London Calling

08.19.14

‘Made in Chelsea’ Has a New York Moment

The hit British reality show is debuting its New York episodes. What happens when the young, rich characters bring their hard-partying, bed-hopping antics stateside?

It was only a matter of time before the hedonistic yet anguished Sloane Rangers of Made in Chelsea, the hit British reality show, came to spread their well-spoken dysfunction to Manhattan. Not content to bitch and glare at each other on the King’s Road, the rich and entitled young people are now in New York, braying about “paaaaarties” and petty betrayals above the honking of taxis.

The transatlantic transfer is shameless. Nothing, absolutely nothing—bar the introduction of a few sundry American characters—has been changed for the show’s American incarnation. And so, just as implausibly as the characters once bumped into each other—“Oh, hi, amazing!”—on the streets of London, do they now in New York. Sure, coincidences happen, but these guys make big cities look like one-horse villages.

And still, according to the MiC vision, does New York for Brits mean pictures of the skyline and Empire State Building, and melting shots of 34th Street and 5th Avenue road signs. It is New York for visual dummies. There’s a little too much amazement among the British cast at meeting actual Americans, even though they’re in America, but perhaps their TV fishbowl is so small and incestuous New York might seem a little more intimidating to populate.

Of course, they are not cowed. The partying starts immediately with a group of extras, with the men whooping they are going to take the city, and fist-pumping at the skyline. They are embarrassing fools—and really, don’t be misled by their cut-glass accents. This may be futile advice: One of the points a male cast member makes is that the American accent goes by unnoted in London, whereas—mysteriously—the British accent in New York is still prized and delighted over. It means, they say, they can have sex with any American girl they want. Charmers, all.

It may have all the trappings of luxe and money, but the Made in Chelsea world is, like Jersey Shore, about a group of young people falling in and out of bed with each other, drinking, partying, and feuding—all dizzyingly quickly. The show is as precisely plotted as a soap opera and beautifully lit; entirely, fatally addictive. The difference with MiC is that its participants are incredibly rich and posh, and the show, shot as if through gossamer Instagram filters, is the TV equivalent of soft cashmere. 

The show is six seasons old in Britain. But the young hoorays have run out of streets in London SW3 to bump into each other, hence the trip to New York. In their own steam-rolling way, the Made in Chelsea cast achieve the impossible and make New York look small. “I’ll be in Central Park,” the philanderer Alex tells his much-wronged girlfriend Binky, and somehow those words enshrine precise geographical co-ordinates, because Binky finds Alex to tell him what a shit he is, and why she has come to New York to escape him and get over him. 

And then Jamie, a happy-go-lucky blond candy-maker, finds Alex in Central Park to tell him how awful he is for allegedly hooking up with his ex-girlfriend Tara. Jamie bursts into the most embarrassing set of man-tears ever to flow forth on television.

Minutes before, cameras in perfect position, two other characters met, supposedly randomly on a park bench. They flirt, swap numbers, next scene. The girls typically bitch about the boys in tea shops, the boys play poker (“Fucckiing aces”) and exchange boy-talk about girls that—sweetly—is every bit as gossipy and shrill as the girls’. “No wayyyyy, I don’t believe it” is the show’s cross-gender, most over-used phrase. 

“Spencer is the resident man-slut who sees himself as a one-man axe in a forest of gratefully swaying female trees.”

In the New York episodes, there is one new American female character, Billie, and there are two New York guys joining the British guys (“What do you have to do to pick up a British chick?”); one a roughish, raffish douche with a beard called Alik, the other a creepy, smoother, Ken Doll-type called Jules. Their presence makes you think all the better (worryingly) of all the arrested development-struck British men.

The key plot device of the Americans so far is to underscore how differently both countries perceive the notion of dating: in the U.S. you can date many simultaneously, in Britain, it is done one at a time, or you are immediately an adulterous wretch.

The irony that Made in Chelsea seeks to make this point is that none of the sexually carnivorous characters have much time for either notion in either country: They hop in and out of bed with each other as if these were involuntary body reflexes.

