What is there to say about new reality blob The City, which premiered last night? The Hills spin-off was both painful and completely unaffecting. There's a lot to say, but also nothing at all.
There were two episodes last night! That is a lot of empty, bleak thawing tundra to cover. I might have to skim.
The basic premise: Whitney Port from The Hills moves to New York City, NY to become the Head of Fashion for the United States. Her duties include looking like Baby Huey (sans bonnet) and continually trying not to fall down. So far so good on both counts. I guess the thinking in spinning off from Los Angeles is that the young, starry-headed girls who earnestly watch this unconscionable dreck will divide themselves into two different but equally marketable camps. There will be the LA girls—those who want to soak in the sun and splay out in big sprawling nighttime lounges and be in the gauzy proximity of Hollywood and all of its attendant hierarchical joys and miseries—and there will be the New York girls—those who want to be fast and quick and silver and want to brunch and be busy, always, who (obviously) saw Sex and the City and affixed their beady little eyes on some glinting piece of something and said "me want." Though, judging from last night's wan presentation, I doubt many girls will fall into the New York camp. Mostly it'll be the one girl from the group of girls (who are the popularest at whatever pimple-flecked, BO-tinged high school they crawled out of at 3pm yesterday) who is like the artsy one cause she paints and stuff.
And I'll tell you that nothing felt so awful and degraded when it was just the chorus of parasols twirling in Los Angeles. A faraway demon city those ladies of the canyon inhabited! But, ack! Not so with New York City. A place where I live! (And, admittedly, have no claim of ownership over. I moved here just two and a half years ago, so I might as well be a junior at NY fuckin' U. But still.) A place that is recognizable because of places I've walked and, gulp, things I've written about at this swishy old job. Last night felt more like an invasion than anything else. There was Gawker It girl of yesteryear Olivia Palermo, pretending she has a job. (More on her later). And there was that girl Erin who was described as a "Downtown girl" even though she lives in fucking Gramercy. Stop it stop it! I liked that I couldn't tell, really, the difference between Hollywood and Brentwood, between the Hills and, um, the other Hills. Now it's all too immediate. And even more than before, the inorganic factory-stitched seams are laid hideously bare.
But on to the meat of the show. Whitney has her new job as the Dowager Doyenne of Duds at Diane von Furstenberg. Also pretend working there is Olivia Palermo, the angular beauty "social" who flicks her glassy eyes up and down on Whitney and, you can tell because that kind of intuition should come easily to a sentient being or because the producers have manufactured it so, does not like what she sees. But she pretends she does and coolly purs questions about Whitney's current main squeeze, the floopy haired Australian Justin Bobby. Whitney also has her friend Erin, who is a bit brash and trashy (in comparison to the ridiculous ice queen posturing of Ms. Palermo), and whose job was sort of unexplained (right?) There are some other idiots, mostly boys, on the show. And things happened. Maybe AJB cheated, maybe he didn't. Maybe Erin got called a hooker at Olivia's spectacularly un-fucking-appealing dinner party, maybe she didn't. Maybe kicked-to-the-curb old beau Alex showed up at Tenjune (ugh) to stir shit up with AJB while Whittlz stared blankly in one of her trances (the trances she goes into whenever a sheep, trying to fall asleep, begins to count Whitneys.) Or maybe the whole thing was painfully orchestrated so there could be some kinda dramz and everything deflated.
All we got from that scene was oohh! This is what boys do! They grunt and snarl and stamp their feet and boys fight! While girls look dimly on, swizzling their shitty little drinks, exasperated on the outside and secretly reveling in the old cave-y-ness of the scene. It was gross, and I'd expect better from Whitney who I once thought to be secretly smart. I see now, though, that she's just as decimated and reconfigured as the rest of 'em. A husk of something long gone, a gleam deferred.
But let's get to the real brass tax grapes and guts of the problem. That would be Ms. Palermo and her achy and antiquated (summer of '08! We hardly knew ye!) idea of Uptown society and how she fits into it. The trick she's maneuvered is that old society wouldn't have anything to do with anyone who was on a reality show. But new, young society is dumb and thick and inbred and fame hungry, so they lap it up. Who's that nancing over there (at least The City has some geighs on it) with Olivia, saying they need to rescue Whitney from that hid-jeous "downtown" scene? It's some shrill pile of chicken bones called Nevan, Olivia's fey cousin. At the dinner party, while they tried to look all louche and exclusive and clucked their tongues at their mama's way of doing the boy, girl / boy, girl seating, they just came off as eight year olds wearing way-too-big blazers and silly hats that didn't fit their tiny heads. If I wanted to watch dress up time, I'd go down to the elementary school. Yes I would be arrested for suspicious lurking, but I would see some honest to goodness dress up before that happened. Here it was just overgrown, bulbous entitled idiots dancing and dancing, unaware that in a few short months, so very much of it would disappear.
And what a grim satisfaction I took in that (and in the small indignity of Olivia saying that Manolo Blahnik was a "friend of the family" and then him having no idea who she was and signing her shoe just like anyone else's). That the material is old and silly and vaguely offensive now. These days, here in the pile of rubble we're all sifting through, I hope these jokers have become real people. Please, Olivia and Co. Be real people. Enter into the world. Be of it. You'll die lonely, worrisome deaths if you continue hollowing yourselves out like so many overripe avocados in the pursuit of looking glamorous. The most glamorous people, the truly glamorous ones, don't have to work at it. I promise you.
So, anyway. The show trudges on. Whitney chatted with Kelly Cutrone, who is a welcome dash of coffee and black pepper. And, of course, the cityscapes and music and soaring everything were all lovely. I especially liked the song at the end of the second episode. But in total, the whole thing left me not hot and bothered, and not numb. Just room temperature. My roommate shut the door to her room and said "I'll talk to you when this is over, because it's just making me mad." I knew what she meant, but also I didn't. What was there to get mad about? All I saw were the ghosts of some old ideas flickering around for a bit, then evaporating. (And after all the hoopla, should we be surprised that we've been duped with yet another empty vessel?) What a useless trifle this is for Whitney to cede all of her "cred," for Olivia to give up every ounce of social status she's earned. For all the glitter and glitz and faux-chic New Yorkiness of it, these girls have been reduced to simple syrups.
They're just common reality television stars now. Dumb tourist distractions if anything. They're new Times Square. They're pedicabs. They're even less original than that.
Hell. They're the Olive Garden.