WORDS: REGEN ROUTMAN, STAFF WRITER
I would like to take this opportunity to tell you about a television show. Not just any television show – a show that was, dare I say, the greatest non-Kardashian, canceled-after-one-season reality show to ever grace the E! Network.
This may seem like an incredibly niche category. Okay, it definitely is a very niche category. But this show will change your life. Probably. Or at least give you something to watch while drunk.
The show is Pretty Wild. It aired in 2010 on E! and followed the exploits of three sisters as they pursued their modeling careers, or something (it’s not really important. Like most reality shows in this follow-a-family-around subgenre, career takes a backseat). When you watch the nine episodes that aired in its first and only season (all available on Netflix, by the way), it becomes clear from the first few moments that Pretty Wild was meant to ape the success of Keeping Up With The Kardashians. The two shows have many similar elements, including (but not limited to):
· Three stupidly hot sisters (in Pretty Wild, Tess, Alexis, and Gabby; in KUWTK, Kourtney, Khloe, and Kim) living in or around Los Angeles
· The sisters wear a lot of makeup at all times, even the morning
· They discuss their sisterhood frequently
· They are all affected by an extreme, near-debilitating vocal fry
· There’s a sort-of ditzy mother (PW has Andrea, while KUWTK has Kris)
· She clearly wants to suck the youthful energy and unwrinkled skin from her children like a Dementor sucks souls
· The mother also has a vaguely short haircut
· She acts as a kind of business manager to her stupidly hot daughters
· The sisters have shady significant others who
o Have strange tans
o Are of wildly varying attractiveness
o Obviously just want to be on TV
· A dramatic soundtrack plays in each scene, all composed of knock-off, generic songs
· There is a total pushover step-dad rocking pre-normcore normcore (Bruce in KUWTK; the step-dad in Pretty Wild isn’t even worth mentioning)
I could go on. For instance, I think it’s worth noting that both KUWTK and Pretty Wild feature younger sisters who have a one-episode arc concerning their parents wanting them to learn the value of a dollar and force the daughter in question to work with dogs, for some reason. But I digress.
Pretty Wild does have its differences from KUWTK, though. What may seem like a routine, follow-some-hot-chicks-around reality show actually has tons of odder details. The sisters and their mother all practice a strange, New-Agey religion based on the film, The Secret –yeah, the movie version of that book that Oprah said you should buy. Not even the actual book. The movie. They end every episode by holding hands and proclaiming, “And so it is!” Their mother, Andrea, is often depicted wearing weird clip-on cables on her ears, which I assume are some kind of low-key New Age electroshock therapy. The girls are also homeschooled (and I use that term loosely) around the movie version of The Secret; kind of like how in high school, you watched the movie version of The Crucible instead of reading the book, and then you wrote a report on that. Basically, it’s not quite up to standards.
"And So it is!"
Pretty Wild isn’t just hot chicks receiving a poor education, however. Alexis, the middle sister, was arrested shortly after filming the pilot for her involvement in the Bling Ring, those teens who broke into Paris Hilton’s home and took her shit and danced on her closet stripper pole (I’m getting all my information from the 2013 classic film The Bling Ring, so my information may not be 100% accurate. But you get the point.) Alexis insists throughout the season that she was not involved at all, which even without knowing that she served a six-month sentence for these crimes in 2010, is utterly preposterous. Her dramatic cries of protest ring utterly false.
At one point in the show, Alexis is interviewed by Vanity Fair for an article on the Bling Ring; when the article is published, she absolutely loses. Her. Shit. (see this gif or this video of the whole thing). This breakdown was pretty internet-famous, for a while; it’s also fucking hilarious. But it’s not even what makes Pretty Wild so great.
The two oldest sisters, Alexis and Tess, run around in their underwear and obsess about different lame love interests; they go to Mexico for a very dubious “charity event;” they plan their younger sister’s Sweet Sixteen party (thrown in their living room, featuring fondue and a very famous house music DJ, if you were wondering). They have multiple sisterly chats while in various state of undress, which depending on how cynical you are, can either suggest a certain level of sisterly comfort, or a slimy producer behind the camera, directing our gaze onto their perfect thighs as they talk.
Shows like Pretty Wild, if you think about them for too long (which clearly, I have), begin to show the split between reality and “reality.” Things sort of fall apart at the seams – phone calls seem too planned; modeling contracts are offered without any real impetus; everything starts to seem just a tiny bit false. Pretty Wild itself is a unique reality television experience, simply because we already know how it ends. We know Alexis is guilty and that she’s going to go to jail—that is (presumably) why the show ended as early as it did. The show follows her to her lawyer’s office, shows her running in and out of the courthouse. The last episode follows her while she receives her sentence.
Pretty Wild attempts to paint Alexis as a total innocent, but these attempts totally backfire. As we move deeper and deeper into the legal process and the show continues to focus on (questionably) hot guys and trips to Cabo and petty sister dramas, the artifice cracks. This young woman is guilty, and everyone around her knows it, even the viewer. To watch all nine episodes of Pretty Wild is not just to enjoy a generic reality show, it is to become complicit in an increasingly obvious series of lies. Watching it is unlike watching any other reality show because, in this case, the producer’s manipulations are incredibly obvious. Other shows allow you some plausible deniability – you can accept their skewed, plotted version of reality because they make it easy for you to do so, especially if you watch them without a critical eye. Even though we know, logically, that reality shows are faked, these shows keep their cast members and storylines in the realm of the possible. But Pretty Wild picks at our understanding of the real because even though we know one of its central characters is lying through her teeth the entire time, the show still insists that she is telling the truth.
At the end of the day, however, Pretty Wild is simply a piece of reality-show fluff, canceled before it could actually become a hit. But watching it provides a kind of unique insight into just how falsified our TV reality is. You can pick apart the editing choices, the weird, generic, mood-altering music they insert into scenarios and conversations, the weirdly contrived plot points and casual nudity. In these nine episodes, we get a lot more than just oddly-timed yoga sessions and lingerie photo shoots; we get a comforting kind of reality, one where you can ignore your guilty conscience and pending jail sentence with a bowed head and New Age prayers. And so it is.