TV REVIEW: ‘Pretty Wild’

Television Critic

Western civilization comes just a littler closer to its final collapse Sunday with the premiere of “Pretty Wild,” the latest hot-chicks reality series from E!, already home to “The Girls Next Door,” “Kendra” and “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” At some point in its development this would have been sold as the story of a former (but still hot) Playboy model and her three hot daughters, but it has since become the story of a former Playboy model, one of whose hot daughters is an alleged member of the so-called Bling Ring, the gang of junior sneak thieves who lifted some $3 million of stuff from the homes of younger-set Hollywood celebrities in 2008 and 2009.

“I am the mother of three wild and crazy teenage girls,” says Andrea Neiers (and/or Arlington), who is raising them on incense, Adderall and lessons from “the movie ‘The Secret.’ ”

As it turns out, according at least to the developing unreliable narrative, only two of the girls -- party bunnies Tess (now 20) and Alexis (now 19), whose arrest on suspicion of burglary is the centerpiece of the series premiere -- are wild and crazy; third child Gabby (now 16) is painted as sober and mature and critical of her sisters’ insufficiently corrected bad behavior. “She thinks I don’t follow through on punishment,” says Andrea, “because . . . I don’t.”

Moreover, as reported by Nancy Jo Sales in the March issue of Vanity Fair, and pointed out in various Web-posted comments by people who know the family, Tess is neither Andrea’s daughter nor Alexis’ sister, although she does live with the Neiers at times. This is not mentioned in the series premiere, nor is the fact that Tess has herself been naked for Playboy; as Tess Taylor Arlington, she was a Cybergirl of the Week in July 2009. You can look it up.

With its mix of pole dancing and prayer circles, lingerie modeling and legal problems, its graceless pacing and scattershot storytelling, this is one of the odder, more psychically exhausting reality shows to come down the pike. The genre seems increasingly devoted to mocking people too eager for attention to get the joke.

Again according to Sales, the participants were regularly fed lines by a producer, but you don’t need to know that to feel that the series is remarkably stage-managed, and that its subjects -- who clearly sincerely cherish their particular realities -- are being used less with affection than cold contempt.

Indeed, much of what is said here is so peculiar that one might be excused for mistaking the whole thing as an elaborate put-on -- especially given that comedian Chelsea Handler is an executive producer (a relationship that somehow didn’t come up when Handler interviewed Tess, Alexis and Gabby on her E! talk show recently). Describing why she, and not Tess, should be the one to appear in a video for rapper Mickey Avalon’s “Rock Bitch,” Alexis says, “It says in the song, ‘Sliding down from heaven on a stripper pole,’ and I was, like, well, that is totally me.”

When it comes to “good choices versus stupid choices,” observes stepfather Jerry Dunn -- the family’s “rock” -- there’s “a fine line between the two.” And here is a case in point.