The Real-Life Inspirations Behind 'The Curse,' Explained

Nathan Fielder and Emma Stone play a home-flipping couple in the unsettling A24 comedy.

nathan fielder as asher and emma stone as whitney in the curse
(Image credit: A24/Paramount+/Showtime)

Showtime's new series The Curse is a very realistic and remarkably cringe-inducing portrait of the making of a reality TV show. Created by The Rehearsal's Nathan Fielder and Uncut Gems' Benny Safdie, the series follows a married couple Asher (Fielder) and Whitney Siegel (Emma Stone) as they film the pilot for an HGTV show set in Española, New Mexico. The new type of home-renovation show, coined Flipanthropy, aims to realize the couple's mission of making gentrification a win-win scenario, as they sell their eco-conscious "passive homes" to new residents and use the profits to subsidize the increasing rent for locals and help find employment for them at local businesses. Their do-gooder mission is complicated by the fact that the whole show serves as a publicity vehicle to bring families to Española and raise the market value of the couples homes. And if that wasn't enough fertile ground for conflict, there's also the potential "curse" hanging over Asher's head, which gives the show its name.

Of all the show's various threads—it also focuses on Asher and Whitney's complicated marriage; Whitney's tense friendship with indigenous artist Cara; and the impact that Asher and Whitney are having on the Española community—The Curse's depiction of the machinations behind Flipanthropy is arguably the most interesting. Also, HGTV fans (or even casual viewers) will notice that the show-within-a-show takes inspiration from the real-life home renovation genre, which has the power to completely change the image of the towns where they're set. Read on to learn more about the true stories that inspired the series.

The series' creative team was inspired by home renovation shows.

If Flipanthropy were real, it would join the countless shows across TV networks and streamers that focus on buying, selling, or renovating real estate, from Netflix's Dream Home Makeover and Selling Sunset to long-running HGTV shows like Property Brothers, Love It or List It, and House Hunters. In the production notes for The Curse, Safdie revealed that he and his wife became obsessed with the genre years ago and were fascinated with the relationships depicted on the programs, especially when it came to the way the hosts would present themselves. That dynamic offered a "complicated mirage" for the show to explore through the POV of Asher and Whitney.

"When we're watching a highly manufactured docuseries or reality show, there are so many things we don't know about the quality of the people who are showcasing themselves as heroes of their community," Dave McCary (Stone's husband, who served as a producer on the series) said in the press notes. "I thought that hook in itself was a great starting point. Benny and Nathan could have made a down-the-middle version of that world but, of course, we know that their minds are incapable of arriving at the basic version of anything. You could really feel on the page that this was going to subvert the genre and be something special."

In addition to the renovation and real-estate genres themselves, Asher and Whitney's show may bring to mind a married couple who created their own empire off of their former HGTV show: Fixer Upper's Chip and Joanna Gaines. Since their show landed on the network in 2013 to wide acclaim, the Texas-based couple have become synonymous with their small hometown of Waco, where the show was set and their Magnolia retail corporation is headquartered. After the show ended in 2018, the Gainses launched their own media company, called Magnolia, and debuted their own cable channel in 2020. Most recently, they filmed the process of renovating a hotel in Waco, which premiered (this week!) as the six-episode series Fixer Upper: The Hotel on Max.

While Asher and Whitney's adventures are completely fictional, Chip and Joanna Gaines have faced controversy over the years for various reasons. Several critics have pointed out that the couple has transformed Waco into a tourist destination, bringing an onslaught of new businesses and restaurants while also driving up property taxes and white-washing the diversity of the town. (While Waco is 20.9 percent Black and 31.0 percent Hispanic or Latino, per, the homebuyers who appeared on Fixer Upper skewed white.) The Curse is an entirely fictional story, but it's not a stretch to say that Asher and Whitney would see Chip and Joanna Gaines as an aspirational success story.

The curse incident happened to Nathan Fielder in real life.

The series gets its title from an incident that happens in episode 1, "Land of Enchantment." To get some B-roll for Flipanthropy, Dougie tells Asher to give money to a little girl selling Sprites in the strip mall parking lot. Asher gives the only cash he has to the excited girl, but it's a $100 bill, so he snatches the money back after they've gotten the shot. In response, the girl tells him, "I curse you," setting off a paranoid reaction in Asher that will follow him throughout the series.

In the production notes for the series, Fielder recalled a similar incident that happened to him when he had just arrived in Los Angeles from his native Canada. A woman approached him and asked for money while he was heading into a store, and when he apologized for not having any cash, she said, "I curse you." While he was in the store, the notion of the curse stayed in his head, even though he didn't believe in them. He ended up going to an ATM and withdrawing money for the woman, and when he later asked if the curse was lifted, she said yes.

'The Curse' was filmed in Española and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

still from the curse

(Image credit: A24/Showtime)

In the vein of other shows where the setting becomes a character in and of itself (think NYC with SATC, or nearby Albuquerque with Breaking Bad), The Curse was filmed primarily in the real-life town where it's set. Española, New Mexico, is less than an hour north of Santa Fe, where filming also took place, and is 30 minutes from Los Alamos National Laboratory (yes, the lab where the first atomic bomb was produced). The majority of The Curse's cast also hails from New Mexico, as the show's casting directors found members of the local community to serve as supporting and background cast. Fun fact: Local TV reporter Tessa Mentus plays herself in episode 1, conducting a disastrous interview with Asher and Whitney.

Contributing Culture Editor

Quinci is a Contributing Culture Editor who writes pieces and helps to strategize editorial content across TV, movies, music, theater, and pop culture. She contributes interviews with talent, as well as SEO content, features, and trend stories. She fell in love with storytelling at a young age, and eventually discovered her love for cultural criticism and amplifying awareness for underrepresented storytellers across the arts. She previously served as a weekend editor for Harper’s Bazaar, where she covered breaking news and live events for the brand’s website, and helped run the brand’s social media platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Her freelance writing has also appeared in outlets including HuffPost, The A.V. Club, Elle, Vulture, Salon, Teen Vogue, and others. Quinci earned her degree in English and Psychology from The University of New Mexico. She was a 2021 Eugene O’Neill Critics Institute fellow, and she is a member of the Television Critics Association. She is currently based in her hometown of Los Angeles. When she isn't writing or checking Twitter way too often, you can find her studying Korean while watching the latest K-drama, recommending her favorite shows and films to family and friends, or giving a concert performance while sitting in L.A. traffic.