"If you Googled me, this is what you'd see," chirps Tinsley Mortimer, by way of non-explanation, in the opening minutes of the CW's new reality show High Society. While she's not being completely forthright – the subsequent montage of Tinsley Mortimer, with her new pin-straight hair, contrasts mightily with the flouncing-curl-dominated results of my own Google search – you can't really blame her. Who hasn't sought a new look in the wake of a breakup? It's this breakup – her recent divorce from high school sweetheart Topper Mortimer, the camera-shy grandson of a former Standard Oil president – that is nominally put forth as the show's raison d'etre: how will The Tinz live her new single life? (The answer, for starters: in a new loft in Chelsea, to the great chagrin of her mother Dale Mercer, a Jackie Onassis-coiffed woman who abhors the apartment's location in "the Midtown" and laments that she just finished decorating Tinsley's old place.)
But do we even care?
For just as the intrigue of Spencer and Heidi stole what was supposed to be Lauren Conrad's signature show, the despicable antics of High Society's auxiliary characters threaten to overshadow its ostensible star. "Gimme my money!" hollers one of them, Paul Johnson Calderon, more than once. It's unclear whether he's trying to market a catchphrase or if it's an actual favorite refrain. As with everything else on the show, it's likely the truth is a little of both.
Calderon hits up Mother for fifty grand over "high tea" at the Russian Tea Room, a location as suspiciously deserted as Julia Allison's Valentine's dinner. When his mother (whose declaration that "I would love it if he met someone like Anderson Cooper" was the line of the episode) grants him half that amount, a ravenous grin spreads over his frog-like face. This showboating covetousness is vintage "PJC." It was only a year ago that the former Vogue staffer was publicly shamed after being caught on a security camera stealing a purse from The Eldridge. Shame, though, is a relative concept. "To be honest, that purse was like, my Paris Hilton porno," he explains with a glimmer of pride.
It's harder to pinpoint the historical precedent for the hot mess that is Jules Kirby: I can't decide whether her performance in the pilot reeks more strongly of Michael Richards, Mel Gibson, or Naomi Campbell. "I use the N-word sometimes, and I really think it should be okay to say," she says lazily to the camera, with her words tempered only by the absurdity of what comes next: "My dream is to work for the U.N." You can almost hear the production staff snickering in the edit room.
There is no love lost between once bff's Kirby and Calderon. "He is a vile, disgusting human being," says she, while he dubs her "the queen of the dregs of society" whose rap sheet includes an arrest in the Hamptons, a mysterious country house arson, and a faux touch of cancer. (That last one appears to be some hot new trend.) "He stole my Blackberry," Kirby snipes back. That last part's pretty rich coming from a girl who in one scene alone hurls what appear to be four different phones at the wall of her suite at the Empire Hotel. (It's instructive to just think of Kirby as a child: her bratty tantrums are punctuated by voiceovers in which she sits with the slack posture, blank expression, and petulant chin-jut of a sedated hyperactive kid in a time-out chair.) Calderon and Kirby do agree on one thing: how to treat the help.
Kirby curses out the concierge at two in the morning, while Calderon, flush with his new trust fund cash, promptly books a hotel room and smarms into the phone: "I'd also like to have a bubble bath drawn." Later on, when his galpal spills champagne in their limo, he reflexively barks at the chauffeur. "You need to learn how to drive."
Contrasted with this diabolical duo, the rest of the show's characters appear borderline normal, perhaps in part because self-proclaimed "sexy social" Devorah Rose is absent from the first couple episodes. Tinsley's sister Dabney Mercer, for one, spends the bulk of her screen time attempting to mediate the battles of others with no lasting success. (Her polite pacifism is commendable, but comes off kinda dull.) A thing "named" Malik So Chic, meanwhile, appears to have been regenerated from a torn shred of one of Andre Leon Talley's old velvet capes, but at least he's not running around throwing drinks in anyone's face. Which brings us to poor Alexandra Osipow, Tinsley's bestie, who gets caught in a Calderon-Kirby crossfire and emits howls of agony the likes of which I had not heard since that grape-stomping news anchor fell on her face.
And then there's Tinz, whose whole being – all "ringlets and pastels" – is so staged and so photographed that it's hard to know if she's an actual person. An opening scene in which she pensively paws at the floor-to-ceiling windows in her new apartment seems as scripted as the show's final shot of her sobbing in bed in a pose reminiscent of John Lennon's last look (sans the nudity, obvs.) I could have used less of that nonsense and more of the darling baby photos of Tinsley and Dabney and their ponies du jour. (That bang-tastic wedding photo was also a treat.) "I'm about to take you into a world where nothing is as perfect as it seems," offers freckle-faced Tinsley at first, almost ominously, but her words ring as hollow as her vacant new loft.
A much more apt descriptor of High Society's sad emptiness comes, however unwittingly, from Paul Johnson Calderon. "I want to have a family; I want to have a book published," he proclaims early on. "Like, I just desperately want to like, be loved."