When you are 25 and absurdly wealthy, the usual rules of apartment hunting don't apply. Pool cabanas, wraparound terraces, valets—all that's a given. But for your starter princess castle in the sky, you want a few intangibles.
"Let's check the selfie lighting in here," Morgan Stewart says, flipping a golden curl.
Her bosom bestie, Dorothy Wang, who's eyeing the $3.5 million Beverly Hills pad (her dad's a Chinese department-store billionaire, don't worry), holds out her bunny-eared iPhone and clicks. The pic of them in high-fashion skanktops goes out to Dorothy's 17,000 Instagram followers with the caption "L'Oreal, you can call us . . ." A couple hundred likes later, dwanngg is ready to close escrow.
Only there's more meta to the madness: As dwanngg and boobsandloubs_ shoot each other, a camera crew is shooting them. In a world where we're all shamelessly enthralled watching the witless and wealthy, it's only natural that "Rich Kids of Instagram," a Tumblr sensation in which insanely privileged youths flaunt #privatejetbirthdays and palatial closets full of reptile-skin shoes, has given way to #RichKids of Beverly Hills (which premieres on E! January 19), a series about the real-life trust-funders behind the hashtags.
Ogling the filthy rich never gets old. From Jay Gatsby and Jay McInerney to the Housewives and Shahs, they're the ones we love to hate loving, until we can't anymore. And so, as ratings for Keeping Up With the Kardashians have sagged, we are being served this new class of Richie Riches. Rather than make noises about social value, the show's makers unrepentantly hawk the spectacle, income disparity be damned. "You don't come to TV to watch your own problems," explains Jeff Olde, E!'s executive vice president of programming and development. "You come to watch, you know, someone agonizing over which $15,000 calfskin purse to buy."
If social media tells us anything, it's that the #RichKids love to overshare. "We have such an awesome, crazy lifestyle that we can't not show it to people," says Morgan, who, with winning snark and a model-perfect profile, projects as the queen bee. "I mean, it's like if you buy an amazing shoe and don't post it, it's almost like you didn't actually buy it, right? Life's too fabulous to keep everything to yourself."
Such generosity of spirit is what fueled the Tumblr phenomenon that gave rise to the show. In mid-2012, an anonymous poster began collecting Instagram photos of the young and moneyed behaving brazenly. Among them was a post by stewartlife12 of an old master's canvas in the back of a sports car with the caption: "Out to the Hamptons, bringing the #daVinci #LeonardoInTheRari #weneededcompany #renaissance #stillridinghorses #1497." As E!'s Olde says, "it's privilege without apology. How can you not eat that up?"
Some of the stars will be recognizable from the Tumblr meme, particularly Wang, the high priestess of the #funemployed. But all her castmates at least rank as #fabuluxe. Jonny Drubel is the boy-crazy music mogul in training who wants to be the next Usher ("Or better yet, Celine Dion"). Roxy Sowlaty is a raven-haired Persian kitten whose parents are threatening to cut her off ("You're my poor friend," Morgan likes to tell her). And Brendan Fitzpatrick is the chiseled brooder of the bunch, who's angling to be a whale on the 90210 real-estate scene ("I'd like to own Los Angeles") when not angling to get into his girlfriend Morgan's tailored pants. Then there's E.J. Johnson, the six-foot-something, caftan-wearing, Hermès-purse-toting shopaholic who posts as ej_antoinette but is best known as Magic Johnson's big gay son (signature greeting: "Hi, princess. How are you-ewww-eh?").
One morning, the five #RichKids—minus E.J.—gather for a promo shoot in Culver City. It's been a typically grueling week: parties, magnums of Moët, a private jet to Cabo—all for the benefit of E!'s cameras. The rare attempt at do-gooderism, a charity blood drive organized by Dorothy and Morgan, went badly awry.
"I passed out, which was awkward," Morgan says. "Literally, I was sweating from my asshole to the top of my head. It was not pretty." Even before that, the planning for the event set off a teary-eyed hissy fit after Jonny called Dorothy a "homophobic bitch" for supporting an organization that shuns blood donations from gay men. Wounded, Dorothy said, "It got very VH1." E.J. had Dorothy's back: "If someone said that to me, it would have been o-vah." And Morgan consoled her gal pal: "Please! It's 2013. Nobody's homophobic unless you're from Kentucky."
What's remarkable (and adds another layer of meta-ness) is the cast's post-Snooki savvy about the business of reality TV—their pursuit of fame smacks of calculation, not desperation. Dorothy, for instance, sounds like a real-life Elle Woods talking about the ventures she hopes to piggyback on the show's success: a clothing label, beauty products, style apps, bathrobes, doggie gear. "The misconception about me is that I just want to be spoiled," she says. "I'm not all about which Birkin bag goes with which outfit."
Predictably, higher-brow haters are already calling #RichKids the true zombie apocalypse—the website LAist met the show's announcement with the headline barf, and Vanity Fair preemptively labeled the Instagram kids "completely self-unaware"—which misses the point: Dorothy, Morgan, and the gang are as quaffable as a Laurent-Perrier brut rosé. Even if all the bubbles do make you belch afterward. As Morgs vamps for the cameras, it's hard not to lap it up. "You are such a camera slut," Dorothy tells her. Later, Morgan waxes strangely philosophical. "Why are we doing this?" she says finally. "I mean, why does anybody do anything? I just watched a documentary of Valentino. He's fucking fantastic. Fantastic! The camera wasn't following him at one point, and he was like, 'Where's the camera?' I was, like, 'Exactly!'"