NYC Prep: PC’s coming-out party and lots of awkward rich teenager moments

Bravo’s streak of docudramas about people we love to loathe continues with NYC Prep, a series that follows several prep school kids that doesn’t have much going on except the exploration of one character’s sexuality. Still, it’s perfectly enjoyable, especially as a summer show.

The series is basically a teenage version of The Real Housewives without the complexity of the characters’ problems, and that’s NYC Prep‘s greatest weakness. For example, the show attempts to make drama out of public school attendee Taylor’s attempt to integrate herself into the social scene–i.e. the lives of the bitchy prep school kids who are jealous of her–but that’s been kind of flat so far, in part because we all know that the only reason she’s dating Sebastian is because of the show. The introduction of her ex might make things interesting, but it seems somewhat contrived, as does the love triangle thing.

Yet in all that, there are lots of awkward yet amusing moments, like Camille getting called out by Sebastian for having something in her teeth when she was talking to him/flirting with him, or Sebastian’s amazement at learning what a philosopher is. Those are what keep the show going until PC shows up.

Of the six central characters, PC is the most complex and fully developed character, perhaps because of his age, and in large part because he can actually speak in full sentences. Sebastian, on the other hand, mumbles nasally sentence fragments in-between flipping his hair while seemingly waiting for a girl to shut up so he can hook up with her

At first, I wasn’t sure if PC’s coming out is going to be an actual narrative this season or if the editors are just going to play with it all season (repeatedly letting him say things like, “I want that connection. I don’t need that gorgeous girl that has a nice rack”), but either way the show was pretty much constructing an argument that he’s not just straight. In the second episode alone, he told his therapist that he thinks people hide their true selves and repeatedly used gender-neutral pronouns to talk about dating (“someone”), while Amanda, another of PC’s ex-girlfriends, told us that “he needs to get a little more comfortable with himself before he can date.”

And then came the preview for next week, which shows a shirtless, sandy PC, rubbing sand on the head of a hot, shirtless, sandy guy who says, “He’s bi. Yeah, he is.” So much for ambiguity.

But that direction makes sense because nearly everything PC says seems designed to let us chuckle knowingly at him–and sometimes mock him–like during the end of last night’s episode when he was stood up by a girl, and called Jessie and said, “it’s like I’m trying something for the first time and it just gets screwed up; it’s just, you know, frustrating.”

Whether or not he knew the show would go in this direction remains to be seen. PC said in an interview before the season started, “I did reality TV because I want to be an actor — it seemed like good practice. This isn’t reality — it’s a docudrama — you can’t say ‘staged,’ but they wanted me to be like Sybil and have different personalities all the time,” he told the New York Post. So, you can see how he might claim it’s all for TV.

Besides PC, though, the show is way too Laguna Beach or The Hills; teenagers just aren’t expressive enough for me to be consistently entertained, and with the first two episodes, I’ve found myself zoning out during parts of them, which rarely happens with the Real Housewives.

The schools the cast members attend have all been identified by the Wall Street Journal, which also published a letter from Camille’s school, Nightingale-Bamford, to parents that said, in part, “The decision to participate in the show was made by the student and her parents without consulting Nightingale’s administrators. We counsel our girls to avoid such exposure, knowing that best intentions are usually subsumed by a media machine that too often simplifies the many facets of a Nightingale education into a shallow and stereotypical view of independent schools. … This is not the first time that someone has presented a skewed version of our world, nor will it be the last.”

The New York Times ran a similar letter from the Dwight School, which graduated Jessie and PC, that said “there is ‘zero tolerance’ for students who find themselves in a similar situation and violate the spirit of this rule” that “students must maintain high ethical standards and behave, both on and off campus, in ways that reflect favorably upon the School.”

The irony is that the show could actually use some behavior that reflects badly on the schools or prep schools or anything to amp up its drama beyond petty high schoolish stuff and PC’s personal conflict.

NYC Prep: B

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.