Review: Netflix’s Marriage or Mortgage is a Night of Dark Fun
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Marriage or Mortgage is a new reality TV series offered up by Netflix (2021, TV-G, 1 Season, Home and Reality TV). The show will be familiar to any fan of the HGTV show Love It or List It, as the two are nearly identical in their format and tone. Essentially, we are introduced to a super-cute engaged couple who have saved a large sum of money and are grappling with how to spend their nest egg. Should they spend it on a big wedding? Or, should they use their savings to put a down payment on a house? The couple then meets with both a real estate agent and a wedding planner who playfully banter with each other over who will win.
The HGTV show Love It or List It is nearly identical in that we meet a couple who have saved a nest egg to either buy a new home that meets their needs or invest in renovating their old home to meet their needs. Additionally, in Love It or List, the real estate agent and home designer banter back and forth and compete for their side. While the competition for the real estate agent versus the interior designer in Love It or List It comes off as charming, the battle between the wedding planner and the real estate agent in Marriage or Mortgage often comes off as emotionally manipulative and, in one case, almost cruel. Debating which is the better move for a growing family—a new house or a renovation is a pretty sweet spot at the start—and many would love the luxury of having the money and built-up equity to be able to struggle with such a choice. However, asking an engaged couple to choose whether or not to have a wedding or a home is a much more intense debate. People all over the world and throughout history have created public, religious, and familial rituals celebrating marriage and the merging of two families. It is a big deal. It sets the tone for the couple’s life together, presents them to society as a couple, and helps bond the two families. All of those things: starting a marriage with a sense of celebration and the sacred, presenting two people as bonded in marriage to the community, and fostering a new bond between two families are incredibly profound and have been practiced in all cultures since ancient times. However, owning a home is one of the most important ways people can build wealth in their lifetime. Homeownership is not to be taken lightly. For most people, it will be their route to financial security in their old age and a way for a family to build wealth over generations in the form of inheritance. Essentially, in Marriage or Mortgage, engaged couples are asked to make a heartrending decision—one that should be treated with seriousness and depth with professional advisors.
However, in Netflix’s Marriage or Mortgage, the couples are forced to make a brutal choice in a playfully glib show with very little advice or acknowledgment of how painful and serious the choice is—or advice on whether or not it really has to be one or the other. Never is a pastor, marriage counselor, or financial planner brought in to maybe work out a way to have both a sacred and meaningful but affordable wedding and a short-term savings plan to purchase a house in the near future versus immediately. And right now is the rule in the show as both the real estate agent and the wedding planner offer, before the couple makes their decision, loads of carrots to go to their side. The real estate agent will often get builder discounts for extra renovations on the couple’s chosen favorite house. The wedding planner will often get steep discounts from the various vendors to get the couple to select a wedding over buying a home. Because of these enticements, the couple is then forced to choose either a wedding or a house. If they did walk away—they would be losing big financial lures.
To make matters worse, both the wedding planner and the real estate agent are in (though playfully) a competition over who will sway the couple to go their way—wedding or home. The problem is that some of the tactics they used were wincingly emotionally manipulative. In one episode, they both used the recent death of the bride-to-be’s grandfather to the point where I felt a significant ethical and moral boundary was crossed. The real estate agent is particularly gross in this regard, and it was difficult to square her sunny and kind personality with her manipulations of people’s emotions.
Marriage or Mortgage is an emotionally manipulative, darkly cynical show. To torture lovely people by forcing them to spend all of their nest egg on either a lavish wedding or a first home is challenging to watch. All of the couples are consenting adults, and while there is loads of crying and stress for them, they all seem pleased with the outcome. You will yell at the television screen, debate with your friends and family, and even question your own feelings when you watch this show. While I would give it a D grade for wisdom and ethics, I would have to give it a B+ for entertainment. I watched with a few friends, and I had to repeatedly pause the show as the room kept erupting with frustrated cries of foul. Which, I have to admit (begrudgingly), was pretty fun.
Jennifer Barnick is a painter and writer. She studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. She founded Twenty-two Twenty-eight. “One of the most exciting aspects of Twenty-two Twenty-eight is building a channel for artists and writers to share their work with the world.” You can follow Jennifer on her Instagram here.
Check out Jennifer’s book. You can read the first short story for free on Amazon here.