On NYC Prep it’s not enough just to be rich.
Taylor, the lone public school student among the private school elite of the new Bravo reality show, would easily be the queen bee in any other corner of the world. But she’s cast in the role of the striver here, the Jenny Humphrey trying to keep up with a group of unfathomably wealthy teens for whom trivial things like credit card limits, curfews and parents just don’t exist.
Taylor and her frenemies cruise from one New York hotspot to another, BlackBerrys surgically attached to their hands. Though one of the girls emphatically proclaims her hatred for Gossip Girl, these kids revel in living out every cliché the fictional series has introduced to the masses.
With his Peter Frampton haircut and husky mumble, Nate Archibald clone Sebastian is a magnet for unsuspecting teenage girls. Just one hair flip and they treat him like a long-lost Jonas brother. PC, Chuck Bass surrogate and real-life step-grandson of the woman who created Sesame Street, provides a tutorial on how this society works: it’s all about money and connections. He’s got them; the rest of us don’t.
As the lone blonde of the girls, Jessie would ostensibly be the Serena of this crowd. But she’s more of an LC figure, confident that all that stands between her and a career in fashion is kissing up to the right person at her revolving social calendar of exclusive events. Kelli, 17, lives with her 18-year-old brother in an apartment stocked with little more than bottled water and the take-out menus they use to order meals for their parents, who visit from the Hamptons once a week to check in.
The lack of parental figures is pure wish fulfillment for any teen. In the case of the NYC Prep crowd, however, you’ve got to wonder if participation on a reality TV show wasn’t a perfect time for the parents to take a stand. To the kids, the opportunity must have seemed like a more exclusive version of Facebook or YouTube; they probably didn’t consider the consequences of the proverbial morning after.
To avoid assured social suicide, Taylor spends part of the premiere episode throwing a party at a high-end restaurant. Her mom, the only parent who gets more than a fleeting appearance, makes a half-hearted attempt to get a head count, a guest list and the purpose for this little soiree out of her daughter. But Mom is quickly eye-rolled out of the room.
Instead, Taylor gives the inside story to the camera crew: “I’m having a party because it’s important to be perceived to have, like, status and money because it kind of like changes how people think about you and how they talk to you.”
The mother of Camille, a driven Blair Waldorf type, also makes a brief cameo as her daughter checks SAT scores during Sunday brunch. But Mama Camille’s attempts to talk college counselors and community service are quickly shut down by her 17-year-old, clearly the one with all the power in this situation.
The recession may have caused other rich folk to embrace public frugality, but that’s a foreign concept with this group. They’re rich; they know it and they want everyone else to know they couldn’t imagine life any other way.
In a world of layoffs, pay cuts, furloughs and other economic angst, these kids are the perfect bunch to become the focus of a fair measure of bitterness and frustration. Buoyed by the endless possibilities that come from bottomless bank accounts, it’s unlikely the cast of NYC Prep will ever know how the other half lives unless they consciously choose to find out.
But paternal feelings are kind of inevitable as we watch the largely un-parented teens play out what they clearly think of as mature adult drama. While the fictional teens on Gossip Girl pull off this conceit pretty well, Taylor and Co. come off like kids clomping around in the too-big shoes of an older brother or sister.
Their self-centered worldviews aren’t that much different than that of high school kids in the flyover states. But money and the addition of a camera crew raise the stakes considerably.