Over the last handful of years, Netflix has greatly expanded its reality show programming, especially those aimed at home buying/improvement and wedding-related shows. This type of programming is, to put it mildly, exceedingly popular. Count me among the many who are easily sucked into a home buying show, and although I have zero emotional investment in the idea of marriage, I do find something fascinating about the pageantry of it all. Few, if any shows, however, have combined both. Netflix’s latest offering, Marriage or Mortgage, seeks to fill that void by featuring a real estate agent and a wedding planner who go head-to-head convincing random couples to spend their nest egg on either a down payment for a home or the wedding of their dreams.
Marriage or Mortgage has all the head shaking hallmarks of its more straightforward reality show brethren (what, don’t all of us watch these shows so we can yell our opinions at the screen?): Couples making an assortment of conflicting demands—one couple demands to be situated near downtown Nashville but complains about being in close proximity to the neighbors—brides agonizing over dresses, men turning down perfectly lovely homes because the garage couldn’t accommodate all of their workout gear (followed by me yelling about launching him into the sun), and so on. Watching people debate homes and wedding features is entertaining for sure, but the real hook is seeing which option the couple goes with. This is the mechanism that gives us a peek into other people’s priorities, granting us the ability to judge said priorities.
With this kind of premise, I assumed that the decision between a day-long party or long-term shelter would be a no-brainer. Reader, I was very, very wrong. When a man sitting next to his fiancé wonders aloud, “How do we pick between the day that we deserve and we want, and the future?” I can’t help but be confused. Mm, yes, fleeting enjoyment or something with a fairly reasonable amount of security, how does one possibly decide? Admittedly, I’m being flippant, as I know that for many people, weddings can be a meaningful display of love. Of course, it should also be said that homeownership is by no means a guarantee of a future free from worries or financial strain (not in the least). However, it’s hard to argue that someone agonizing over renting a food truck for a day or getting a roof over their heads isn’t an illustration of 21st century over-indulgence. One can write an entire essay on the revealing nature of the phrase “we deserve,” especially when framed within the gaping maw of the multi-billion dollar wedding industry, but for now, I’ll just say that while I understand the appeal of wanting the fun thing now, choosing it at the expense of the future is generally unwise.
To their credit, the decision does not come lightly. There’s an undeniably sentimental quality to house shopping and wedding planning in that they both symbolize future hopes and dreams, making it pretty high stakes as far as emotions go. Predictably, the show ratchets up the drama per reality show tradition. What’s a little unusual is the lengths the show goes to in order to make that happen. One of the running bits in the show is that for their last ditch effort to pitch either wedding or house, real estate agent Nichole Holmes and wedding planner Sarah Miller add thousands of dollars’ worth of bonuses. The seller will throw in a fence or a donut wall (which is an astounding $1700) intended for a reception and other such perks. While steep discounts and freebies aren’t unheard of, the emotionally manipulative moments tend to come as a surprise, such as when Holmes stages a bedroom as a nursery for a childless couple coping with fertility issues. Some may see the gesture as a mere symbol of hope, though others, myself included, will cringe. Perhaps it’s the cynic in me, but seeing a couple desperate to adopt open a bedroom door to discover a hand-written sign that reads “Wanted. Chosen. Loved. Adopted” feels less like a hopeful gesture and more of an act of cunning for the sake of selling a piece of property. Again, many will likely find this touching, but I would much prefer to watch someone sell a house based on its impressive flooring or ample bedroom sizes.
“We can have it all!” a would-be bride exclaims when she sees that their fantasy Graceland-themed wedding is within their budget. But what this show demonstrates is exactly the opposite. Unlike some, I don’t find the show depressing as much I find it to be a showcase of poor decision-making. For folks who find a certain amusement in judging these choices [raises hand again], Marriage or Mortgage is a suitable bit of fluff. This show probably would have been a raging hit a few years ago, but in 2021, in the face of so much economic strife—and for Millennials and younger, ever-decreasing chances of ever achieving home ownership—many viewers will almost surely watch this with a certain degree of bitterness.
Marriage or Mortgage is streaming on Netflix.
Kaleena Rivera is a tv and film writer. When she’s not raging about landlords and home prices, you can find her on Twitter here.