Calling all bachelors: If you’re a “Wall Street, lawyer, doctor kind of guy,” or “a man in a suit,” or “somebody who has money,” or just an “ambitious, successful gentleman,” then have I got a girl for you! Take your pick of one of the six Long Island princesses featured on Bravo’s (CMCSA) aptly titled reality show, Princesses Long Island. These cute, Jewish ladies, all living at home with their overbearing parents, are hoping to get hitched to dudes with cash. As 30-year-old Ashlee puts it: “I’m looking for amenities.”
The marriage plot is a storytelling device at least as old as Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters, authors who also skewer their rich and silly female characters. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife,” goes the famous opening line of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. In the first scene of Princesses Long Island, 28-year-old Chanel’s father, Sam, echoes the sentiment. “You need a man to take care of you,” he says to his daughter, who’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown because her younger sister is getting married first. “L’chaim!” the rest of the family chimes in. That Chanel might instead get a job never comes up.
Princesses Long Island is the latest entry in Bravo’s long tradition of shows about the ridiculousness of the American upper class. It’s an origins story, but instead of the character-building arc of future superheroes, we see the early curdling of values that leads to Real Housewife-dom. Actually, it’s not so early—the princesses range in age from 27 to 30, but they act more like teenagers, aimlessly driving around Great Neck and tanning at their parents’ pools. “I don’t have to pay rent. Cleaning my room? No, I don’t have to. My mom’s there,” says 29-year-old Erica. Joey, also 29, is the lone member of the group who has to work. She’s not, she laments, “part of the lucky-sperm club.” Luckier is 27-year-old Amanda, who goes bathing suit shopping with her boyfriend and mom, because “he loves seeing me [in one], and my mom can pay for it.”
As with the Real Housewives franchise, Bravo’s clever editing emphasizes these characters’ cartoonishness. The network loves to have it both ways—pimping its stars’ tabloid fame while also acting superior to them. Bravo’s executive vice president of development and talent, Andy Cohen, says, “We have a certain wink, which is the Bravo wink. We may linger on a shot or we may let something play out longer, but we leave it to you.” There’s a particularly winky scene in the first episode, in which Ashlee gets lost in a working-class neighborhood. She calls her dad in a panic. “There’s literally benches and couches on the porch,” she says of the completely pleasant-looking area. “I know people don’t live like us—I feel really bad for them,” she continues. “I literally want to give everyone a hug and then get the hell out.”
The show is, literally, bad for the Jews. The princesses are money-obsessed and have grating, nasal accents (episode titles include “You Had Me at Shalom” and “Shabbocalypse Now”). New York Congressman Steven Israel has already condemned the series, saying it “leads viewers to believe … that if you’re Jewish and live on Long Island, you’re narcissistic, you are all about money, and that a Shabbat dinner is all about drinking and fighting.” But Bravo is equal opportunity when it comes to stereotyping: The Real Housewives of Atlanta features brash, wig-pulling black women, and the Shahs of Sunset presents Iranian-Americans as gaudy and shady.
In a post-Jersey Shore world, it’s pointless to get riled up about reality show sendups of any particular ethnic or cultural group. More offensive is Bravo’s belief in its viewers’ endless appetite for parties that devolve into alcohol-fueled screaming fights, which is just how the Princesses Long Island première ends. The twist here is that in the middle of the chaos—the word “trashy” is thrown around, as are drinks—Amanda announces that she and her boyfriend, who’s just been accused of poking another girl on Facebook, are soon to be engaged. “We’re getting married!” she yells angrily. For a moment the riot quiets down, and then everyone breaks into loud, envious applause.