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Poor but idealistic in 'Privileged' world

A young woman tutors rich twins in the CW's fairy tale with a fine-looking cast.

September 09, 2008|Mary McNamara | Times Television Critic

The frothy, candy-colored pilot of the CW's "Privileged," which premieres tonight, left me fretting about two things. First, it implies that all one needs to gain entrance to Duke University is a working knowledge of "The Great Gatsby," which may be a disservice to the more impressionable among its audience. And second, and more disturbing, it goes out of its way to equate money with magic.

"Privileged" (which was formerly known as "Surviving the Filthy Rich." Good call, CW!) is, after all, a modern-day fairy tale in which the poor but idealistic Megan Smith (JoAnna Garcia), beset by the student loans for her Yale education, is fired from her magazine job because she won't stoop to its gossip-hungry, TMZ-like demands.

But because Megan is quirky and smart, her editor sets her up as tutor to the twin granddaughters of cosmetics queen Laurel Limoges (Anne Archer). With a private jet as pumpkin-coach stand-in, Megan is whisked off to Laurel's Palm Beach castle. There she is offered a salary, a princess-perfect room and a flashy convertible and is told that, if she can get Sage and Rose Baker accepted into Duke, Laurel will pay off her student loans. There's even a handsome prince next door.

No magic wand, however, no pixie dust, no enchanted rose. Just an endless line of credit backed by Laurel's business acumen and good fortune in the local real estate market.

A money-can't-buy-happiness undercurrent dutifully runs through "Privileged," but for a show so clearly determined to be sharp and sassy, the unquestioning acceptance of wealth as some sort of alternate universe or higher state of being is very, very depressing.

Which doesn't mean it isn't fun to watch. Written by Rina Mimoun ("Pushing Daisies," "Gilmore Girls," "Everwood"), "Privileged" may find a direct hit with young women (and their mothers) who take comfort in the trials of the super-rich but find "Gossip Girl" or "Dirty Sexy Money" too racy.

As Megan, Garcia ("Reba") is an absolute charmer, blessed with a lovely but elastic face and an ability to deliver comedic monologues with a joyful rat-a-tat-tat not heard since the glory days of Rosalind Russell. The twins are appealing symbols of both sides of the spoiled heiress coin. The perpetually sneering Sage (Ashley Newbrough) is so bratty she shoots Megan with a Taser and gets away with it, while Rose (Lucy Kate Hale) is sweeter (Rose, get it?) though equally overindulged.

In her corner, Megan has old friend Charlie (Michael Cassidy), so down-to-earth he's a waiter, and Laurel's chef, Marco (Allan Louis), so gay he gets all the best lines. ("Look at you, so cute with the waiting," he says to Megan when the twins skip their first tutorial.)

Throw in handsome neighbor Will Philips (Brian Hallisay) and you've got one of the best-looking and viewer-friendly casts on television. Also what has to be the cushiest job ever bestowed by a real writer onto a character writer. Megan's duties seem to consist of getting the girls to read one book on their summer reading list (never mind that most privately educated 17-year-olds have already read "The Great Gatsby.") Now, I'm pretty sure that if that was all it took to get into Duke, there'd be a lot more Blue Devils walking around, but hey, for room and board in Palm Beach, not a bad gig.

Of course, it's Not That Simple. Not only are the twins given to saying things like "I throw up cuter than that outfit," this is not Megan's first trip to Palm Beach. Apparently she was raised there until a split with her father and sister (because this is a fairy tale, Mom is MIA) sent her scurrying up the coastline. Enter lovely but angry sister Lily (Kristina Apgar) to mix things up.

So many great dresses, so much YA angst, so much deep appreciation for the varying levels of shallow -- no wonder Lauren Conrad wants in.




Where: CW

When: 9 p.m. today

Rating: TV-PG-L (may be unsuitable for young children, with an advisory for coarse language)

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