Netflix hosts eat a fruit platter in a pool.
Luis D. Ortiz, Jo Franco and Megan Batoon from The World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals. (Photo: Netflix / Design: Archi Banal)

Pop CultureJune 23, 2023

Why mindless TV is more important than ever

Netflix hosts eat a fruit platter in a pool.
Luis D. Ortiz, Jo Franco and Megan Batoon from The World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals. (Photo: Netflix / Design: Archi Banal)

A celebration of the shows we turn to when we can’t handle the (real-life) drama.

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“I skateboarded through the neighbourhood,” announces Luis D Ortiz. He kicks the back of his board up, drops onto a bright blue stroller near his Netflix co-host Jo Franco, and exhales. Ortiz, one of three friends fronting the vapid holiday series The World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals, has been rolling his way through the leafy suburb of Wisconsin’s Two Rivers in search of cultural insights. He didn’t find any. “Even though it didn’t catch on,” says Ortiz about the 1940s holiday home from famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright he’s been staying in, “it rocked the entire world.”

Mindless? Definitely. Informative? Absolutely not. Now into its second season, Amazing Vacation Rentals jets its hosts into stunning locations to gush over homes with great bones, sweeping vistas and eye-watering price tags. They’ve scored their dream jobs, and they know it. The trio chat, giggle, gasp and gawk. Franco has a habit of pointing at windows and ceilings and saying: “That’s art.” Megan Batoon calls at least three things “a masterpiece” in every episode. They breeze through each home spouting enough drivel to fill every room.

Three hosts do downward dog in a pool
Namaste nonsense on The World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals. (Photo: Netflix)

It’s about as vapid as TV can get. You’re not turning on a TV show like this expecting an education. You’re there to switch off your brain and zonk out. In one episode, they eat a fruit platter in a pool after doing downward dog on floating stand-up paddleboards. In another, they spend the night in sleeping bags glamping in a UFO-shaped orb. In Two Rivers, Ortiz sits on a hot pink toilet for a laugh. “I’m in the bathroom! I’m using it!” he yells, swinging the door wide open. That’s it. That’s the show. It never, ever gets any deeper than that.

That’s exactly how I like it. Right now, this inane nonsense is the only kind of TV my bothered brain can handle. I’ve just moved house and every room is filled floor-to-ceiling with cardboard boxes. There are things that need doing everywhere I look. Beds need to be made. Clothes need to be sorted. The kitchen looks like we need the Ajax Spray’n’Wipe clean-up crew to hit it harder than that time Brendon Pongia farted during a cooking segment on live TV. Even finding a glass to drink out of is a mission.

I’m stressed. So, for comfort, I turn to TV’s least informative hosts. They’re not going to compound my problems. They won’t make me struggle to understand the inner workings of a family-owned media conglomerate, or a dystopian society in which women are forced to have babies, or immerse me in an apocalypse in which a grieving father tries to turn humanity’s last hope into his new daughter.

Instead, every time is a good time. There are laughs, giggles and high fives. In a stunning Joshua Tree rental made out of mirrored glass, they fall asleep under the stars. In the morning, they do laps in the pool. Yes, Ortiz brought his skateboard. He uses it to get around inside.

Amazing Vacation Rentals does exactly what it says it will do, and absolutely nothing more. It hits my zonk-out pleasure zone like nothing else. Everyone seems to have their own version of this, some kind of brain balm to soothe trouble souls. My desk neighbour Anna Rawhiti-Connell tells me she turns to a different Netflix real estate show, Selling Sunset. She’s been watching episodes every night to help her switch off. “There is no war, politics, recession or poverty, just an endless parade of hideous luxury clothing and homes in the Hollywood Hills,” she says. I get it. I’m not judging.

Sam Brooks has professed his love for YouTube many times before, and it’s the thing he uses to calm his nervous system. Lately, he’s been watching compilation videos from American Dad, The Nanny and 30 Rock. It’s equal parts comfort and nostalgia. “They rub that part of my brain that makes me laugh and also reminds me of an easier, warmer time.” My wife watches Queer Eye on Netflix for a similar reason. “Every episode you’re guaranteed a happy ending,” she says. Another colleague falls asleep to an episode of The Simpsons playing in a single earbud – but only from seasons three to nine.

Early episodes of The Simpsons are the best kind of Simpsons.

Alex Casey has a variation on this. She watches YouTube gardening tours, which she calls “a very soothing and wholesome background noise to fold the washing to with many useful tips to absorb”. Her favourite is SpicyMoustache, a heavily tattooed Italian charmer with an incredible urban vege garden in London. “Watching a seed grow into a giant broccoli feels like the perfect antidote to the digital deluge, a reminder to slow down and get your hands dirty,” she says.

Perhaps that’s the point. There are thousands of better shows out there that could improve my intelligence, teach me something about the world, or challenge my core beliefs. But it’s rough out there. The cost of living continues to escalate. Interest rates keep rising. People are being mean. Someone cut me off on the motorway recently and had the audacity to give me the finger. There’s a time and a place for The Handmaid’s Tale and The Last of Us, but when you’re unpacking a new home, still trying to sort out wifi, and dealing with road rage – that’s not it.

Keep going!