Skip to main content

Pilot Inspektor: An Advance Review of CW's "The Beautiful Life"

Imagine a series that features some very beautiful people indulging in some very dubious behavior in Manhattan. Picturing Gossip Girl? Guess again.

The Beautiful Life, launching this fall on the CW, does approximate the decadence and excess of that other drama series but it takes place in the demimonde of the modeling world rather than in the privileged corridors of power on the Upper East Side... and it does so with a flair and distinctive filmic style all its own, creating a darkly frothy series about the downside of famous faces and fast-made fortunes.

Written by Adam Giaudrone (Swingtown) and executive produced by Mike Kelley (Swingtown), Carol Barbee (Jericho), and Ashton Kutcher, The Beautiful Life follows the personal and professional lives of some of New York's modeling elite as they head out to go-sees, walk the runway, issue catty remarks, and crowd together (among other things) in an underlighted New York apartment building with a picturesque view of the Brooklyn bridge.

I had an opportunity to watch the pilot presentation for The Beautiful Life and was struck by how much more gritty and compelling it was than I had anticipated. It also balances a soapy plot about superhot models with a cutting look at what really goes on behind the catwalk. It certainly doesn't hurt to have Zak Posen himself turn up playing himself to lend the proceedings some authenticity.

As for the models, they are motley bunch of bristly personalities, jaded egos, and killer cheekbones. For the most part, anyway. There's newly crowned It Girl Raina (Last House on the Left's Sara Paxton) who gets the opportunity of a lifetime when she gets to wear Posen's showstopper of a dress in his fashion show, ripping the coveted slot away from scandal-laden supermodel Sonja (The OC's Mischa Barton), who's been out of commission in Rio the last six months. (Was it drugs? A vacation? Rehab? I'm not telling.) Despite Sonja's protestations and the jealousy of fellow up-and-comer Marissa Delfina (Secret Diary of a Call Girl's Ashley Madekwe), Raina does make it out there in that dress... and suddenly becomes the talk of the fashion business after wowing the crowds.

Meanwhile, Iowa farm boy Chris Andrews (The Line's Benjamin Hollingsworth), in New York on a family vacation (which his farmer dad says he'll be paying off "for the next three harvests") gets discovered by lecherous agent Simon (Dusan Dukic), who has more on his mind than just modeling when it comes to Chris. Not surprisingly, Chris and Raina get thrown together on several separate occasions and their shared good nature and affability make them fast friends, though there are definite sparks between them, even as Raina conceals some secret from her past.

Yet not is all right in model world. Sonja is determined to claw her way back to the top if she has to, especially as the head of Covet Modeling Agency, Claudia Foster (Friends' Elle Macpherson), seems to regard her as little more than a has-been. But a Versace campaign beckons... that is, if the job doesn't go to Raina. Meanwhile, the rest of the models, including Egan (As the World Turns' Jordan Woolley), Issac (High School Musical's Corbin Bleu), and Kai (Twelve's Nico Tortorella) make life as difficult as possible for newcomer Chris, who winds up making his feelings towards Simon clear enough at the agency's anniversary party.

While there's a certain shakiness to the start (not helped at all by the fact that some of the exposition--especially that surrounding farm boy Chris and his family--is laughably over the top), the pilot presentation quickly finds its feet even as it dazzles with an elegant grittiness that's miles away from the glossiness of Gossip Girl. (Special kudos go out to director Christian Duguay for the backstage scenes at the fashion show, Chris' photo shoot, and Raina's runway moment.)

Anchoring the cast is the remarkable Paxton, who manages to charm with little more than a smile and a tilt of the head. That she manages to come off as sunny and optimistic (though devious in her own way) without seeming Pollyanna-ish is no small feat. And the always delightful Ashley Madekwe (so memorable as Bambi on Secret Diary of a Call Girl's second season) brings an energy and edge to her role as Raina's frenemy Marissa, a girl prone to offering "advice" just cutting enough to make you take a misstep in your Jimmy Choos. I'm hoping that subsequent episodes will give Benjamin Hollingsworth's Chris more to do than glower and reluctantly take his clothes off but here he's affable enough that you buy his fish-out-of-water spiel. (I'm less than sold on Misha Barton, who seems to be channeling a slightly older yet just as spoiled Marissa Cooper here.)

