November 19, 2008

Lights! Camera! Action!: Ithaca College TV Lampoons Cornell

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It seems that Cornell has received its fair 15 minutes of television fame lately, what with Dwight’s Cornell-centric Office antics a few weeks ago. But Andy Bernard ’95 is only one fictional alumnus of our humble university. On Monday, Ithaca College TV debuted a new show, Ivy, which stars all of us—in a way.
The show, according to co-producer Rachel Hastings, an Ithaca sophomore, is “kind of a faux-reality show, like Laguna Beach, but written as a dry comedy and set at Cornell.” Aided by co-producer Ed Pietzak, a senior at I.C., Hastings wrote a script over the summer and set out to produce a truly unique project.
“Rachel and I wanted to produce a new TV show on the ICTV network that has never been done before,” says Pietzak. “We thought about new ideas, and we decided it would be a great opportunity to explore the other side of the hill.”
For Hastings, Pietzak and their fellow Bombers, Cornell always looms in the distance, sapping the town’s attention and stealing all the notoriety. “The reputation is, if anything, a big brother scenario,” says Pietzak. “Sometimes you feel a little imposed by them, but what it comes down to is that we respect the school.”
But “there are also a lot of aspects of college life, such as greek life, that we don’t have at I.C. and did want to play with,” says Hastings, whose brother, Brian, is a member of Cornell’s Phi Psi fraternity. “I was slightly inspired by him and his friends,” the sister slyly admits.
Greek life factors heavily in the premiere, though by no means does Ivy resemble the shallow, this-is-probably-how-frats-work conjecture of ABC Family’s Greek. The main characters, at least initially, live outside the system, spouting Greek letters like mystical incantations. When Emily (Lexie Braveman) says, “I can’t wait to date a Phi Kap,” her friend responds, “I know, that’s my dream.”
That friend, by the way, is the best example of the show’s Laguna Beach inspiration. Amanda, played by A.J. Wolbrum, looks and acts like what’s-her-face — Lauren Conrad — the unassuming, underappreciated voice of reason amongst the chaotic personalities of her classmates. In Ivy, most of the characters are exaggerated personifications of Cornell’s worst reputations. There’s the arrogant dude-bro, whose dad owns a Fortune 500 company; there’s the maladjusted transfer; there’s the quirky, hyper-intellectual student who may or may not actually hail from Britain; and, of course, there’s Emily, whom Pietzak labels “the one pretentious girl who causes all the drama.”
For the most part, the caricatures are fair, but some of the jokes — especially Amanda’s stubborn reverence of Ugg boots and North Face jackets — feel, at times, a little too convenient. Yes, sororo-sluts do exist, but Ivy almost directly compares the vapid, image-obsessed life of The Hills to life on the Hill.
That is, at least in the premiere, it presents a vain, shallow social niche that really only exists on Cornell’s surface. There isn’t any mention of Cornell’s finer, more subtle stereotypes — no hockey madness, no hipsters, no hopeless engineers struggling to worm their way through a booze-soaked Friday night in Collegetown. Instead, the girls constantly appraise their social standing as the guys play squash and attempt to get laid. Does no one study at this school? Also, who wears Cornell gear after freshman year?
Just sayin’.
Still, Ivy sets up a cast of characters that promises a healthy season of interesting stories. Chris (Mike Levin), Emily’s boyfriend, struggles with his decision to switch from pre-med to hotel management — his advisor asks, “Is that even a program here?” — while Natalie (Liz Komroy), as an art major in a sea of pre-professional tycoons, seems inevitably bound for a new crowd. My favorite character, incidentally, is Keith (Tatenda Mbudzi), the foreign student, if only because his wry egotism hits just the right notes. “Brightness,” he says, “is what happens when you’re a …” — pause and wink — “Cornellian.”
As far as production value goes, the show is top-notch. “We’ve got a great director of photography, David Haug, who really knows what he’s doing,” says Hastings. And she’s right — the show looks exactly like Laguna Beach, from the transition montages of assorted Cornell hot spots to the pop music interludes to the understated silences in the dialogue. The entire production is shot on-location, too — to “keep it authentic,” says Hastings.
Half the fun, of course, is spotting the various campus cameos; even The Sun nabs an early shout-out. The other half is investing in the clever and often hilarious script. Though Ugg-related observations might not register with those of us who’ve long since attained aesthetic immunity, the conversation in point is rather amusing:
“I’m sure there are other companies that sell clothes,” says Natalie. “Timberland sells boots.”
“But this is what everyone wears!” Amanda retorts.
“Well, then, how do you tell people apart?” says Natalie, grinding the argument to a halt.
Despite the premiere’s portrayal of Cornell students, Hastings and Pietzak insist there’s a grander message at play.
“If anything [we learned] that Cornell students and Ithaca — besides sharing the same town — really aren’t that much different,” says Pietzak. “You could easily make a show like ours about I.C., and it would be equally as hilarious. It‘s not that hard to pick on Ithaca stereotypes.”
That in mind, look out for my upcoming show, Peacoat Entourage, which presents a group of five pot-smoking voice majors who try to stage an interpretive dance piece in the empty I.C. physics department. Hilarity, laziness and BFAs ensue.
For the moment, though, check out Hastings and Pietzak’s program, which airs again at 9 p.m. tonight (ICTV, Channel 16), or on the ICTV website ( If nothing else, it’s a fun exercise in self-reflection.
And besides, it’s not like Ithaca is getting off all that easily. “We mention I.C. at the end of the show,” says Pietzak, regarding Ivy’s future storylines. “[It happens] when one of the characters contemplates one of the worst decisions of her life — transferring to Ithaca College.”