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"Gossip Girl" and "Dirty Sexy Money"

Ah! The Stinkin' Rich...

By John D. Delmar

"Sex and the City," "Seinfeld," "Taxi," "Friends"….

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 Village?"

His reply: "Kojack!"

He may have never left the confines of the Casbah, but he knew New York neighborhoods as well as some New Yorkers.

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…Sexy!

"Friends" was a very different city from "Little Murders," where no one dared open triple locked doors.

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 Poor!"

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 do it.

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 people are.

Marx is chuckling in his grave.

(John D. Delmar is a graduate of a New York City independent school, and would be glad to serve as an attorney for any rich family in NYC--- for five million or less-- but he'd have to brush up on his admiralty law).

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