Ultimately, The Beautiful Life is a surprising treat: a rare combination of grittiness and glamour filled with heaps of potential. It's a slick and stylish production that doesn't forget our obsession with pretty faces... or the pettiness that often lurks behind such glittering facades.

The Beautiful Life will air Wednesdays at 9 pm ET/PT this fall on the CW.


Bella Spruce said…
I had doubts but after reading your review (thanks!) and watching the clips I have to say I'm intrigued. I thought that Misha Barton was the main lead but it looks like it's more of an ensemble cast, which is a good thing. I will at least check out the first episode!
Anonymous said…
The harvest thing made me laugh out loud. Surely they could have been less heavyhanded with the exposition? ;)

Marisa Cooper bugs the hell out of me. Recast her and I could watch.
Mazza said…
Could be the perfect replacement for Gossip Girl for me. The promos look intriguing and your review tips the scales for me. Will check it out this fall. Any chance CW will do a sneak like the GG/Lily pilot????
Wendyburd1 said…
After I saw the clips on Futoncritic I knew this show was going to be killer fun!! With so many real modeling shows, we want to see the catfights and the more interesting (less ANTM) the better!!

Popular posts from this blog

Katie Lee Packs Her Knives: Breaking News from Bravo's "Top Chef"

The android has left the building. Or the test kitchen, anyway. Top Chef 's robotic host Katie Lee Joel, the veritable "Uptown Girl" herself (pictured at left), will NOT be sticking around for a second course of Bravo's hit culinary competition. According to a well-placed insider, Joel will "not be returning" to the show. No reason for her departure was cited. Unfortunately, the perfect replacement for Joel, Top Chef judge and professional chef Tom Colicchio, will not be taking over as the reality series' host (damn!). Instead, the show's producers are currently scouring to find a replacement for Joel. Top Chef 's second season was announced by Bravo last month, but no return date has been set for the series' ten-episode sophomore season. Stay tuned as this story develops. UPDATE (6/27): Bravo has now confirmed the above story .

BuzzFeed: Meet The TV Successor To "Serial"

HBO's stranger-than-fiction true crime documentary The Jinx   — about real estate heir Robert Durst — brings the chills and thrills missing since Serial   wrapped up its first season. Serial   obsessives: HBO's latest documentary series is exactly what you've been waiting for.   The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst , like Sarah Koenig's beloved podcast, sifts through old documents, finds new leads from fresh interviews, and seeks to determine just what happened on a fateful day in which the most foul murder was committed. And, also like  Serial  before it,  The Jinx may also hold no ultimate answer to innocence or guilt. But that seems almost beside the point; such investigations often remain murky and unclear, and guilt is not so easy a thing to be judged. Instead, this upcoming six-part tantalizing murder mystery, from director Andrew Jarecki ( Capturing the Friedmans ), is a gripping true crime story that unfolds with all of the speed of a page-turner; it

BuzzFeed: "The Good Wife Is The Best Show On Television Right Now"

The CBS legal drama, now in its sixth season, continually shakes up its narrative foundations and proves itself fearless in the process. Spoilers ahead, if you’re not up to date on the show. At BuzzFeed, you can read my latest feature, " The Good Wife Is The Best Show On Television Right Now," in which I praise CBS' The Good Wife and, well, hail it as the best show currently on television. (Yes, you read that right.) There is no need to be delicate here: If you’re not watching The Good Wife, you are missing out on the best show on television. I won’t qualify that statement in the least — I’m not talking about the best show currently airing on broadcast television or outside of cable or on premium or however you want to sandbox this remarkable show. No, the legal drama is the best thing currently airing on any channel on television. That The Good Wife is this perfect in its sixth season is reason to truly celebrate. Few shows embrace complexity and risk-taking in t