If they missed its quiet debut ages ago on the Style channel, American viewers can pick up the Made in Chelsea basics via the New York episodes, helpfully uploaded to YouTube.

Spencer is the resident man-slut who sees himself as a one-man axe in a forest of gratefully swaying female trees. He dumps or cheats on his girlfriends. His cheek is very used to being slapped. Jamie is his best friend, sweet and luckless, who pines after Lucy, the female approximation of Spencer—oh, hang on, she and Spencer were together once—who none of the girls like, and then they do like her, even though she will casually walk into a party as she does in the first New York episode and call someone a bitch and smile thinly.

The men are as catty as the women in MiC. In order to defend himself against Jamie, the shabby Alex, says: “You’re no angel, mate. You chased Phoebe. You ratted me out to Lucy, you told Lucy about the orgy.” And so it goes on. We rarely see these over-subsidized reprobates engaged in any kind of meaningful employment. 

One of the guys, Proudlock, seems to do something with T-shirts. Cheska—blonde, tall, fretful, a human being with thoughts and sensitivities and therefore an alien in MiC—does something in public relations. The most outrageous non-workers are Victoria and Mark Francis, a bitching tag team, their noses permanently turned up at the world. A bad day for Mark Francis would involve having to take public transport and having the crusts left on his bread. They are mostly separate from the main group and their most memorable scene in New York so far saw them taking sanctuary in a church for the peace and quiet, although I think Mark was probably after some stained-glass window design inspiration.

It is never too late to catch you up on all six seasons of this phenomenal show. But soon enough, watching “New York,” you’ll wonder, a little too obsessively, if creepy Ken-toy Jules will romance Rosie or Lucy; how Binky will exorcise the ghost of the no-longer bearded Alex; whether Louise, long recovered from being Spencer’s most grievously injured relationship roadkill, will get it on with Alik; and whether Billie, the new American female character, will ultimately choose master-player Spencer or the seemingly sweeter Stevie. 

Rosie having a romance storyline is, for a fan, radical in itself. She usually restricts herself to judging and bitching; but this awakening has been hastened in New York by feeling a yoga teacher’s cock imprinted on her back as he rearranged her pose. As she relayed the anecdote the normally unshockable group was—as the viewer at home—open-mouthed at the sudden emergence of potty-mouthed, horny Rosie. More, please.

In between the romances and confrontations, you will be seduced by MiC’s ridiculous shots of champagne glasses being filled, with its soft, fizzy sound; the trays of canapés and cakes that no one eats; the whooping rooftop parties illuminated by twinkly lights; sun-kissed days by the pool, the boys as smooth of body and toned as the girls.

You’ll wonder why the characters stare at each other for a second too long, without anyone saying, “Why are we not saying anything to each other?” There is ridiculous, swelling music as people walk out on each other’s lives, car doors slammed, yearning looks to the right of the camera, lives torn asunder…until next week’s episode when everyone reconfigures again. 

The show seeks to suggest, as Dynasty and Dallas did, that rich people suffer too. But, just as Dallas and Dynasty did, it also supposes that these agonies are best recovered from with day spas and endless champagne. You become used to the quick reconciliations after volcanic confrontations, the tossing of glossy hair, and of course the promises that “Tonight’s going to be great, we’re going to have so much fun.” 

And you know, just as they would say the same thing every week in The Hills, that no one, ever, ever, ever, has an evening out on MiC (or The Hills) without a bitch-fight, flung glass of wine, and an evening culminating in tears on the curb. 

These young British poshos are every bit as uncouth as Snookie and the gang. Bad behavior, especially on scripted reality shows, is universal. That Made in Chelsea has a story editor listed on its end credits is no surprise; it is blatantly set up. That shouldn't lessen the pleasure. Indeed, see it as a starter kit. The British channel E4, which shows Made in Chelsea in the UK, is currently making another reality show featuring a bunch of good-looking Brits trying to make it in Manhattan, and drinking and bed-hopping as they go. The early word is that Taking New York may be just as irresistible as Made in Chelsea. And if their horny hijinx leave you cold, well...there’s always Dame Maggie and Downton Abbey