Note: Do not read on if you haven't seen Season 1, Episode 1 of Bravo's "Princesses Long Island," titled "You Had Me At Shalom."
As expected as it may be, there's probably only one word to summarize the Sunday night premiere of "Princesses Long Island": contrived. With Bravo's newest series, reality TV seems to have folded onto itself. What started in the early 1990s with MTV's "The Real World," the genre eventually morphed into franchises intentionally scripted to reach the same dramatic levels once achieved from its sheer novelty. "Princesses" has now reached the next threshold--the point at which cast members, raised on reality TV and freakishly familiar with its formulas, purposely adopt personas intended to mimic and surpass material seen on other shows.
The "princesses" featured in this Bravo series have learned from the Kardashians' antics and the "Real Housewives" feuds. They appear on screen with presences so transparent and desperation so cringeworthy that they mistakenly glance at the cameras as if to confirm that they are being filmed. These women seem actually bad at pretending to be on a TV show that pretends to be situated in some sort of reality. Everyone -- cast members, show creators and the network -- are just trying way too hard.
"Princesses" follows six college-educated girls from various wealthy neighborhoods in Long Island: Chanel, Erica, Ashlee, Joey, Amanda and Casey. They range from 26 to 30 years old and they all choose to live in the luxury of their parents' homes for one reason or another.
Like most reality shows, each girl encapsulates a specific cultural stereotype. But "Princesses" is different from series of reality TV past as it showcases -- in the most bastardized sense of the word -- a subculture that has remained largely absent from this television genre to date. These women are not only wealthy like the Kardashians, ostentatious like the "Real Housewives" and part of an assimilated minority group like the "Shahs of Sunset," they're also predominantly Jewish.
There's Chanel, the modern Orthodox girl, who adopts an exaggerated borscht belt-sounding affectation that seems, at least from watching her family eat dinner, absent from her home life. Even in the New York area, her schtick seems misplaced. There's Erica, the "hot" Reform Jewish girl who may or may not drink too much. Next is the "daddy's girl" and self-described JAP (Jewish American Princess) named Ashlee, whose closeness to her father is displayed through their somewhat creepy desire to get pedicures together.
Then there's the self-proclaimed "poor" girl, Joey, who possesses a basic level of independence, perceived by this group as counter-culture. Amanda, the "mama's girl" has a boyfriend 12 years her senior. He watches Amanda and her mother try on swimwear in a scene so excruciating that I wish I could un-see it. Viewers will have to wait for future episodes to meet "princess" Casey.
Similar to the way Bravo chief Andy Cohen turned the Hebrew word "Mazel" into a tchotchke-selling enterprise, "Princesses" also appropriates Jewish terms for its own use. In a teaser video, an inebriated cast member deadpans, "Shabbat Shalom. Go f*** yourself."
It remains to be seen whether the series will resonate with audiences and develop into what could be Bravo's next franchise. The title begs for spinoff shows featuring "princesses" of various other areas. Perhaps there's a "Princesses Beverly Hills" already in the works.
But there's something deeply uncomfortable about watching these women willingly operate within these self-adopted stereotypes. They seem to live in a world where narcissism masks self-loathing. Far from entertaining, the first episode was equal parts upsetting and embarrassing. It's unclear who's responsible for the show's misses: cast members who are too desperate for the spotlight, producers and their choice editing, networks that churn out these shows with reckless abandon, or viewers, myself included, who love watching the spectacle of it all.
"Princesses Long Island" airs on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo.