem unfair for a series in its infancy, looking at Kroll Show helps to parse the particular problems Bajillion has amassed so far.
Unlike Kroll, which bounced between numerous ongoing stories nestled in various types of series, Bajillion Dollar Propertie$ plays out as if it were a singular reality program, likely aired someplace like Bravo or HGTV. The show takes place at the fictional Platinum Realty, which employs a swath of eccentric agents from the tightly-wound Victoria King (Mandell Maughan) to the social-media obsessed and hilariously named Chelsea Leight-Leigh (Tawny Newsome). Founder Dean Rosedragon (the ineffable Paul F. Tompkins) leads the pack and, in the premiere episode, announces an impending promotion to partner for one of the staff. Or two partners in the case of best-friends but not lovers Andrew Wright (Ryan Gaul) and Baxter Reynolds (Drew Tarver).
This honed-in focus on one type of reality programming, most specifically Million Dollar Listing, is a benefit to the show to some extent. It allows the characters, relationships and situations to settle in more quickly and efficiently. Andrew and Baxter begin as a rather benign stereotype with the former acting effeminate and having sex near Baxter but claiming not to be gay. Luckily, the actors are nimble enough to worm out of those basic shapes by the end of the second episode, relying more on their innate ability as comedians than stock figures. Where Kroll Show revealed the personality disorders underlying the entire reality world, Bajillion Dollar Propertie$ is less chaotic or fluid. This raises the question of how long a series can stretch a fairly thin premise, but the first two episodes at least find plenty of room to move around.
Helping with that are the occasional wild card characters Vilaysack has scattered around the show’s universe, the types of people who don’t fit into the narrow window of the shows being sent up. Chief among them is Glenn Bouchard (Tim Baltz), a meek and ineffectual office manager whose gruff interaction with co-workers belies his cheery talking heads. He’s given a funny backstory in the premiere, delivered in a way reminiscent of the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast, connected to this series through creative and production members. Also, you don’t bring on Tompkins unless you want something of a shock to the senses, and he largely delivers as the scheming yet obtuse leader of the operation.
Where the Kroll Show comparisons come in most handy, and where Bajillion raises the most questions, is in a general sense of tone. There are a number of jokes here that don’t seem like parody, instead delivered in a manner that might appear on an actual episode of reality television. Characters often call out the absurdity in the world, which adds an unwelcome layer of detachment. To put it another way, it’s sometimes unclear whether these characters are meant to be bizarre, or if they’re relatively ordinary folk in an absurd world. Kroll Show constantly nailed a juggling of tones that found the right pitch between copying the format of reality and making a mockery of the source material. At times, Bajillion feels too indebted to matching the formal requirements of Million Dollar Listings, not allowing it to stretch the satirical wings that are obviously present.
Of course, in a parody, there are much worse problems to have than “just a bit too spot-on”, and hopefully as the series goes on the structure will grow and clear up that tonal disconnect. The pieces are certainly there. The lead cast is unanimously terrific, especially Baltz’s nebbish curiosity as Glenn and the chemistry between Gaul and Tarver. And from the first two episodes, and the preview of the season to come, it appears that nearly every comedic presence will make their way into Platinum Reality at some point (the pilot features Adam Scott; the second episode Jason Mantzoukas, among many others). Bajillion Dollar Propertie$ has already established itself as a funny show; now to see if it can assemble what it has into something more indelible.