The Fame Game
Episode 1 of the true crime documentary introduces the main protagonists, Alexis Neiers and Nick Prugo to the viewer. Along with a background of the two, we also learn the beginnings of this wild run of celeb burglaries and what perhaps might have motivated them subconsciously to undertake this criminal form.
Throughout the series, we have small interludes by real-life people working jobs to explain to us certain things, similar to what The Big Short did. First up is Josh, the realtor, who explains that the city of Los Angeles has two sides – the “haves” and the “have nots”. Literally, the famous Hollywood mountain divides the two areas into San Fernando Valley and Beverly Hills. We have decided to divide the storylines for both protagonists separately in this first recap for your convenience.
Nick Prugo – the attention-hungry introvert who met an attention-hungry extrovert
Nick explains the story of his life. He grew up in the Granada Hills region (from the Jake Gyllenhaal film, Nightcrawler). His beginnings were indeed humble and opposed to the person we see today in front of the camera. But even then, he was addicted to the celeb lifestyle, which was fast gaining penetration in the suburbs. As a child, he worked on Zoey 101, a show that starred Britney Spears’ sister. That gave him a taste of this frenzy and he could never let go of his marauding obsession to live that life.
Nick discovered he was homosexual when puberty hit. He stopped the acting gigs because he felt too self-conscious. The family then moved to Calabasas, an extremely affluent suburb in the Valley. But they still stuck out like sore thumbs due to their modest financial endowments.
Nick met a girl called Rachel in school, who was the exact opposite of him and a person he wanted to be like: beautiful, carefree, and confident. She helped him get out of his shell and got him hooked on the “fast life”. One night, they jokingly pulled on a car door and it opened. They found credit cards inside and shopped on them.
The scale of criminality sort of got away from Nick gradually. Rachel gave him confidence and he felt comfortable in his new skin. They then started checking cars. At night, they would drive in their car and Rachel would check the door handles to find unlocked cars. The rich ones were always open, explains Nick. One night, Rachel stole a car that had keys in it. They drove around in it like it was their own. They were spending as much as they were stealing. They needed another score.
Eden Shizzle is the first person they robbed. He posted a video of himself on the internet about how he got robbed. Earlier he had posted a listing on MySpace that was going away to Jamaica for 11 days. The back door was unlocked and they got in.
In 2008, they hit Paris Hilton in Beverly hills. The front door was just open and they let themselves in. Nick also explains how they planned the burglaries. First, they would search the internet for the address of the celebrity. Then, they would look at maps to study the terrain; and finally, check when the house would be vacant. Nick also validates the bling ring film scene of the Hilton house, clips from which are sparingly used. With each hit, their score got bigger.
Paris didn’t even notice that her stuff was gone. She didn’t report it and they went back again, although she was still in the city. This time, the door was locked, but they found the key under the mat. And then burgled the house again 4-5 times. Nick also took a friend one time. Her house became their “personal ATM”. After drying her up, they went for the safe but got Courtney’s coworker Roy Lopez involved to avoid culpability when Paris would report it. He cleaned it out and then Hilton reported it. Almost 2 million in jewelry were wiped out. Lauren, a personal stylist, explained the mind-blowing worth of all the stuff they were stealing, showing how unknowingly, they became millionaires.
Alexis Neiers – a victim of her beauty, societal expectations, and drugs
Alexis had a contrasting childhood to Nick. Her father was the DoP on “Friends” and she spent her time going from one green room to the other on sets. Her father married Andrea Arlington, a famous, upcoming young actress but soon separated after she found out he was having an affair. She has a sister, Gabbie, who lived with her and their mother separately. Alexis was damaged and had anger over how her childhood unfolded. But it was difficult for the women.
Andrea was running into huge debts. Excesses bogged them down. They had to finally file for bankruptcy and Andrea then started training to become a minister at the Church of Religious Science. It inspired the film The Secret, which is heavily discussed in the first episode. Two things Andrea incorporated into their lives; the “Vision Board”, which gave cause to one’s life; and an “Affirmation”, to attract what they want – work in the entertainment industry.
It became an everyday morning routine. Tess, her best friend moved in with her. They became models. They were only 16 and took all those jobs that they probably shouldn’t have. They got a job in Marilyn Manson’s video as background dancers. Both were underage but enjoyed the experience a lot. It was, in Alexis’ words, probably the beginning of her drug problem. She met Nick through Tess and her connection of friends. He was introduced as a stylist. He then started going with them to clubbing. It is still not certain if Gabbie and Alexis knew at the time that Nick wasn’t a stylist and was the thief breaking into the house.
Perez Hilton – a celeb blogger – writes about how the reality television era changed accessibility to celebs. Cribs was a show where they all would go with cameras into celebs’ homes, a version of “50 questions” that Vanity runs. Paris Hilton also made it this way. She leaked her sex tape knowingly to get fake attention. Kardashians also made it like this, claims Hilton, highlighting the ugly face of the hunger for fame and popularity.
The Episode Review
The first episode of this limited series made generous introductions to one of the most sensational crimes in modern LA’s history. It uncovered the faces behind the whole fiasco with an unburdened sincerity and unabashed demeanour.
One thing that was quite noticeable was its unique narrative structure. Characters speaking over and after each other to corroborate or dissuade each other’s claims brought pizzazz to the experience. Moreover, it was quite thrilling to see the actual masterminds involved in it retell their own stories.
Some themes that the makers of the series want to bring out seemed apparent. The transitory phase of technology was one. It played a great enabler to allow Nick and Rachel to scope out possible opportunities. Previously unimaginable, they now had endless options in front of them at the click of a button. This phase was also the beginning of the social media revolution. “Influencer era”, as Perez Hilton rightly pointed out, came full stretches when the Bling Ring caused havoc and the younger generations gravitated towards fame and controversy.
Episode 1 had a convergence of how social media and mass hysteria about true crime drama has democratized fame. Another thing that I liked about it was how they managed to point out the frivolity of the excesses that the celebs live on without demonizing the extravagance.