Byron Baes review – a compelling, compulsive and kind of terrifying binge | Reality TV


A fashion show is carried off without a hitch. At a party, a “sound healing” happens. A feud exists, is discussed and then resolved. Someone is accused of buying Instagram followers.

These are the events that happen during the first four episodes of Byron Baes – a spree of occurrences, almost too gentle to call a storyline, among a small friendship group and a handful of newcomers. Tensions are obsessed over by all involved, incurring a fascination for the viewer that’s hard to explain.

At some points, the Netflix Australia show is recognisable reality TV, closer to the Housewives or The Hills franchises, full of strange rich people doing strange rich people things. At other times it’s more earnest, more meditative, like Terrace House – even like slow TV.

The combination is a bit like watching a tank full of beautiful tropical fish – you know they’re not really going to do anything and they’ve got nowhere to go, but you’re still entranced by their bright colours.

The reality show – or “docu-soap” as it prefers to be labelled – caused a storm of controversy ahead of its release, with Byron Bay locals putting together a petition to ban the show, and holding a mass boogie-board paddle-out in protest.

Important points were made about glamorising the lives of the rich people who have moved to Byron and created a housing crisis, with fears that the show would encourage more of the same problems – problems that have only been exacerbated during the devastating floods that unfortunately coincided with the show’s launch. Even the cast had issues with its marketing, some taking offence at being described in a press release as “celebrity-adjacent-adjacent influencers”.

Netflix ended up apologising to some cast members, and reframing how they were described: “They are artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, business owners, models, on a spiritual journey and more,” explained Netflix Australia’s director of original content, Que Minh Luu, on Twitter.

But it’s this question of identity that creates the strange and compelling allure of Byron Baes – the show not merely a lens placed over this odd coastal NSW playground of the linen-clad rich, but a kind of terrifying Sauron’s eye, swivelling the world’s gaze and illuminating it, for better or, often, for much, much worse.

Elle Watson in Byron Baes.
‘What exactly is Byron Baes? After four episodes, it’s hard to tell exactly’: Elle Watson in Byron Baes. Photograph: Paul A Broben/Netflix

The locals fear being perceived, while the cast seem to desire it, with the show itself forced to take a coy middle ground: are they zooming in on a bunch of shallow, crystal-loving brand influencers in an effort to entertain us with their vapid shenanigans? Or is it a kind of love letter to a unique part of the world? Is it reality TV or a docu-soap? What exactly is Byron Baes?

After four episodes, it’s hard to tell exactly – but I can confirm it’s incredibly enjoyable and compulsive reality TV, the kind that leads to a long and comfortable binge. My partner said, somewhere after the second episode, “I hope they make a thousand seasons of this show.” It’s an elevation of the genre, creating interesting and fun television out of people’s lives, rather than relying on a flashy premise or turning the cast into a cheap gimmick. Also, the scenery is stunning; you can tell why the world’s rich and famous have gravitated to this town.

Rather than featuring people who want to use reality TV as a gateway to the influencer industry, Byron Baes foregrounds those who already consider themselves influencers, or at least influencer-adjacent (or artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, business owners, models, on a spiritual journey and more, sorry). There’s none of that thin layer of pretence of being “here for the right reasons”. The cast is aware from the beginning that they are being watched by us – they have invited our scrutiny – which makes it even more delectable when they still manage to make themselves look shallow, vainglorious, superstitious and foolish. They asked for this.

Jade and Hannah sit in a giant crystal geode discussing dragon bones.
Jade and Hannah sit in a giant crystal geode discussing dragon bones. Photograph: Ben Symons/Netflix

The show isn’t malicious; it actually treats the cast with a lot of love, and some of them do come across as lovable. Nevertheless, we are treated to glorious scenes like in episode two, when Instagram influencer Jade and brand-manager-on-a-spiritual-journey Hannah sit in a giant crystal geode and seriously discuss how it was millions of years old, like the “dragon bones” that scientists find out in the desert. In episode three, at a party, Jade tells talent manager Alex he’s “an actual fucking joke” after being accused of buying his Instagram followers. There’s drama, but the show isn’t entirely engineered as a pressure cooker for these confrontations to happen. You’re just as likely to watch some very beautiful people have a nice chat on the beach about art.

Byron Baes is a window into a strange blister of privilege and elitism set in a beautiful location. It follows in the footsteps of shows like Keeping Up With The Kardashians and Real Housewives, where the joy is not so much about making fun of, or hating, or even loving the subjects – but just watching, and being fascinated by, their weird little lives.


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