CW Viewers: Cursed, Not 'Privileged'

JoAnna Garcia, second from right, plays an ex-reporter for a tabloid who somehow is hired to tutor uber-rich twins.
JoAnna Garcia, second from right, plays an ex-reporter for a tabloid who somehow is hired to tutor uber-rich twins. (By Jaimie Trueblood -- Cw)
By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Wanted: Former tabloid reporter to serve as tutor to spoiled-rotten rich teenagers. Result: "From Here to Inanity," or "The Dumb Leading the Dumber."

The show in question is actually titled "Privileged," and it's a shallow grave of a comedy-drama hybrid that's premiering tonight on the youth-baiting CW network.

Having struck gold, or at least gold plate, with "Gossip Girl," the CW keeps its sights set on the adolescent demographic with this flimsy contrivance about reporter Megan Smith, who yearns to write about "people that matter." She stumbles instead into a job mentoring sinfully rich Rose and Sage Baker, snippy granddaughters of sinfully richer Laurel Limoges.

Laurel Limoges? Any relation to Patricia Pratesi? The producers might as well have named her Rhoda Rich. She's supposedly a grand diva of Palm Beach society, living with her granddaughters in one of the world's ugliest mansions and worrying that the girls' grades won't be good enough to get them into Duke.

Why Duke? Probably because it has a name that evokes royalty. If there were Prince, King or Queen universities, Limoges would probably try to send them to one of those.

The renewed popularity of obscenely affluent characters on TV might be a response to the economic maladies through which the country is suffering -- the way audiences of the Great Depression flocked to lavish musicals about the rich at play. Obviously there are varying grades of escapist fluff; "Privileged" is Grade F.

JoAnna Garcia, fidgety and fluttery in a way that's supposed to seem pert and perky, plays Megan, no more credible when supposedly working for the tabloid rag than when supposedly watching over the wayward wealthy. As the series opens, she's living in a cheap New York "rat's nest" that promptly burns down.

Sent packing to Palm Beach, Fla., by a sympathetic editor (!), Megan goes up against Anne Archer as the aristocratic and imperious Ms. Limoges -- their relationship a tepid copy of the one between Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway in "The Devil Wears Prada." Megan is capriciously fired after only a day or two on the job, but then she was capriciously hired, too (the series is based on the book "How to Teach Filthy Rich Girls," by Zoey Dean).

Upon delivering an out-of-nowhere speech about responsibility to the brattier of the two girls -- the one who got her fired -- with Granny looking on, Megan gets her job back, replete with $1,500-a-week salary, free room and board in the mansion, and use of a swish convertible. Nice work if you can get it -- even if you get it as implausibly as our heroine does.

Rose and Sage are played by Lucy Kate Hale and Ashley Newbrough, one of whom looks great in a bikini and the other of whom does not. Michael Cassidy plays bland Charlie Hogan, whose crush on Megan goes dopily unnoticed by her, and Allan Louis plays glamorous grandma's madcap, all-knowing gay chef, not unlike the all-knowing gay chef in "True Blood," which premiered Sunday on HBO.

"Wanted: All-Knowing Gay Chef." There appears to be an infinite supply, since the stereotype (often African American, as in these two cases) has popped up before.

Just about everything in "Privileged" has popped up before, and what hasn't popped up before should never be permitted to pop up at all.

Privileged (one hour) premieres tonight at 9 on Channel 50.

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