After three very different people — a magazine editor who despises reality TV, a professional comedian and a high-powered fine artist — all independently of each other expressed to me a love of Bravo’s Flipping Out and its subject, Los Feliz–based real estate investor Jeff Lewis, I decided I would have to check out the show. So I caught up as best I could with season two, just in time to get the full measure of unflinchingly assholic, creepily buffed-and-sanded Lewis’ secret nanny-cam scheme to catch house manager Chris Elwood slacking off and, in firing him, help to facilitate the destruction of the dude’s marriage to Lewis’ trusted assistant, Jenni Pulos, who now looks positively shattered.
As reality TV goes, it was admittedly juicy stuff, wiggy enough to remind us junkies that whatever suspicions of manufactured drama we harbor about these shows, certain displays of raw human nastiness and despair can only be pure and unadorned. But what makes this domestic tragedy even more bizarre is that, as fans know, Flipping Out originated as Jenni and Chris’ bid for reality-TV stardom. It began as a pilot the couple pitched, called The Wannabes, in which they would star as their striving thespian selves (Jenni is also a rapper), until Lewis, the day-job employer who helped them pay the bills, proved too magnetically nutso a character to be deprived of his own leading-man vehicle.
Now, Lewis is a bona fide cult reality star, an obsessive-compulsive, paranoid, acid-tongued small-business tyrant with a love-to-hate-him following, while Jenni — an attractive, obviously vivacious woman with a feisty charm — is suddenly an unscripted, personal-life casualty of her own tolerance for a shit-heel boss. The oddest note is that when Jeff informs Jenni about her husband — whom she’s defended without knowing of his workplace transgressions — the Flipping Out cameras aren’t even there to capture the tears and meltdown: We witness it all at a remove, via audio-less nanny cam. One sensed this was the show’s semi-sensitive acknowledgement that some parts of real life maybe shouldn’t have a camera crew in tow, even if one of your subjects thought in the first place that her life would improve by having one there.