Last night on MTV’s Rich Girls viewers learned that Ally Hilfiger has a thing for the computerized voice of her Range Rover’s global positioning system. “He’s like my friend,” Ally says to costar Jaime Gleicher as they hit the stores in Manhattan. “Like, seriously. I, like, talk to him.” When Jaime asks about the voice’s name, Ally then adopts a faux British accent and dubs him Charles. For the rest of the bit, whenever Charles gives a direction, Ally thanks him, while Jaime giggles as if Charles’ bland, digitized servility were a form of flirting. It’s a cute segment, but also cause for concern: We’re only on Episode 3, and the brightest romantic prospect for either of them is an imported car. In an earlier episode, Jaime tried to lose her virginity after prom and later suffered a crushing crush on a preppy bad boy named Michael V., but now both girls have only each other. Apparently, having wealth and privilege in New York does not buy the constant interpersonal drama it does in The O.C.
The problem with Rich Girls is that while Ally (daughter of clothing magnate Tommy Hilfiger) and Jaime are certainly wealthy enough to fulfill the requirements of the title, I’m not convinced that money defines their characters enough to make for a satisfying show. When vacationing at Ally’s dad’s place in Nantucket, Mass., they watch a documentary about famine in Ethiopia that moves them to dream up harebrained fund-raising schemes and to feel bad about themselves. “I admit it,” says Jaime. “I buy a pair of shoes for $400. It’s like, Hello?” Ally’s forehead creases in empathy and agreement. “What is more important?” says Ally, who becomes visibly upset. “A stupid pair of shoes or a life?” I laughed, until I remembered my own distress at her age: A $400 pair of shoes is outrageous, but in the face of world hunger so is dropping $20 at the arcade playing Galaga. The producers would have you believe that Ally and Jaime are callow because of their wealth, but I think they are far more guilty of being 18.
Which is why you’ll find more joy in the show’s supporting characters, especially when they’re male. Money may not have given Ally and Jaime self-knowledge, but it has given them an uncanny level of poise and confidence, while the show’s men seem stuck one rung down on the developmental ladder. On Rich Girls, the men are boys, and the boys are babies. In the first episode, Jaime’s prom date claims to be shy, but you can tell he’s a terrified mess. Despite drinking only coffee, he ends up ruining the date—and failing to deflower Jaime—when he makes the limo pull over so he can vomit on the sidewalk. Far more promising is Michael V., an alpha teen the show builds up as the Valmont of the Upper East Side. In Episode 1 he looks like he’ll be a good villain, smoking wherever he pleases and tossing girls around like dolls, but by Episode 2 he turns out to have no stomach for the role. At Ally’s graduation party in Connecticut he ends up in tears because the girls are mad at him. By the end of the episode both Jaime and the producers seem to have written him off.
Meanwhile, the grown-ups are having all the fun. Daddy Hilfiger comes across as a loving father, albeit one who isn’t around much. When he expresses surprise that his daughter has graduated with honors, Ally takes him to task. “You don’t even see me,” she says. “How do you know I don’t study? I totally do study.” Hilfiger has no answer, but later at the graduation party he atones by dancing the night away and getting up on stage with the band to play guitar. Also on stage is Michael H., a clothing designer and family friend who sings Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” It’s unclear whether Michael H. is on the Hilfiger payroll, but he is the only character on the show who appears to belong, irreducibly, to a world defined by untold wealth. Dressed like a downtown art-rocker, Michael H. is nothing more than an old-fashioned courtier. In addition to singing pop hits of the ‘80s, he takes the girls out to lunch, grants them access to exclusive caches of clothing, and knows just how when and how to plant the perfect compliment. More important, he knows when to shut up. When Ally claims that her father “invented” cargo pants, Michael H. doesn’t even blink. Rich Girls isn’t a game show, but if it were, he would be the only man with even a chance at survival.