By John D. Delmar
"Sex and the City," "Seinfeld,"
Well, most were actually shot in studios in
California, but these shows shape what many people know about
New York City - not only in the US, but all over the world.
Over thirty years ago, I was in a dusty marketplace
in Tangier in Morocco. An urchin looked up at me and said, "Are
you from Greenwich Village?"
I asked, "How do you know about Greenwich
His reply: "Kojack!"
He may have never left the confines of the
Casbah, but he knew New York neighborhoods as well as some New
I often think TV and film versions of the city
not only reflect the mood of New York, but also affect its prosperity
and health. In the 70's and 80's, there were constant mugging
jokes on Johnny Carson, films like "Escape from New York"
(New York as penal colony) and Jack Lemmon beset by urban ills
in "Prisoner of Second Avenue." Crime and the plight
of the city even seeped into comedies like "The Odd Couple."
But the city of Carrie and her lusty friends
in "Sex and the City" made the New York much more
"Friends" was a very different city
from "Little Murders," where no one dared open triple
Jerry Seinfeld never even bothered to lock
his door - so his neighbor Kramer could pop in at any time to
grab food, or borrow some strange prop.
Now the City is the setting of two or three
new series - probably shot in L.A., but intercut with urban scenes,
aerial views and plenty of local atmosphere.
The CW network (merger of WB and UPN, which
should have resulted in something like BUN or WUP), believes teens
and twenties will only watch shows about cheerleaders, high school
kids, surfers, and buff dudes and busty ingénues. So, most
of their new Fall shows star studs and various young babes and
twenty-something vixens - more naughty teenagers than a reformatory.
Age fifteen to thirty is apparently non-stop sex, drugs and Rock
'n Roll. Maybe I just wasn't hanging with the cool kids.
The latest show is supposed to give America
an inside look at the exclusive world of New York private schools:
a program titled "Gossip Girl." The show was created
by Josh Schwartz, based on the book by Cecily von Ziegesar, and
attempts to show various dull and empty-headed teens whose hormones
rage ferociously. And they are very rich, so they shop at Bendel's,
have stylish haircuts, and live in mansions.
Josh Schwartz created "The O.C.,"
and much of "Gossip Girl" is like California teens transplanted
to New York. Kids hang out, go to concerts, party in stretch limos,
smoke reefer. Guys and girls are beautiful, styled and coiffed,
but virtually every detail is wrong, from accents to hair to clothes.
The New York Observer has stated that the model for the
boy's prep school in the show is fashioned after Collegiate, but
none of these dullards could get into Collegiate even if their
parents bought the school a gym the size of Madison Square Garden.
No one does any homework, no one worries about school, goes to
class, has a paper due, ever has a thought, no less an original
thought, or seems to have much to do but hang out and think about
girls and the big party.
New York, while a nice backdrop, is devoid
of New Yorkers - real New Yorkers, the ones we see on the streets,
some poor, some homeless. There are no blacks, no Latinos, no
Jews, no Italians - and one token Chinese girl for diversity.
I know this is just TV, but what planet do these kids live on
- Planet White Kid? At least there are shots of Grand Central,
the Palace Hotel, and the Met Museum so you know it wasn't all
shot in Toronto, or an L.A. studio.
Someone should at least clue them in that at
private boys schools, no one has worn uniforms in ages. Private
schools like Collegiate prefer a dress code of tie and jacket
(and even that is flexible if it is hot out), but "Gossip
Girl" has all the boys with matching ties and jackets - fine
for students at Catholic parochial schools, but not at an independent
school. And most kids in New York private schools are mortified
at being rich, dress like they've shopped at the Salvation Army,
and guys let their hair grow until Mom (or school) forces them
to the barber.
In the pilot, we are introduced to Serena van
der Woodsen, who MUST be rich with a name like that. And her "best
friend" is named Blair Waldorf. They would have named her
Hilton, but that was taken, and Four Seasons would make no sense.
Serena has just come back from "boarding school," and
now the buzz all over New York (as text messaged by blogger "Gossip
Girl") is what will happen to her relationship with best
friend Waldorf, and her former squeeze Nate Archibald.
If that soapy story line isn't enough to grab
you, there is a serpentine monster, Chuck Bass, who goes around
raping private school girls (two attempts in just the first show!).
In fact, he assaults both Serena AND innocent freshman Jenny Humphrey.
Ms. Humphrey, while being attacked on a roof-top, TEXT-MESSAGES
her brother Dan. She doesn't call the police - she just knows
her brother, who is supposed to be at a concert, will, of course,
read her text message, find her and save her virtue in the nick
of time. And of course no girl seems to report this attacker,
who just goes on assaulting girls without any consequences.
The acting doesn't even reach the level of
daytime soaps. The actors - Serena played by Blake Lively, Nate
by Chase Crawford, Jenny by Taylor Momsen, Blair by Leighton Meester,
Dan by Penn Badgley - are intended as eye candy, and New York
City is just a cloth backdrop for their contrived adventures.
(The actor's names struck a friend as made up by their agents.)
They have no emotional response to much of anything. Maybe they
are all so bland and dull because, well, after all, they are...RICH!
New York City is the setting for more of the
perfidy and evil ways of the filthy rich in "Dirty Sexy Money,"
this Fall on ABC. It is hard to castigate any particular group
or person these days, from the Mafia to Attila the Hun, without
a letter of outrage protesting the depiction of gangsters or Huns,
but rich people are usually a good target.
This show actually has some good actors and
a few interesting story lines, but the pilot and premise stretch
credibility. The focus is on the Darlings, the richest family
in New York City, who combine elements of the Trumps, the Kennedys,
the Hiltons and the Rockefellers. The Patriarch of the Darling
family is Donald Sutherland, reprising his "rich New Yorker"
persona from "Six Degrees of Separation." He has a dysfunctional
family of losers, liars, cheaters and misfits, from his eldest
daughter Karen, on her fourth marriage, to his untalented daughter
Juliet, and aspiring actress who's snappy retort is "You're
The premise is Tripp Darling, Sutherland's
character, wants idealistic attorney Nick George (Peter Krause)
to be the family attorney. To show you how good a businessman
and negotiator Tripp is, he offers Nick a Five-Million-Dollar-a-Year
retainer. Nick counters with "Ten Million!" Tripp of
course counters with - "Done!" This isn't how real people
in real business negotiate - but this is how fantasy rich people
And Nick, who runs a sort of good guy small
law firm, suddenly becomes an expert in every known field of law,
from admiralty to matrimonial law to criminal law to business
deals. Tripp, Mr. Billionaire, of course entrusts everything to
this one attorney! One hopes Nick can keep up with all these fields
of law by Internet and perhaps the occasional home correspondence
course - but then again, there are only billions at stake here.
It is nice to see various New York backdrops.
The Darlings apparently live in the Duke mansion on Fifth Avenue,
which must be a shock to all the NYU art students who take classes
there. I'm glad some New Yorkers will get jobs on the show, and
famous faces will be dropped in like raisins in pudding - Peter
Bogdonovich did a walk-on as a theater director, and we will presumably
see and hear more from others - there are a lot of hungry actors
in the City, and it can be a long time between plays in East Village
basements. Jill Clayburgh plays the matriarch of the family, and
I'm glad to see her again, even on a smaller screen. It may be
worth watching just to see Sutherland acting sinister and craven,
like a reptile ready to flick out his tongue at any moment and
spear you through the heart.
Now we will have two new series shot in New
York City, showing just how evil, stupid and mean all wealthy
Marx is chuckling in his grave.