Monday, October 24, 2011

How to make Jersey Shore worth watching again

Over at the AV Club, Marah Eakin and Genevieve Koski turn out a postmortem of Jersey Shore's most recent season. They do not like what they see:
The easiest way to make something fun not fun is to make it an obligation. That being said, there are plenty of shows that have been on for far longer than this one that are still just as fun as they were at the beginning. I think this season, what's soured the whole thing for me is just how little the whole gang seem to care. In the beginning, their dramas seemed real, as did their personalities. They were just doin' them, out on the boardwalk. Now, paid not just by MTV but by Xenadrine, a pistachio company, clubs around the country, whatever, to be these characters, these over-the-top party animals, it just feels a little bit icky.
I've only seen scattered bits and pieces of this season, but it doesn't take much to confirm that the AV Club diagnosis is basically correct. The people on the show have become fictional characters, and not only are their antics undermined by the sneaking suspicion that all the drama is essentially scripted, any astute viewer can feel the show's forward motion quickly petering out. Look, I know it's just the Jersey Shore. I know that for a lot of people, it functions as little more than a weekly collection of seedy vignettes -- or maybe more accurately, a tour through a zoo. But character development and plot momentum are the key elements in any narrative medium. And even a cursory overview of Jersey Shore storylines from the last season is enough to demonstrate that nothing unexpected will ever happen on the show again. Here are my predictions for next season: Ronnie and Sammi will fight, Mike will be creepy, everyone else will hook up, and they'll all come back again in six months. Here are my predictions for the season after that (god help us): Ronnie and Sammi will fight, Mike will be creepy, everyone else will hook up, and they'll all come back again in six months.

But here's the thing: like the AV Club review points out, this process is starting to take a toll on the participants:
I've brought this up many times over the years—months, whatever—but the cancer of Jersey Shore is self-awareness, and that self-awareness has grown especially malignant this season. We see it in the way Pauly and Vinny hang back until it's time to make a quip or put on a production of guido theater for the cameras' sake; we see it in Sam and Ronnie's endless pas de deux of terribleness, as they continue circling each other like sharks because they realize they're stuck with each other through the duration of this show, unless they choose to leave and give up their fat paychecks; we see it in the way the cast members are referred to by their actual, given names rather than nicknames in my cable guide (Who is this “Paul Del Vecchio”?). And we see it in tonight's episode, with Mike styling himself as the "villain" because at this point he knows the whole illusion of "deep down it's all love between roommates" isn't holding up.

Doesn't that last paragraph sound more interesting than anything you've ever actually seen on the show?

A group of variously damaged people, forced to reconcile their increasingly fake personas with their own beliefs and characteristics, not to mention their limited abilities and talents? Duking it out with each other for a few extra minutes in the spotlight, but also inextricably tied together for years and years to come? There's your character development: the cast members' moral decline and fall, even as their fame and fortune grows endlessly.

Wouldn't you watch a show about that?

I certainly would. I honestly think, hidden in Jersey Shore, there's a Godfather-style epic, about the collapse of an American family-of-sorts, destroyed by excess, and success, and their own desperate pursuit of fame. It might seem a cruel at first -- tuning in every week to watch the further degradation of a bunch of fun-loving kids at the hands of American media culture -- until you realize it's already happening, and will continue to happen as long as MTV makes the show, regardless of what gets portrayed on the screen.

In the interstices between the fake drama between fake people there's real drama between real people, drama with weight, drama that matters because it's about money, and reputation, and the wellbeing and the futures of everyone involved.

So show us the real people! It'll be more honest, it'll be more entertaining. It might even be thought-provoking.

And if all else fails, come on, it's not like they're going to stop coining stupid catchphrases.


  1. I can't believe you referred to The Situation as "Mike"

    good post

  2. what do you think this is, 2010?

  3. "So the next time something you love disappears from the cultural radar forever, remember who's to blame: everyone else. The great churning mass of Americans, obese and stupid and ignorant, loving things that are awful beyond words and never even dimly aware of the entire world of -- let's just say it -- objectively superior culture that exists right at the tips of their greasy fat fingers. It's okay, though. They'll always have Fatboy Slim."

    And Jersey Shore :-)