Jeff Lewis: gay, OCD, New Age real estate flipper
On July 31, NY Times TV critic Gina Bellafante looked askance at a new reality show called “Flipping Out” on the Bravo cable network, which is based on the goings on of a Los Angeles real estate company run by one Jeff Lewis. Lewis is a 36 year old gay man with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) who specializes in “flipping” houses. Bellafante concludes her review with the following observation:
Mr. Lewis’s houses look like the generically upscale ones found in House Beautiful. He doesn’t possess style; he copies it. What he does have, by his own admission, is obsessive-compulsive disorder, and the show’s producers, to their credit, do not treat his O.C.D. as if it were a winning asset, the key to whatever success he has had. Like many sufferers of the disorder, Mr. Lewis ignores the real mayhem right there in front of him, so fixated is he on the idea, say, that all the bottles of water in his refrigerator be stocked so that the labels always face him. This is a task dispatched to one of three assistants, from whom he demands formal, written apologies when they behave insubordinately.
For years now, the comic detective series ”Monk” has equated O.C.D. with intuitive brilliance. We’ve long required a corrective interpretation, and ”Flipping Out” is it. Mr. Lewis isn’t a genius of anything. He’s just a delusional jerk.
Unfortunately, Ms. Bellafante does not get “Flipping Out.” I have begun watching reruns this week and saw the latest episode last night. It is simply the funniest thing I have seen on TV since “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” containing the same kind of absurd situations and characters. Since the characters on “Flipping Out” probably have no idea how comical they are, the humor is sharper in some ways than “Curb Your Enthusiasm” which has begun to imitate itself.
In one episode, Jeff Lewis directs one of his assistants to take his pet Angora cat, named Monkey, to an animal acupuncturist. This is Los Angeles, after all. Although the goal is to get the cat to mellow out, it throws a fit in the acupuncturist’s office and takes a bite out of the assistant’s hand. Finally, they subdue the cat and stick needles into its coiled body, wound tight as a steel spring. The unhappy animal looks like a rabid porcupine. On the way home, he berates the cat which is still hissing angrily in its carrying case. The contrast between the New Age pretensions of the people involved with this nonsense and the angry cat is almost as great as that between Jeff Lewis’s real estate ambitions and the reality of a declining real estate market in Los Angeles.
This discrepancy between the star’s lofty goals of becoming a millionaire and the real estate meltdown is what gives the show its dramatic tension. As a “flipper,” Lewis must turn over a house as quickly as possible in order to stay liquid. He is constantly in battles with potential buyers who want to drive down the price of a house he has put on the market or with his assistants who seem oblivious to his predicament. Nearly all of them are working in real estate until something better comes along–in the same way that others bartend or wait tables, until they make their big breakthrough as actors or writers. This is Los Angeles after all.