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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

High Society

Illustration for article titled iHigh Society/i
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High Society debuts tonight at 9:30 p.m. EST on The CW.

If nothing else, High Society should be the final nail in the coffin of Randian objectivism. I have no problem with the idea that people who rise from rags to riches are smart, hard-working, capable individuals. I'd say, in my experience, that that's often the case. I just am not so sure that's the case with their children, who often seem like some of the worst people to ever have lived, if the presentation of them on television is any indication. The CW's High Society is just the latest series to attempt to turn the lives of young, lithe, hot women in the big city into something approaching compelling television. In the meantime, it utterly botches the single thing you most need to do to make a series like this work, it creates an elaborate series of character dynamics that need to be kept straight though it doesn't give a good reason for doing so, and it offers a scenario where a German prince breaks reality television.


Actually, when reading that last sentence, it sort of sounds like I'm recommending High Society. I'm really, really not. I realize that I'm pretty much the opposite of the audience for a show like this, but I can usually understand when a show like this is being done well, even if it's not for me. And not only is High Society not for me, but it's also not being done well at all. If you want to do a show like this up right, you have to have an aesthetic that approaches the glossiness of a magazine spread full of items and clothing you could never possibly afford to have. A show like this needs to be as much a celebration of consumption as it does a riveting portrayal of the lives of the rich and the increasingly stupid young folk who live them. Sadly, High Society captures none of this aesthetic, instead landing at something that looks like the pages of Skymall.

Just as in Skymall, there's a vague sense that you're trapped with High Society because there's nothing better to do. I've watched two episodes now, and I'm hard pressed to explain exactly why it exists. On its surface, it most resembles The Hills, but The Hills is about people who are young enough and attractive enough to have an excuse to be as fucking stupid as they are. I mean, I certainly don't imagine Spencer Pratt is going to wake up ten years from now and be some sort of genius businessman without somehow lucking into it, but at least I can excuse his idiocy by saying he hasn't been around very long (as if I have).


High Society takes as its central character Tinsley Mortimer, who is actually almost 34. Mortimer is renowned for her ability to stand on red carpets and look pretty. She's a New York City socialite, in other words, and I'm reliably informed by my gay New Yorker friend that she used to be the hub of the scene, but she's getting older and older and is thus less and less interesting to the people who track what, exactly, the "scene" is. Thus, Mortimer has left her husband, who has the adorably ponce-y first name of "Topper," and is hitting the scene big time, attempting to wash away the fact that she's getting a little up there to be acting like this. Basically, if High Society were a great American novel, it would be written by Edith Wharton.

Here's the problem, though. You can't make The Hills about a 33 year old. It's fucking sad. So the show, perhaps wisely, surrounds Tinsley with a bunch of vaguely interesting twentysomethings, taking Tinsley's sister, Dabney Mercer, as the kinda-sorta center of this bunch, which includes the requisite only-that-way-because-of-the-editing bitch, Jules Kirby, and an outrageously flamboyant, loose-with-his-money gay accused thief named Paul Johnson Calderon. Does he go by PJC? Do you have to ask? (Do you need to know all of this to decide whether or not to watch the show? Probably not, but I hate that I'm going to have all of this information crowding my brain for the rest of time, so now you can have it too.)


The worst thing about all of this is that Dabney's life and Tinsley's life are basically disconnected. They're sisters, so there's pretext to occasionally force them to hang out, but for the most part, the storylines on the show might as well be as disconnected as those on a series like Lost or Mad Men, though the series never gives any good reason why these storylines are this way. It's as though The CW realized that if it made a series about Tinsley Mortimer, it would be making a series about a 33-year-old woman who frequently cries over her divorce and frantically stuffed a bunch of barely connected kids in their 20s in there just to make sure there'd be something for the target demographic to watch. Indeed, the Tinsley segments play more like a Real Housewives franchise than anything else, as her best friend is happily married, and one of her constant companions is her mom, who's the only thing approaching a dynamic character. (In one episode, she learns how to use the library.) When you have a flamboyant gay man who throws drinks at people and has been accused of thievery in your cast, and your only dynamic character is a woman who pretty much defines "meddling mom," something has gone horribly, horribly wrong.

The most interesting character here is Topper, who hasn't agreed to be featured in the show. The series is so vague about what happened to cause the divorce that it makes Tinsley seem more at fault for it than she probably was. Every time Topper turns up, he's a blur, and when Tinsley's mom holds up a wedding photo in the second episode, you can kind of see how happy those two blurs were together. Why did this marriage fall apart? How does Topper feel about his ex-wife now? Why does everyone else seem to like Topper so much? The show doesn't care. All it cares about is partying. (Tinsley's new boyfriend is named Kasimir, and he's a German prince who doesn't like it when the show takes long shots of him walking toward the camera and tries to dictate how the show will be filmed. It's a refreshing bit of candor that reveals just how artificial the whole enterprise is, and I appreciate that the show leaves it in, but again, it somehow manages to ruin a SURLY GERMAN PRINCE NAMED KASIMIR. GOD.)


The Hills and the Real Housewives series work because they sell a life that we, the viewers, will never get to lead. They're escapist TV where you both wish you were living the life of the idle rich and also sigh at how much stupider they are than you. They're shows that sell a lifestyle as much as anything else. High Society ultimately falls apart because it has awful people - like those other shows do - but also because it never figures out what to do with them. It all comes across as somehow frightfully low-rent, like a bunch of socialites cleaned out the old barn to put on The Hills.

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