Gallery Girls

Gallery Girls debuts tonight on Bravo at 10 p.m. Eastern.

Television feeds on other television. The great cable Ouroboros ensures that if any show is popular enough, it will be repackaged, tweaked, and sold again under different terms, in a slightly different format or genre. Successful dramas have their corresponding reality shows—for every Mad Men, there’s a The Pitch. If there were television SAT-style analogies (and we at The AV Club are obviously working on it) Bravo’s new reality program Gallery Girls is to Girls as Laguna Beach was to The O.C. What Lena Dunham’s series captured in terms of angsty, creative, entitled twenty-somethings, Gallery Girls attempts to counterfeit with a handful of up-and-comers determined, at least passingly, to break into the art world. Sprinkle in a touch of Gossip Girl bitchiness, a zing of Real Housewives, and voila. 

Of course, Girls is a work of fiction and Gallery Girls is a work of Bravo. From the beginning of the premiere, we’re meant to understand that a class war is afoot, between the upper-upper class and the upper-middle class. It’s the Upper East Side vs. the Lower East Side, preps against hipsters, and all those other high school cafeteria kind of battles that happen at Art Basel. The Brooklyn side of things—more angular haircuts, painful-looking earrings, preference for skinny boys—centers on End of Century, a clothing boutique/gallery funded by a generous loan from the parents of one Claudia, who seems perpetually about to spontaneously combust with the anxiety of It All. Also on team Brooklyn: Chantal, a raven-haired waif whose plans, if the gallery doesn’t work out, include possibly becoming a food professional and possibly flying to Key West, hopping a raft to Cuba and having “just chill” as a full-time job. There’s also Angela, one of the Brooklyn crew, an aspiring photographer who pays the bills with topless, vaguely artsy modeling gigs and waitressing. “I love banter,” she announces to the camera, midway through a not-date with her photographer friend. 

The blonde sorority moneyed types include Amy, who is introduced as she takes a bubble bath and chats on the cell phone to her wealthy father. They basically could have just put a neon sign with “privilege” blinking above her head and it would have been subtler. Liz, from Gramercy, is the glossy offspring of superstar collector Marty Marguiles. She scores an internship at Eli Kelin Fine Art thanks to her last name, and then complains about the spackling and moving that she’s expected to do for an opening that night. “If he’s bossing me around, I’ll get pissed off and tell my Dad,” Liz confides to the camera.  Internships, by the way, are the only thing in the offering here. No one is making money off her art world career, so much as spending it wildly. Maggie, the lone Manhattan brunette, is a trust-funder and a compulsive earring twister who almost never appears without her silent, hunky boyfriend Ryan beside her. She’s been working for Eli Klein for three years, unpaid, until she stormed out a few weeks ago. Now she’s hoping to get her internship back.

The two sides meet for the first time at Klein’s opening. Both factions condescend to the other. Liz mentions how everyone wears red lipstick that always seems to be half on their teeth, Angela mocks Liz’s love of Orange County. The Brooklynites bail on the after-show dinner, because, as Angela puts it, they’re “trying to think about [their] image.” At the dinner, Maggie strokes her hair, and Liz roll her eyes at Amy, who is about 12 glasses of wine in. The only one of the group who seems to make any use of the opening, is Kerri, an outlier of the group with high, high cheekbones and no experience. She winds up interning at the same place as Amy, who’s as huffy about it as a five year-old sharing a favorite crayon. 

When End of Century actually opens, the Manhattanites make an obligatory stop at what Liz calls the “overpriced clothing store,” which is a pretty accurate burn. The sides ignore each other and snarl prettily. Claudia worries about money, and Chantal floats around. It’s obnoxious, and a fairly damning portrait of a generation. Like the Housewives franchise Gallery Girls is compulsive hate-watching material, just accurate enough to touch a nerve.

Stray observations:

  • Maggie explains that she tried to be friends with the Brooklyn-ers, but there was an incident with a slap-based drinking game: “You would never slap someone in a bar in Manhattan,” she whines. 
  • Claudia walks to the Klein opening in some of the store’s merchandise, which she managed to tear a hole in, revealing her thong. “It’s awful branding,” Chantal mutters, and then her eyes light up. “Or… brilliant.”
  • Angela won’t call her a date “a date” because “we’re a little too cool for that.” Oh.
  • Angela on her outfit, which involves heart-shaped pasties: “My friends say I dress a little too high-concept.”
  • The scene where Maggie asks for her internship back is so close to the one in Girls, it’s stomach-churning.