The City Recap: Whitney Works Hard, Olivia Hardly Works

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Erin, laughing on the inside. Photo: Courtesy of MTV

Whitney Port warned us that the second season of The City was not just a new chapter, but an evolution — a notch on the other side of the arc of a group of people who don’t have to worry about achieving their own success because it is handed to them in their fortuitous positions as television stars. A series that established itself as “relationship-heavy” and “character-driven,” Whitney said, would take a more sophisticated direction with a more sophisticated directive. Now the show is “focused on our careers, and how we’re going to eventually make it in the fashion industry.” Port indicated she had only seen the season premiere, which held true to her forecast. Last night we watched the girls chase careers instead of boys.

Well, except Roxy, who didn’t have anything to do but follow Whitney around and ask questions that would allow our protagonist to explain the plot to the audience. But Olivia, finally agreeing to put office drama with Erin aside, turned from the path of bitchiness and resentment onto the path of journalism in her new role as an Elle.com reporter. Erin rescinded her ultimatum that she would leave Elle if Olivia wasn’t fired, and continued her career in publicity. But her demeanor made clear that this was only for the sake of the show (as a publicist she knows the value of this exposure, even if by way of Olivia) and that she still hated Olivia’s guts deep down inside.

And Whitney, burgeoning fashion designer with a show rapidly approaching at Bryant Park, continued pursuing her fashion-design dreams. With funding we know not of, she has managed to manufacture a collection and secure a spot to show at Bryant Park — something aspiring designers only dream of! But she knew she would “eventually make it” — she would never face the struggles most 24-year-old fashion designers face, so she can’t show 14-year-old aspiring fashion designers how to overcome those hurdles. But she can show them what it’s like, kind of, when one skips all that crap and just goes straight to the Bryant Park show with major magazine editors and buyers in the front row. We wonder if, when the cameras stop for the day, Whitney just rides home on her unicorn with a flock of fairies. But she is perhaps better at working than dating. And so, on to this week’s lessons!

Lesson 1: Being a good sidekick.
Do: Find a role for yourself and stick to it. When Whitney goes fabric shopping and explains how stressed out she is that she has to show 24 looks but only has 17, and has to cast models and figure out hair and other stuff, Roxy just stands there with a blank expression. Sidekicks either need to be like Watson, and offer pertinent information or life-saving assistance, or like Phoebe from Friends and provide comic relief.
Don’t: Stand around like a dope. Roxy might wear an absurd pair of pants rather than sing “Smelly Cat,” but she has to be and do something to make us feel she’s valuable and worth at least a fraction of our cable bills. Here she wants to be an actress and she’s on TV! Wow us, sister!

Lesson 2: Managing two chicks who don’t get along but have to work together.
Don’t: Let one of them talk back to you. Over to Elle, where Olivia struts to some vampy, girlie, techno pop music, Joe finally berates her for bickering with Erin. He just suffered a fiasco on the Today show thanks to Olivia, and scolds her with curse words and more anger than we’ve ever seen him show. But Olivia retorts, “I do not think it is appropriate for her to speak to me or anyone at this magazine the way she does. It is unacceptable. She is a publicist. I am an editor of a magazine. My job is to put the best accessories in the magazines. Her job is to pitch to the press.” Olivia has been working at Elle for only a few weeks at this point, while Erin has been there for years. A new employee with any common sense would never say such a thing to Joe Zee, but he just kind of sits there and takes it. Also, Dear Olivia: This is fashion, people are mean, so GET OVER IT.
Don’t: Cave and give the problem employee what she wants. Instead of forcing her to do better at her job, Joe just reassigns Olivia to Elle.com. If someone can’t do something as simple as giving him a list of credits for a television appearance, how can he have her do anything other than man the reception desk? If even that? “Be that editor that you tell me that you are,” he tells her. Oh, Joe. This is The City, not The Biggest Loser (well, maybe in a sense).

