NYC Prep (Bravo, Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET) is Real Housewives in a blue blazer. As such, it is both an active agent of moral depravation and a total hoot. To enjoy the show fully—to enjoy any of the network’s docu-soaps about status striving and alpha shopping—the viewer must draw on his capacity for hating the strivers and the shoppers, and it can be a bit wearying to despise high-school students so vividly. Is it wrong to wish emotional damage, physical harm, and the humiliation of matriculating at a safety school on these mere children? It is. Emphatically so. But we’re trying to be entertained here, and we must soldier on.
Helpful tip: Pretend that these people are fictional characters. Imagine NYC Prep as the Edith Wharton rewrite of Gossip Girl. That way, when your skin crawls at seeing Sebastian, a wannabe playboy, smugly preen his feathery mane of an aristo-Lothario hairdo, you will not feel quite so guilty for hoping that somebody pulls a Twelve on the punk.
I invoke the blue-blood-splattering climax of Nick McDonnell’s first novel by way of sidling up to the hard-core fans of New York private schools out in the audience. You know who you are, and you know which shabby public school out in the provinces you yourself have a diploma from. You have thrilled to tales of Caroline at Brearley and Gwyneth at Spence and Sherman McCoy at the Buckley School. Owning a copy of The Official Preppy Handbook, that immortal humor volume, you have employed it as an actual handbook and broken its spine in so doing. This is almost the show for you. NYC Prep plants its madras banner in some fishy locales.
These kids spend an awful lot of time in the Meatpacking District, which is the least tasteful neighborhood to exist on the island of Manhattan in the four centuries since the Dutch first mapped it. (Readers fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with the area should imagine the third circle of Dante’s hell, but with tightly dressed Jersey chicks vomiting sucrose and grain alcohol on unpaved streets.) Sebastian takes a young lady named Kelli, whom he values like a moist towelette, window-shopping there. Another character, asked her opinion of Gossip Girl, brassily rails against the show on the grounds that, by popularizing STK, it has sent too many freshmen scurrying around what used to be her favorite place. Isn’t this all too bridge-and-tunnel, too Sex and the City? Is it really that grim out there for the urban haute bourgeoisie?
The person here most readily identifiable as a real New York preppy is an overachiever named Camille. Her neuroses, her withholding mother, her calculated way of matching white pearl earrings with a black leather jackets—these all mark the dear thing as the real deal. She’s a complicated gal—intentionally snobbish at some moments and accidentally bitchy at others—in a way giving the general impression that she is doing a halfway graceful job of enduring a full-time nervous meltdown. Her vulnerability is affecting. Her work ethic is admirable. And yet we’re rooting for her to get rejected from Harvard just to see the ensuing crackup.
In a key early scene, Camille’s porcelain skin turns a pale Palm Beach green as she sits with her mother at Sarabeth’s, learning her SAT scores. They are pretty good. “Good for her,” you think. “Maybe now she’ll take a deep breath and eat a popover.” Then, in an ominously neutral tone, Camille’s mother nudges the girl about rounding out her college application. The music changes from major to minor—Camille skitters toward the precipice—Camille gazes into a hole in her résumé as if it were the abyss—no community service. Thus begin her thrilling adventures in trying to attach herself to a fundraising committee, social climbing without a rope.