By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
It's been said we all want to know how "the other half" lives, but it isn't really half, is it? It's more like the other one-sixteenth, since wealth is concentrated in a relatively tiny portion of the population. The people who run television assume that the hoi polloi can't resist an opportunity to eavesdrop on the rich, the super-rich or the sinfully rich.
In "NYC Prep," a reality series premiering tonight on Bravo, cameras and microphones hook up and hang with New York teenagers attending the city's pricey prep schools, all concentrated, we are told, within a 20-block radius, with most of the kids appearing to live on the Upper East Side except, of course, when not at their parents' "place in the Hamptons."
The stars of the series are 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds with such names as Kelli, Camille, Taylor, Megan, Zoe, Sebastian and "P.C." They talk like many American teenagers of leaner means: "I was, just like, 'Whatever,' " one girl declares. The words "awesome" and "amazing" pop up far more than circumstances justify.
These kids dress very well, never seem to get dirty, and have what appear to be near-flawless complexions. But their small talk is just as small as less affluent kids', perhaps smaller -- much of it infinitesimal. They don't even gossip much about one another, though some appear capable of the kind of Machiavellian schemes portrayed in movies about the young and the bratty. Unfortunately, the most dramatic action in the premiere is a boy rolling a bottle of spring water across a restaurant table and into a snobby girl's lap. She is not amused.
If only these little dears were fascinating, or at least more interesting than they are on the first installment. From the looks of the previews at the end of the hour, things will be heating up in future episodes, and the first might be viewed as a scene-setting preface to battles, tattles and conspiracies to come. But how many viewers are going to stick around?
The boy who calls himself P.C. is a kind of guide to this realm, appearing to be something of a newcomer himself and an informal, part-time social chronicler questioning the mating and dating habits of other kids but also wanting very much to fit in. He tries to sound world-weary as only a teenager could, as when he sighs, "I'm just kind of done with everyone," when asked about his own love life.
He's sort of a teenage Truman Capote, though there's no indication P.C. has literary talent.
In fact, there's no indication that any of them has any talent whatsoever, devoting their lives instead to chatting about one another, doing charity work only if it seems chic, and hanging out at fashion salons and other places where privileged excess is celebrated. They're a pretty ghastly lot when you get right down to it.
Little about their lives -- except for the inevitably plush creature comforts -- appears terribly appealing. You're not likely to dream about being one of them nor feel terribly cheated if you can't while hours away sitting in swanky restaurants sending text messages on your BlackBerry.
Maybe it's a rationalization, but after watching the kids of "NYC Prep" lounge about and moon about and sit around, it does look as though it's the other 15-sixteenths that has all the fun.
NYC Prep (one hour) premieres tonight at 10 on Bravo.