Lesson 3: Designing a fashion line for your first Bryant Park show.
Do: Put the collection above your personal appearance. When she visits the pattern maker to crack the whip on those deadlines, Whitney is perhaps the most unkempt we’ve ever seen her outside her house. Her hair is in a lopsided bun, and she’s clearly put her line (or something) ahead of her mascara and eyelash curler. She obviously spent hours primping before the show (we saw her up close in person there — not a hair amiss), and hasn’t canceled her facial appointments, but she appears to have priorities some of the time.
Don’t: Make lace leggings from dingy taupe lace that just happens to be lying around. Designer Christopher Kunz of Nicholas K — one label in Whitney’s group show along with Mara Hoffman — cautions Whitney against creating looks just for the sake of creating looks, and putting something sloppy on the runway. Yet when she’s at the pattern maker and finds out her lace leggings didn’t work because the fabric didn’t stretch, she just grabs the nearest role of lace she can find. It looks like a soiled antique tablecloth with some glitter. Roxy, perennial fan of ugly bottoms, offers, “I loooooove those leggings.” Where’s a real editor when you need one?

Lesson 4: Mentoring.
Do: Be kind. Kelly is nice to Whitney throughout the episode, and she’s clearly gone above and beyond to include Whitney’s show with two other established labels who don’t want to — and quite frankly couldn’t — compete with a reality star like Whitney for attention. She seems to genuinely care a lot about Whitney.
Don’t: Scare your charge shitless. Kelly likes showing people she knows stuff. Whitney, who knows nothing, provides a great outlet for her to do that, so it's no wonder she adores her. However, she kept saying awful things to Whitney. At one point she asks Whitney if she’s okay. “Not really,” Whitney says. “Let me tell you something: If this doesn’t go well you could be fucked,” Kelly responds. “It would be crazy if you weren’t terrified.” So encouraging! And last season she said, “If [the show] sucks you’re probably done,” which is obviously not true. Plenty of designers with bad shows go on to show again. Besides, a lot of people like really bad clothes! Yet another reason Whitney is destined not to fail.

Lesson 5: Keeping the girl you don’t get along with in her place.
Do: Try to make nice in a fake way. Joe and Robbie tell Erin she has to make nice with Olivia and get along. So Olivia and Erin arrange to embark on a fresh start over tea. We can tell by her expression that Erin is over it before Olivia even walks in the door. And in the best scene of the episode, hands-down, while Olivia tries to make amends, Erin is looking at her with a face of utter disgust. Maybe she’s one of those people who can’t hide in her facial expression what she’s really thinking, even though she thinks she is. But she looks like she totally resents Olivia for having the time to curl and spray her hair so neatly every morning and apply five layers of foundation. But as Olivia chatters on, the emotions in Erin’s face only deepen, and at the very end of the scene she literally looks like she’s choking back chunks of vomit she would actually love to spew on Olivia. But she doesn’t, because this "make nice" meeting is about appearances, and Erin managed not to die right then and there of laughter or disgust. Bravo.
Do: Dress like you mean business. Erin wore a black leather jacket, the perfect complement to her tough anti-bullshit side.

Lesson 6: Interviewing fashion designers backstage.
Do: Ask interesting questions. Olivia interviews Anna Sui backstage after her show for Elle.com. She opens with “What was your inspiration?” which is a fine warm-up question. But then she asks about the CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award. Okay, that is a great honor, but it is also a boring thing to discuss at any length. A reporter she may not be, but she might do some genius freelance work making video press releases or something.
Don’t: Look smug because you think you didn’t mess up. When a reporter gets a really good interview, they don’t look smug. They keep it cool, walk away, and then freak out outside. If they really get something good, they don’t want any other reporters to know and steal the information from them. Olivia, despite fumbling one of her two snooze-worthy questions, turns around and gloats. Somewhere in the background Erin is rolling her eyes. And for these little moments, Erin, we love you.