Last night, I watched Kell on Earth, the new Bravo series about Kelly Cutrone, who owns the fashion publicity and branding firm People’s Revolution. I had seen Kelly before, on the MTV series The City, and I found her to be a much-needed dose of caustic truth serum in a world of fake ingenues with their fake jobs in some made-for-TV version of the fashion industry.
There is nothing glamorous or fake about what Kelly does. In fact, her life seems completely devoid of glamour. She seems to exist in permanent crisis mode. Her staff is cowed by her, one girl teetering on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Everyone is encouraged to Be Like Kerry, which means yell a lot, demand things, and belittle, berate, and humilate your underlings whenever possible.
Kelly proudly refers to herself as a bitch, but her team also insists she has a maternal side. (Stockholm syndrome?). She manifests this “maternal side” by inappropriately inserting herself in their private lives. She clearly does this for her own sport and amusement, so it’s hard to see this tendency as particularly nurturing. (Most of her staff are pretty blondes who probably learned everything they know about fashion by watching The Hills and slightly older brunette Kelly clones, but there are two gay men. One is your standard-issue overly tanned pretty boy; the other has a goth/punk thing, long stringy hair, and a hang-dog look and nasal voice reminiscent of Project Runway’s Santino. He seems less interested in fashion and more interested in cruising cute gay models at Fashion Week.)
On top of being a self-styled bitch, Kelly also sees herself as a whore. In one of the show’s most curious details, she is friends with Ashley Dupre—yes that Ashley Dupre, the high-priced call girl who led to Elliot Spitzer’s downfall. Last year, Kelly got a lot of bad publicity for letting Dupre sit in the front row of a fashion show. Kelly saw the outrage as the height of hypocrisy. “We’re all whores. I just service my clients in a different way.” Uh, okay. . .
What’s clearing missing from this wholesome tableaux? A 7-year-old girl, of course! Yes, Kelly has a daughter that she keeps stashed away in the apartment over the office where they leave (the father is out of the picture). Kelly thinks that living in the same building where she works is the height of ingenuity. She can pop in to read her little dumpling a story or throw her playfully on the bed, without missing any serious face time at the office. Clearly, she has no issues with work/life boundaries. (For her part, the 7-year-old is upset when mommy doesn’t put her front and center at a Chado Ralph Rucci fashion show. I weep for her future.)
Besides being a truly bad pun, the title Kell on Earth pretty much says it all. Kelly’s life does seem pretty hellish. Joyless, too. She’s miserable. Her staff is miserable. Her clients are entitled jerks. Wow, what’s not to like?
On a broader scale, what is with Americans and their fascination with bosses from hell? On Bravo alone, we have The Millionaire Matchmaker, Tabitha’s Salon Takeover, Flipping Out, The Rachel Zoe Project—all shows featuring uber-demanding bosses who never hesitate to crush an employee. There’s the curiously long run of Donald Trump’s The Apprentice. Plus, that Gordon Ramsey bloke. And the mother of all castrating bosses, Simon Cowell. (Is it a coincidence that many of these scolding superiors are British? Do Americans still have some sort of infantilized need to be told what to do by disapproving Brits? But I digress. . .)
At least Simon and a few of the others are charming. Kelly is sweaty, stressed out, exasperated, and exhausted. That’s entertainment? If Bravo says so. . .