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'The City' and 'Styl'd' never go out of fashion

The MTV programs focus on people who yearn to work in high-fashion jobs -- some more seriously than others.

November 22, 2009|By Jon Caramanica
  • Margaret Maldonado Agency's Jennifer Rade, with junior assistants Gary Samulian, left, and Brett Nelson on the MTV show "Styl'd."
Margaret Maldonado Agency's Jennifer Rade, with junior assistants… (MTV )

On the website for MTV's "The City," the "Hills" spinoff that features Whitney Port in a robust rotation of high-fashion jobs and shoes, there are a handful of interview videos starring her current boss, the reliably terror-inspiring Kelly Cutrone of People's Revolution, the fashion branding and public relations firm.

On "The City" (10:30 p.m. Tuesdays), now in the second part of its first season, the illusion of work is thinner than ever. Cutrone spends as much time praising Whitney for her fashion-designer aspirations as bossing her around and barking at other employees. So it's disorienting to watch Cutrone in these videos earnestly speaking to the cameras about the real stories behind the scenes, all of which, conveniently, reinforce the idea that what happens on "The City" is authentic: jobs and businesses are on the line.

How else can you explain the reign of terror and mediocrity that socialite Olivia Palermo has been bringing to the offices of Elle magazine this season? Just seeing her sit at a desk is uncomfortable, so ill-suited are her body and demeanor to office furniture. And then there's Roxy Olin, imported to be the Heidi to Whitney's Lauren. Roxy is a classic underminer, a ne'er-do-well for whom friendship and responsibility are recreational sports. The daughter of Ken Olin and Patricia Wettig, she's entitled and uncomfortable with boundaries, the sort that's supposed to make for gripping television but is really too banal to even be despicable.

It's particularly discouraging to see echoes of Wettig's elegant features flashing across the screen as Roxy nudges the show toward unpleasant chaos. In a recent episode, after ordering room service at their Miami hotel and charging it to the room, Whitney and Roxy each have $100 docked from their pay -- as if that were even a dent in their salaries for appearing on "The City."

Still, as farces go, it's a noble one, with lessons to teach about accountability and loyalty. And though this latter half of the season of "The City" lacks the emotional heft of the first half, it still retains some of the glamour that keeps the show vibrant even when its characters are not.

The competitors on MTV's "Styl'd" (11 p.m. Tuesdays) aspire to that high life. "Styl'd" is a docu-contest for would-be fashion stylists centered on the junior assistant program at the Margaret Maldonado Agency, one of the country's most prominent fashion and beauty agencies.

Each week the five would-be stylists are sent around Los Angeles performing tasks of little consequence for B- and C-list celebrities. These are young people who are in essence auditioning to be on some future version of "The City" -- a reality competition to be on a reality show.

But there's nothing effortless about the aspirants of this show, which could have benefited from a more thoughtful casting process. Apart from Brett, who in the first three episodes has already been fired and rehired, had a boot placed on his car and crashed the one lent to him by a coworker, little happens on "Styl'd," on which success hinges on finding just the right Western-style plaid shirt at a vintage store and where quibbles boil down to the politics of unpacking garment bags at celebrity fittings.

Steering this tanker is Jennifer Rade, a senior executive at Maldonado who knows exactly just how unseriously to take her charges (but not how unseriously to take their tasks). "Styl'd" suggests a foreign documentary about an obscure local industry, often leaving an aftertaste of confusion: What's all the anger about?

Although Rade barks, she only rarely truly snaps -- last week, she hilariously told Janna, the least impressive of the assistants, who was admitting to being nervous, "I don't know how to help you with that 'cause I'm not a therapist, I'm really a stylist." On TV, though, you have to be both -- just ask Kelly Cutrone.

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