The new Bravo series NYC Prep has been touted as the real-life Gossip Girl, an intimate look into the lives of privileged Upper East Side snobs with absentee parents, fake IDs, and limitless credit card accounts. But based on the dreary pilot episode, “Top Half Of One Percent,” it’s really more like The ‘Lil Future Housewives Of New York, conforming so rigidly to the Bravo reality TV formula that the six kids chronicled are more like castmates than anything approximating real teenagers. And that’s at least part of the reason they come off like monsters: It’s bad enough that they do the terrible things that any narcissistic teenager with money would do, but the show goes to great lengths to keep from suggesting they have any interior life. They’re preening stereotypes of spoiled, snooty rich kids, served up for viewers to hate on sight.
And hate them we do. To paraphrase Patton Oswalt, it’s a hate so thick and rich you could drizzle it over pancakes.
With virtually all of the six main subjects—at least the girls, anyway—you get enough information to see where you might sympathize with them if given half the chance. Camille, for example, is a highly strung junior who’s already mapped out an ambitious life for herself, starting with a degree from Harvard, a job heading up a genetics firm, and maybe a husband and two girls of her own down the line. (Not many 16-year-olds dream of running a genetics firm, but Camille is awfully precocious.) It’s clear from an early conversation from her mother that the pressure of getting into an elite school like Harvard is bothering her, but her drive winds up revealing itself as something noxious, like when she tries to weasel onto a charity board to fulfill her community service requirements.
Or take also Kelli, another 16-year-old who lives alone with her brother in New York while her parents live in the Hamptons. Kelli professes to cherish her independence, but there’s something deeply unhealthy about being unmoored at such an early age. The kids in NYC Prep all pride themselves in how much they act like grown-ups, but they’re still kids, and someone like Kelli has to feel stung by having parents too self-involved to even live under the same roof with her most of the time. And discipline is impossible: She has no curfew and it doesn’t matter that she’s constantly getting grounded. Who’s around to play the enforcer?
For her part, 15-year-old Taylor goes to the highly selective public school Stuyvesant, lives mostly with her overprotective mother, and may be the closest the show gets to a sympathetic character. The clear analog for her is Jenny Humphrey on Gossip Girl—played by another Taylor, the high-school-aged Taylor Momsen—and though her need to fit in with the older, private-school crowd will no doubt lead to bad behavior, she’s too young and insecure to be blamed all that much for succumbing to peer pressure.
As for the two guys, PC and Sebastian, they’re a lot easier to hate, even when you keep their Bravo-manipulated constructs in mind. Both fancy themselves playboys on the social scene, with PC relishing his role as a conspicuously wealthy provocateur—he brushes off charity work as trendy, and brags about eating a rarefied cut of blowfish—and Sebastian bragging about being hooking up with “anywhere between two and 16 girls a month” if he hits the right parties. PC seems to relish playing mind games with his best friend (and ex-girlfriend) Jessie, a budding fashionista who obviously still has a thing for him. (Her general horribleness makes his hurtfulness go down a little easier, though.)
But Sebastian. Oh Sebastian. That Shawn Cassidy hairdo of his, which he tosses back like a Charlie’s Angel, is the reason why God invented the swirlie, yet he’s too cloistered off from normal teenagers to be in any danger. In the meantime, he’s playing the field by flirting with Kelli and Taylor while speaking French to another girl who can’t resist his transparently oily charms. Sebastian’s absurd braggadocio when it comes to the ladies likely falls far short of the reality of his conquests. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he’s a virgin, or perhaps more inclined toward his “wingman” Gabe, who can match him follicle for follicle.
Oops, there I go again talking about the characters on NYC Prep as if they weren’t as processed as a line of Bratz dolls. I guess that’s why the Real Housewives series is so addictive to many: Viewers can feel superior to the people on their TV screens without having to see them as anything more then caricatures. It’s possible these six kids are every bit as awful as they appear—and I’m pretty certain that Sebastian is irredeemable by any standard—but NYC Prep keeps the noxious cattiness and lifestyle porn and leaves anything more complicated on the cutting room floor.
• Jessie: “I treat my clothing like I treat my children. You don’t wear all your labels at once.” A metaphor bites the dust.
• Addressing the elephant in the room, Jessie professes to hate Gossip Girl, because they film in her neighborhood.
• Jessie’s friend: “I wear clothes that are less than $20 sometimes.” Jessie: “That’s because you’re so downtown.”
• It’s bad enough that Camille crashes PC’s date with Kelli. She also has to turn it into a networking opportunity: “That would make this dinner really productive.”