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Why Flipping Out should end: Jeff Lewis’ toxicity destroyed a friendship and his show

Why Flipping Out should end: Jeff Lewis’ toxicity destroyed a friendship and his show
Throw Flipping Out into the fireplace: it's done, thanks to Jeff Lewis' toxicity. (Photo by Nicole Weingart/Bravo)

While Jeff Lewis’ contract has expired, Bravo hasn’t officially cancelled or renewed Flipping Out, but last night’s season 11 finale, “The Final Flip,” would be a fine finale for a show that really needs to end forever.

Jeff Lewis may have great interior design sense, but 11 seasons of the show have made it clear that it comes at the expense of other people, and his there’s no reason to perpetuate his toxicity or give it more attention.

There’s a trail of people in Jeff Lewis’ wake—five people in two months this season alone. It’d be fitting irony for the show to end with the last relationship he destroys being with the person who was responsible for the series in the first place, Jenni Pulos.

The whole final episode was hard to watch—a well-crafted hour of reality television, yes, but also just more of Jeff Lewis’ malformed ways of dealing with other human beings.

In many ways, the season felt like it’s been treading water getting up to this point, though there have been firings and conflict, plus more of Jeff’s obsessive need to tear his house apart again and again.

While all of this once may have been entertaining because it was so shocking to see on TV, it’s now just gross, from Jeff’s insults to his giggling enabler Gage.

I’ve watched the show for its entire 11 years; it’s always felt like one of Bravo’s more unembellished and authentic shows, dipping into a workplace that manages to do excellent work despite the dysfunction.

There’s been raw emotion, from Monkey’s death to Zoila’s retirement, the birth of Monroe to Jenni’s divorce.

Sure, there was plenty of conflict and occasional line-crossing, but that happens between friends who work together. (At least, I’ve experienced that at various points in my life, like working on a college newspaper with close friends and blurring lines between work and play.)

But after watching what Jeff did to Jenni—during and after their fight—I’m done.

Jeff and Jenni’s big fight

Lea Black, Jenni Pulos, Jeff Lewis, Flipping Out

Lea Black, foreground, with Jenni Pulos and Jeff Lewis during an earlier episode of Flipping Out season 11. (Photo by Nicole Weingart/Bravo)

As a reality show, Flipping Out is skillfully constructed, and its ability to craft and tell a story was on full display during the finale.

The final sit-down conversation was prefaced by footage of Jeff and Jenni, and set to the haunting song “March” by Will Cookson. That song also underscored people in the restaurant singing “Happy Birthday,”  which was brutal contrast but illustrative of what was about to happen.

The episode itself opened with fourth wall-breaking moments before both Jeff and Jenni were interviewed for the final time this season, and cast a melancholy shadow over the episode.

The big fight took place in a car on a drive, filmed with locked-off cameras. Jenni was sitting directly behind Jeff, so the editors split the screen horizontally, giving a full view of the front seat and back seat.

As with many fights, especially between friends and family, the details tend to matter less than the reaction. It started earlier, with Jeff mocking Jenni’s desire to be an actor. In the car, Jenni shared that she’d turned down an audition to be in a Nicholas Cage movie.

Jeff’s response was disproportionate, to say the least. “Show me the offer, because I personally think you are lying,” he said, and kept yelling, “She’s a fucking liar!”

He didn’t back down, and like a kid walking around with a leaky diaper dripping diarrhea everywhere, had no idea how much damaged he continued to inflict.

In an interview, Jenni said, “I’m tired of the mocking, you know? And I’m tired of the: Your dreams are stupid.” She also said, “It was the personal attack that hit me.”

A week later, when Jeff and Jenni sat down to talk, he started by making it about himself, as always: “I’m sure you have things you want to say to me.” He did quickly add an apology: “I wanted to apologize.”

Jenni’s face said it all: She was done.

Jeff said that his reaction was because he felt blamed for Jenni’s acting career not progressing. “I was hurt and I was angry. I certainly didn’t mean to embarrass you. I hope you understand that I was actually, in my own screwed-up way, trying to help you. But I’m sorry. I really am sorry,” he said.

Jenni, notably, focused not on her own pain, but on Jeff’s behavior and how it affects others (“not just me, with anyone”) and said, “I want you, as a father, to not ever say that somebody’s dreams…are stupid, because they’re not.”

Then Jeff fired Jenni.

“I am eternally grateful to you, because I would not be here if not for you,” Jeff said, and this is true: Where would his business be without an annual, nationally televised platform on which to show off his beautiful interior design work and his ugly behavior?

In the same conversation, Jeff blamed his employees—people he hired and supervised—for keeping his business from growing. Everything is everyone else’s fault in Jeff Lewis Land, which is a theme park where you get paid to be berated.

Relationships are complicated, and we’re not only seeing just a fragment of their time together, but a condensed, edited version. But after 11 seasons, I’ve seen enough.

Perhaps I don’t learn my lessons, either: Six years ago, I wrote, “It’s fascinating but also frustrating television, because it’s not as fun as it once was.”

Jeff’s clumsy attempt at damage control this fall, as the season started to air, has just added to the evidence that he’s not going to change—especially since it turned out that Jenni didn’t file any kind complaints against him.

During the fight in the car, Jenni said, “What’s crazy is how mean you are. All of it is so nasty, and I don’t want nasty. I’m not interested in nasty any more.”

That’s what Flipping Out has become, and I’m not interested in it any more, either.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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