In an ironic twist unexpected of parent child-friendly ABC Family, the channel’s new show “Beautiful People” serves as a perfect homage to our image-obsessed culture. It reminds you of a standard Monet.From far away, the show looks like a refreshing take on the role beauty plays within our culture. A closer look, however, reveals that it utterly lacks the panache or unified execution to make up for the absence of substance, ultimately making it a vapid primetime soap opera. And with most of its parts husked off of other, more colorful beasts, most things on the “Beautiful People” set give the viewer a pretty annoying sense of Déjà Vu.
“Beautiful People” introduces us to the Kerrs, a middle-class family made up of three women who have just been relocated to New York City from New Mexico. Lynn, played by Daphne Zuniga (TV’s “Melrose Place”), is the strong matriarch of the family who decides to go to New York after her younger daughter, Sophie, played by relative newcomer Sarah Foret, wins a scholarship to prestigious Manhattan prep school Brighton Academy. Tagging along is her older daughter Karen, played by Torrey Devito, an aspiring model.
Shockingly, almost every fictional television family manages to get one kid into an “exclusive” day school. Admissions standards are certainly odd these days, aren’t they?
The storyline focuses largely on Sophie’s attempt to navigate the stormy seas of adolescence amidst the decadent lifestyles of New York society’s crème-de-la-crème, also known as the “Beautiful People.” She is joined by new friends Gideon (Ricky Mabe) and Annabelle (Kathleen Monroe), the aforementioned beautiful outcasts.
Lord knows the idea of people born into a world of wealth and entitlement is certainly nothing new. In the end, the show becomes like every other WB teen drama currently on the air.
“Beautiful People” attempts to be the edgier version of “Gilmore Girls” by showing fifteen year olds doing lines of coke in the bathroom of a meet-and-greet party on the first day back at school (because, of course, all rich kids are on drugs), while still retaining the saccharine sweetness of the perfect mother-daughter relationships so elusive in the real world.
Eating disorders also occupy a fair share of screen time: Paisley (played by Jordan Mabley), Queen Bee of the “BPs” (the nickname of the Beautiful People) is bulimic in order to fit into her size-two Helmut Lang’s. And Anorexia Nervosa rears its overplayed head in the sister, Karen — because, for every skinny beautiful model-wannabe, there is someone skinnier and more beautiful. These are all certainly fine plot devices — for 1997.
Most conventional seems to be the storyline developing around Lynn, who just happens to run into an old flame at the aforesaid meet-and-greet, played by James McCaffrey (TV’s “Rescue Me”). It’s only natural to move across the country, enroll your daughter in the most posh prep school on the East Coast and run in “the one that got away,” a.k.a. Julian Fiske. OK, now they are just stretching reality.
The banality of the plotline does not stop there. Mr. Fiske just so happens to be the father of Nicholas Fiske (Jackson Rathbone), the leader of the Beautiful People and young Sophie’s crush. The apple does not fall far from the tree in either case. Nor does the plotting, which, in this case, seems to have fallen from a really, really convoluted tree.
If the show is any indication, ABC Family should stick to cartoons and feel-good family movies and leave the angst-ridden teen drama genre to those who know it best. Taking a warmed-over concept and tossing some notes cribbed straight from “Mean Girls” isn’t the most forward-thinking of concepts.
ABC Family needs to make up their minds — either “Beautiful People” must be witty or chock full of stylish diversions. Otherwise, it remains as inconspicuous as their other teen drama, “Wildfire” (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, then that’s exactly the point). Of course, eerily like the ultra-skinny Manhattan scions, when the style of a show is this played out, it only makes what little substance there is look that much worse.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars