Dubai Bling season two review: What could have been great is only good

From over-the-top outfits to lacklustre story lines, new season doesn’t shine as bright as it could

Cast members Salem Khammas, Ebraheem Al Samadi, Loujain Adadah, Farhana Bodi, Lojain Omran and Danya Mohammed star in season two of Dubai Bling. Photo: Netflix
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When the first season of Dubai Bling premiered on Netflix last year, the reality show was the centre of much contention.

Ostentatious displays of wealth, unnecessary drama, the same shots of Dubai’s skyline and desert, all played into the stereotypes many Gulf Arabs often fight against.

These are valid points to find frustrating. While the West has and continues to confine Gulf Arabs and residents of the region to a specific caricature, it felt counter intuitive to present those same stereotypes on a silver platter lined with diamonds and sprinkled with gold leaf.

However, it’s also important to remember that Dubai Bling is a reality show. This means that, for the most part, it’s as far removed from reality as possible. It is not a documentary, neither is it study on Arab identity or a show that claims to represent Arabs or the region. The point isn’t to represent, the point is to entertain within a particular genre – and merit must be placed on entertainment, especially if it is frivolous.

With this context in place, was the new season of Dubai Bling entertaining? It's complicated.

The second season starts with analysing the aftermath of the main dramatic incident in season one that split the group of Dubai-based personalities, leaving fans of the show to pick a side.

An argument that arose between two camps, led by cast member Ebraheem Al Samadi and his best friend Danya Mohammed against Zeina Khoury and her best friend Safa Siddiqui, was the central storyline in the first season. Their disagreement reached its peak when Al Samadi and Mohammed marched into Khoury’s office.

True to the genre, that now-infamous standoff culminated in curse words and a coffee cup carelessly being flung about, followed by the utterance of Khoury’s now iconic phrase, “I am the company.” Following a template set by many international reality stars, Khoury quickly minted the viral moment, turning the phrase into a clothing brand, now available at Galleries Lafayette.

The first half of the eight-episode second series sees the conflict being revived and rehashed – though decidedly less passionately than in the show's initial outing. This time around, however, all the characters seem to have taken a back seat, not wanting to steer the argument that, in season one, made the reality TV drama reach the top 10 list on Netflix in 47 countries.

Aside from the dramatic confrontations and funny one-liners, season one captivated audiences due to the characters’ openness in discussing issues such as infidelity, surrogacy, working mothers, divorce and strained relationships between family members.

These are not topics many Arabs discuss nonchalantly on television.

Unfortunately, season two flattens many of the storylines of characters that we can assume have much more going on in their personal lives apart from the launch of new business ventures.

Many of the characters who were at the center of the drama or whose storylines were given the most attention seem to have less airtime this time around. Here, they talk about their massive life changes in passing or attempt to rebrand themselves with smoother edges, which lowers the stakes considerably.

Reality shows are platforms for people to brand themselves through the stories of their lives, but they also need to work as pure entertainment to keep viewers bingeing. Dubai Bling struck this balance in season one, melding assumptions about wealth and the capitalist idea of 'making it' with real-life stories.

Season two, however, skews more towards hollow narratives, the pay off of which are launch events. It's hard not to get the feeling you're watching a marketing exercise as much of the cast members refuse to be characters at all.

Ultimately, it's the new cast member, beauty entrepreneur Mona Kattan, that is the most wholesome addition to the show. Both her father and husband make appearances in some scenes and Kattan frankly discusses her new business venture Kayali perfumes, while also opening up about her issues with co-dependency and her trepidations about having a baby.

While the conversations could have been more in-depth, or blended into the facets of Kattan’s life on the show more seamlessly, it is nevertheless appreciated when compared to the contributions of other cast members, who created feuds and storylines that lacked substance, humour or even irony.

The obvious standouts of the cast are still Siddiqui and her husband Fahad Siddiqui. After recently having their second child, Siddiqui is as feisty as ever, a little over the top, but entertaining throughout.

“I am materialistic, but I’m also sentimental,” she tells the audience before turning to her husband and adding, “I need that push present. Time is ticking.”

With a mix of authentic and seemingly fabricated scenarios, Siddiqui delivers hilarious lines again and again, all while dressed in over-the-top outfits matching her over-the-top demands to her calm and unassuming husband.

There is, of course, a lot of unrealistic displays of wealth, mostly for the cameras. Siddiqui herself makes an accusation in the new season's first episode that a number of cast members are renting their designer bags and cars. In doing so, she seemingly exposes the fact that while having 'bling' in Dubai doesn’t signify actual wealth, it is the appearance of wealth, even in the crassest way, that matters most in the 'reality' they operate within.

The show is about being 'extra' – extra fashionable, extra accessories, extra loud, extra successful, extra rich. The 'more is more' approach, without the grit of real storytelling, makes the show feel like the Instagram profile of an over-filtered influencer – carefully curated without a shred of personality.

While the second season is not as entertaining or endearing as the first, Dubai Bling still deserves a space in the landscape of pop culture. The show still understands what it is.

Reality stars don’t often have much say on what parts of their lives are edited out or into a show. The reason why audiences feel a connection to reality stars is because, despite their real or scripted lifestyles, we can connect with them through the power of story.

But if the narrative becomes too controlled, their stories can wear thin. If Dubai Bling is to continue, that aspect will need massive tweaking in order for the series to captivate audiences in the seasons to come.

Dubai Bling season two is now streaming on Netflix

Updated: December 21, 2023, 10:56 AM