NYC Prep Makes Us Feel Like Teenagers Again

Wealth looms large on NYC Prep: The lifestyle of the cast — the clothes, the homes, the money, the entitlement — is what got the show made in the first place. But it’s a distraction. Like a big glinting diamond ring on a gnarled finger, it draws our attention away from what’s actually worth taking a closer look at. For instance, when PC Peterson — the grandson of financier Pete Peterson and, most likely, the wealthiest kid on the show — said on last night’s episode, “Money flows like water in New York,” and “This dress is only $300, it’s so cheap,” a lot of viewers likely started sharpening their pitchforks. But is he just being another dumb rich kid, tone-deaf to the rest of the world? No way. He’s making a joke, playing to type, embodying the caricature that he is well aware the viewer thinks he is. The reason he’s making this kind of joke, and the core vulnerability that drives all of the characters, is what will ultimately make this show interesting — and a bit difficult to watch.

The characters are, of course, teenagers, and many of their problems relate specifically to their teenager-ness: Having passed that point in our lives some time — okay, eons — ago, we cringed at Jessie and PC’s non-relationship relationship, Taylor’s desperation to fit in, the willingness — nay, eagerness — for girls to fall for hair-tossing admitted Lothario Sebastian.

But as one of the characters observes, growing up in New York has made them, in a way, mini-adults, and thus their insecurity has a grown-up flavor that makes them relatable, even to senior citizens like us. It’s not just teen angst they’re suffering from: It’s New York angst. The flamboyant posturing, faux cockiness, and social anxiety should be uneasily familiar to anyone who has taken part in the ongoing reality competition that is life in this city. Who hasn’t sputtered something like, “I love how we all have BlackBerrys. It’s a very New York thing that we all have BlackBerrys” to fill the silence at a social event, or had the distinctly unpleasant (and regionally common) experience of meeting someone whose eyes flit right past you as they look for someone more important to talk to? If you haven’t, you’re a stronger, less awkward, or happily less perceptive, person than your Daily Intel editors.

Which is perhaps why, after everything, we found these kids kind of endearing, and, in the end, were rooting for all of them.

But in the end, we could only choose one winner, because that’s what we do around here. So which Prepster captured our hearts in last night’s premiere episode? Let’s recap:

Swingy-haired Sebastian was a pro when it came to manipulating the ladies, but he had a little more trouble with his own personal narrative. “I live on the Upper East Side, and uh, yeah,” he said at one point, tossing his hair (it’s going to get greasy at some point, dude, no matter how much you blow-dry it). This is untrue, as he actually lives in East Hampton. “I hook up with two or three girls a night,” he added, only to contradict himself later by saying “I hook up with between two and sixteen girls a month.” Which is totally a different algorithm! Which is it? Sixty to ninety girls? Or two to sixteen?? But at least he was open about being a playboy, and we can see why the girls are lining up to dry-hump him: He has confidence, which no one else they know has. Here’s hoping the editors find another layer — we see a lot of promise in that wingman relationship — to his character. (BTW, Intel Chris had the exact haircut of that other dude in high school, and it looked exactly as palatable.)

We imagine PC watched Cruel Intentions approximately 400 times before filming, and it paid off: His quips are as sharp as the creases in his piped (and popped) collars, and it’s clear he has a soul, making him without a doubt the most compelling character on the show. We loved him. But in the first episode, his faux world-weariness wore a little, even though he redeemed himself by apologizing to Jessie in a touching phone call.

Jessie reminds us of a certain type of girl we knew in high school: loyal to a fault, the anchor of a close-knit circle of friends, she’ll always answer your 2 a.m. sobbing phone calls, shun your boyfriend after he cheats on you, and take you to the emergency room to get your stomach pumped. She’ll also get pissed when you stray from the group to hang out with other people. But despite her prickly veneer (which is really just fueled by insecurity — it’s obvious this girl has a giant, sensitive heart), we loved Jessie. Also, her impassioned anti–Gossip Girl rant — “I mean, I liked STK and Butter, too, before they were full of freshmen” —really made us want her to partake in the Reality Index.

So what are your hobbies?” the baby-faced Taylor asks Sebastian. You get the sense he could have answered, “Hooking up with random chicks every night of the week,” and she would have kept smiling. However, behind her naïveté, Taylor has a wily streak: The way she handled her mother’s queries about the party was priceless (“If I asked, she would have said no, so I’m just skipping a step”) and gained our respect. Picking up Kelli’s date, though? Not so much.

In the first episode, baby-voiced Kelli did not quite spread her wings — mostly, she just looked and acted cute. (Hopefully her singing career and ginormous Hamptons house will be explored later.) But even though she is one of the show’s youngest stars, she seems the most unruffled by life, and perhaps the most perceptive. We loved her sly “PC is … pretty stylish” commentary, her dorky older brother, and the fact that she blithely referred to being grounded as she was out for dinner at a fancy restaurant. This preparedness for the world probably comes from not really having parents.

Camille was Blair Waldorf down to the headband, except that she seemed real (well, the whole “They released my SAT scores on a Sunday” thing aside). Despite being heartbreakingly self-aware (“I would hate to be the person who had so much potential and never did anything with it”), she was surprisingly confident and un-brittle, and never went that extra mile by being nasty to, say, Taylor. And when she said, “In the prep-school scene, Jessie is known to be a bitch,” we laughed, because it’s obvious that regardless of whether Jessie is or isn’t, all the girls in the “scene” would obviously treat her as such because they are terrified of her. Camille’s smart and perceptive and doesn’t mind if it shows. At dinner, for instance, she not only held forth about the preparation of fugu (can you imagine Kristin Cavallari doing that?), but assessed PC and told him exactly what she thought: “Maybe you’re too abrasive.” This event resonated, and made Camille the winner of the episode, especially because somewhere across town, another girl was asking Sebastian to say whatever he wanted to her, in French.

Auxiliary Winners
Operation Smile: This charity may actually be too hot right now.
The Full-Grown Woman Dancing in the Background at the Nina Show: Enough said.
Kristian Laliberte: Being flattered by a teenage girl trying to butter you up because you are “in the business” is the definition of “winner.”
Japonais, 212, Apiary, Noosh, Japonais, and Philippe: Okay, maybe agreeing to let underage kids flail around your empty restaurant twice wasn’t really a win-win for Japonais, but hey, all publicity is good publicity.
Jessie’s Brunette Friend: It seemed like she got it. Once she goes to college and is free from Jessie, she’s going to rule some awesome little clique of her own. She’s only going to suffer comments like “That’s because you’re so downtown” for so many years of her life.
Taylor’s Mom: For that Redskins Seminoles T-shirt, but also just for actually existing.
The Bravo Set Designers: From the froth and coloring on PC’s Diet Coke at Japonais, which made it look very much like beer at first, to the bottle of balsamic vinegar on the table during Kelli’s dinner, which deliberately looked like red wine, the set designers did an admirable job of making it look like everyone was underage drinking, even though they were not — one of the conundrums of the show that, so far, they haven’t had to address.

NYC Prep Makes Us Feel Like Teenagers Again