Trying to build upon the over-hyped non-phenomenon that is “Gossip Girl,” CW follows up with another literary-based hour that’s smart, breezy and glossy, while cramming a whole lot of exposition into its pilot. “Reba’s” JoAnna Garcia plays the likable heroine, who stumbles into the role of tutoring a pair of spoiled-rotten Palm Beach twins under the watchful eye of their imperious grandmother. Great it’s not, but the fizzy mix of soapy elements, screwy comedy, high-society hijinks and romance dovetails with where the netlet has been heading programming-wise, even if its ratings have been closer to pauper than princess.
Garcia plays 23-year-old Megan Smith, an Ivy League-educated wannabe journalist counseled to learn about the society families she hopes to cover by traveling in “fancy-people circles.” A quick trip to Palm Beach leads to a brief misunderstanding, and bingo, she’s hired by cosmetics mogul Laurel Limoges (Anne Archer) to supervise her 15-year-old charges Rose and Sage (Lucy Kate Hale and Ashley Newbrough, respectively) and ensure they do well enough to get into Duke. Usually, being able to dunk a basketball does the trick, but whatever.
Of course, the girls resist instruction, making like little Paris Hilton wannabes. Yet as effectively introduced by Rina Mimoun’s adaptation of Zoey Dean’s book, neither are one-dimensional characters, betraying their own distinct traits — from pettiness to vulnerability — that add a little meat to those pampered bones.
The pilot also quickly incorporates two potential love interests for Megan — her longtime friend Charlie (Michael Cassidy), and a dreamy next-door neighbor (Brian Hallisay) — as well as hints of a backstory about how she fled her dysfunctional family, leaving behind an angry sister (Kristina Apgar) who still resides in Palm Beach. Throw in the Limoges’ flamboyant chef Marco (Allan Louis) — who surveys one of the beaus and silently urges Megan to “have babies with him” — and there’s enough going on here, at the least, to lure the average viewer back for a second episode.
Granted, not everything works equally well, beginning with Megan’s habit of running off at the mouth, Mary Tyler Moore-style, when she’s nervous — a little of which goes a long way. Nevertheless, Garcia’s adorableness (including a flattering new mop of red hair) makes her an appealing protagonist, and the setting offers a fertile framework for various misadventures.
“Privileged” will follow “90210,” the more-ballyhooed (and despite all the teen sex, bor-ring) follow-up to the 1990s Fox series that just premiered with impressive ratings by CW’s standards. The netlet can only hope that enough of those tourists come back to give this superior hour a semblance of a lead-in.
In terms of thematic compatibility, the posh Palm Beach of “Privileged” (actually Malibu as a stand-in) certainly looks like a compatible zip code; still, for CW, it’s going to take several more smart moves managing its devalued post-merger real estate to avoid the TV version of foreclosure.