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Bravo's Throwback NYC Prep Marathon is a Window to Another Time

The opposite of woke, the still-addictive 2009 reality series is a reminder of how far we've come.
  • Kelli Tomashoff, Sebastian Oppenheim, Camille Hughes, Peter "PC" Peterson, Jessie Leavitt and Taylor DiGiovanni in NYC Prep. (Bravo)
    Kelli Tomashoff, Sebastian Oppenheim, Camille Hughes, Peter "PC" Peterson, Jessie Leavitt and Taylor DiGiovanni in NYC Prep. (Bravo)

    For eight hours today, the world will feel like 2009 again as the network best known for The Real Housewives and its ilk flashes back to the late-Aughts with a rare throwback marathon of the short-lived reality series NYC Prep.

    The nine-episode series, which followed a group of Manhattan teens in an attempt to be the Laguna Beach to Gossip Girl's The O.C. — that is, a reality version of a popular Josh Schwartz/Stephanie savage teen drama — was swiftly cancelled by Bravo after one season. Ratings were never great, but it always seemed like complaints from parents at the upper-crust schools that the cast members attended contributed to the show's demise. After all, Bravo has given plenty of low-rated series time find an audience over the years.

    The audience that was there for NYC Prep was rabid, and remembers the show to this day. I should know: I watched every episode as it aired in 2009. My friends and I reveled in these kids' bad behavior and choices, from PC Peterson's hard-partying, to Jessie Leavitt's brazen and instantly iconic declaration that “guests of guests do not bring guests." It was all so gloriously melodramatic.

    By coincidence, this NYC Prep marathon happens to come at a time when I'm just finishing up my first-ever watch of The O.C. The two shows are a couple degrees apart from one other — The O.C. was Schwartz and Savage's first collaboration before Gossip Girl, which begat NYC Prep — but both offer a glimpse into what we cared about in the mid to late-Aughts.

    It's safe to say neither of these shows would work in 2020, at least not without significant retooling (as HBO Max seems to be doing with its upcoming Gossip Girl reboot). The casts were too white, too privileged, too unaware of the world outside their bubble. Even Sandy Cohen, family patriarch and defender of the underdog on The O.C., most frequently extended his hand to white, straight, brooding boys. NYC Prep was perhaps the worst offender of the bunch, as it presented a lily-white New York City that made shows like Friends and Sex and the City look diverse by comparison.

    That very disparity is what makes NYC Prep an ideal candidate for a throwback marathon. There's no updating to be done: It stands as a stark reminder of what culture used to be obsessed with, and the ways in which, even after a presidential election that had pundits declaring our country “post-racial," we were still utterly blind to how shows like this represented such a small slice of the world. We're still blind in many ways, but there's been some progress — in today's world, shows like NYC Prep would be roundly criticized before they even got to air.

    Watching these episodes again gives us a chance to feel what we felt back then, through the eyes of who we are now. Given our current reality, thinking about an entirely different era holds great appeal. We can thrust ourselves back into laughing about Sebastian Oppenheim's goofy hair, or admiring Camille Hughes' bold social-climbing to the top of her very limited social ladder. We can't stay in 2009, nor should we. But I'm happy to have this one-day chance to remember what we once cared about so intensely, and appreciate how we've changed since.

    Bravo's NYC Prep marathon airs Friday April 10th beginning at Noon ET/9:00 AM PT. The entire series is also available for streaming at BravoTV.com

    Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer, host, and RuPaul's Drag Race herstorian living in Los Angeles.

    TOPICS: Bravo, NYC Prep, Reality TV