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Bravo's 'NYC Prep' is all too real

HEIDI GUTMANKelli (left) and Camille are two students in “NYC Prep.’’ HEIDI GUTMANKelli (left) and Camille are two students in “NYC Prep.’’ (Heidi Gutman)
By Joanna Weiss
Globe Staff / June 23, 2009
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With the exception of New York preschools, New York prep schools might be the most mockable institutions in America, bastions of self-importance and conspicuous consumption. It’s no wonder the CW’s “Gossip Girl’’ is a hit, and it’s little surprise that Bravo’s newest documentary series, “NYC Prep,’’ invites us to gawk at real-life teens with bottomless wallets and advanced ennui.

Bravo seems to churn out one of these mock-the-rich series a month, and has the formula down: assemble a set of vibrant characters who sit willingly for the cameras, saying things that make them sound detestable. “NYC Prep,’’ which premieres tonight at 10, is filled with air kisses, designer labels, and throwaway lines like, “I don’t want to apologize for having money. It’s good.’’

These kids are easy to hate, as expected, but they’re also easy to pity. Teenagehood is great and terrible everywhere, but in uptown Manhattan, it comes with added pressure - to get into the right colleges, to hang out in the hottest restaurants, to behave at all times like adults in the throes of midlife crises.

When the characters on “Gossip Girl’’ act like jaded 45-year-olds, it’s entertaining; they’re fictional, reciting snappy dialogue. Real-life prep schoolers, sitting in fancy leather wingback chairs, come across as far less charming. On “NYC Prep,’’ we meet Sebastian, who hooks up with “between two and 16 girls a month,’’ luring them with his fluent French and his flowing hair. We see aspiring singer Kelli and overachieving Camille, who wants her dinners with friends to be “productive’’ toward her college application process. We get Taylor, the one public schooler of the bunch, who tries to keep up with her wealthier friends.

They’re interesting enough, but this show really centers on PC (for “Gossip Girl’’ fans: real-life Chuck Bass), an overconfident prep school senior who fancies himself a charmer, and spouts lines like “The thing about New York is, money flows like the wind.’’

His foil is Jessie (in “Gossip Girl’’ terms: real-life Blair!), a snooty queen bee who speaks in a jaded monotone, plans charity events, and has used a personal shopper at Barneys New York since the tender age of 13. In tonight’s premiere, Jessie grants PC an audience at a fancy restaurant. He throws a bottle of water at her in jest. She storms out. He grovels. She accepts his apology and swiftly belittles him.

It’s the sickest and most fascinating relationship in the show, at once faux-adult and intensely immature. Every kid on “NYC Prep’’ acts this way from time to time; they’re cherubs in a twisted game of dress-up.

Some Bravo shows make you giddy. “NYC Prep’’ leaves you instead with a feeling of discomfort. You wonder why the parents have allowed their kids to do this, until you realize that grown-up guidance seems absent altogether. Kelli, for instance, lives in an apartment with her 18-year-old brother. Her parents live in the Hamptons full-time, and pop in once a week to check in and order take-out. That’s mockable for sure - it makes for good TV - but it’s also intensely sad.

Joanna Weiss can be reached at weiss@globe.com. For more on TV, go to www.viewerdiscretion.net.

TELEVISION REVIEW
NYC PREP On: Bravo

Time: Premieres tonight at 10

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