Series Premiere: Privileged – “Pilot”


September 9th, 2008

For those who read the blog on a regular basis, it seems like the early part of this week is more or less all teen soap operas, all the time – and that’s without me having much to say about the second season of Greek, which I do plan on commenting on at some point in the future (perhaps tonight’s episode, yet unwatched, will do the trick). However, for now, I want to comment on The CW’s newest entry into the field, their choice for a lead-out from 90210. Coming from Rita Mimoun (late of Gilmore Girls, Pushing Daisies and Everwood), this is a series that is definitely not a much buzzed about debut, not does it carry with it any of the same concerns over sexual content.

Instead, it is something very different: a show that, unlike 90210, is taking time to establish its own identity as opposed to simply throwing fascimiles of genre archetypes into a pot and hoping things work themselves out. There are points where Privileged becomes a bit too precocious for its own good, but Mimoun’s time on former WB/CW dramedies has served her well: for every small moment of dialogue that’s a bit too quippy, there is a moment of well-placed exuberance, or heartfelt honesty, that ground the show in something quite compelling. The scenarios here are not “Remember that summer when we met?” but rather complex family conflicts, romantic tension-filled friendships, and just the right amount of characters for us to follow in the early going.

I’m not saying that the show is perfect, but after watching 90210 kind of just flop around earlier in the evening it’s kind of nice to see a show that, for its pilot, completely understands what it wants to be, how it plans on getting there, and what it was about The O.C., Everwood or Gilmore Girls that not only kept people watching, but that sucked people in to people, places, ideas.

JoAnna Garcia, formerly of Reba, is a bit too much for me as our English Major turned private tutor Megan – there are times when it seems like she just can’t do physical comedy so she piles on these affectations hoping something will stick. However, she can play the quiet moments, the moments where she needs to become stern or, more importantly, when she gets to stop being so neurotic (That’s the Gilmore Girls seeping in, definitely) and actually settle into her new (or old, I guess) life. The character still has some kinks, but she definitely has crafted someone who is likeable: it may be out of pity at points, but you’re definitely rooting for her to succeed (a problem I have with 90210, where I feel like the only attention their paying to this question is “She’s your age, target audience, adore her!”).

And I’m a big fan of the layers given to the two teenagers – it was clear from the beginning, where the tazer gag seems particularly over the top to the point of near parody, that Sage is the one who has toughened in the wake of her parents’ death and that Rose, by comparison, is the kinder spirit who has taken on a more passive but hopeful role for the future. Lucy Hale was fairly awful on Bionic Woman, not that I mean to point fingers, but I found her perfect here: it was obvious that the overly sombre nature of that show was not suited to her talent, as whether getting emotional over what her mother would be proud of or being a little tipsy on champagne, there was something really infectious about her. By the same token, although again the tazer thing kind of strikes me as odd, Ashley Newbrough does give Sage this bitchy tone without going too far beyond repair, if you will.

Now, the show is clearly not above the aforementioned archetypes: we have your suave male neighbour who charms Megan the second she arrives, we have your long time friend who obviously likes her but is now outside of her social circle and fighting against the friend zone (The O.C.’s Michael Cassidy, without Zack’s long locks), and you have your wise but ultimately out of touch with reality heiress of sorts. Then you have your gay beauty consultant and chef, your witch of a sister, your drunk and depressed father (I got some serious vibes of Lars and the Real Girl from the description of the father’s post-death behavior, anyone else?), and you’ve got a varied, but also very centralized, cast.

There’s also a solid overall setup: yes, it’s cliche, but it’s clear that she is going to be torn between the story she sees, the life of opulence she wants to either deconstruct or analyze, and what she actually experiences with these two young girls. Still, though, that’s more work in terms of setting up a protagonist than either Gossip Girl or 90210 did the past few seasons: while Privileged doesn’t quite have Gossip Girl’s mean streak, the show does have a diverse and broad range of potential settings, set pieces, entanglements, literary allusions (I do love me some Great Gatsby) to choose from in the future.

So, consider me on board: it might not be perfect, but it’s an example of how to do a show like this in a way that doesn’t come across as an empty and vapid shell of a series by its second week…although, I guess time will tell.

Cultural Observations

  • Story time: I actually read The Great Gatsby in the twelfth grade, and we read it out loud in class (as those classes are wont to do). Unfortunately, I was designated narrator, so I was reading everything that wasn’t spoken dialogue. So I think I will, at some point when I have free time not spent watching television, I will have to reread the book without that experience to truly appreciate it.
  • The pilot demonstrates an oft-used technique for exposition: giving a character (in Megan’s own words) a form of tourette’s that allows them to spout out so much gibberish that it seems like general neuroses as opposed to a plot device. I got a decent sense of Laurel and Megan both from their little conversation, and while the tragedy was a lot to soak in within twenty seconds making a little line out of it actually did make it quite memorable.
  • It took me way too long to remember that I best know Debi Mazar from her time on Entourage, so it was nice to see a little cameo for her in the opening scenes. My one complaint about the New York scene, although not the only one I could make, is the use of Vi-jay-jay – not only was it kind of crass for a kid to say, but I’m personally of the mind that using a term pretty much only popular due to another TV show (Grey’s Anatomy) is drawing too much attention to your pop culture infuences.
  • Speaking of which, Megan didn’t strike me as a Spider-Man fan – her pop culture stuff is a bit all over the map to be honest, she’s definitely not being written evenly…but it’s a pilot, so that’s to be expected.

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