I haven’t watched anything on MTV since the Real World was in Las Vegas back in ’02-03. That might change.
After much discussion on Bill Simmons’ podcast* I watched an episode and a half of Jersey Shore over the weekend. My verdict: it’s either the greatest show in the history of TV, or the worst. There is no in-between.
(Simmons is still a serious MTV reality devotee, despite turning 40 this year. He’s been exceptionally excited about Jersey Shore. He and his buddy JackO’s 15 minute discussion of the show last week was hilarious and the tipping point in getting me to watch.)
The show is utterly ridiculous. A gaggle of Italian-American 20-somethings are put up in a place on the New Jersey shore for the summer. All the guys are muscleheads, overly pumped and ink-laden. All the girls are implanted and heavily made up. The show, or at least the ones I saw, pretty much revolves around them talking about hooking up that night, preparing to hook up, attempting to hook up, and then perhaps hooking up or getting shot down. Since I haven’t watched the Real World in six or seven years I don’t know, perhaps all MTV shows are like this now.
In a way, it’s the natural evolution of MTV reality shows. Just cut out all the “real life” nonsense and get down to the sex. Forget about interesting characters, people with careers or lofty goals, or people who aren’t media savvy. Just throw out a bunch of kids with no redeeming qualities, intelligence,* or direction in life other than going to the gym or tanning bed into a house and let them show off the skills they’ve picked up in a lifetime of watching the* Real World*, Road Rules, etc.
(Loved Simmons’ idea for reunion show questions. “If you had a functioning brain, what would you have been thinking in this situation?”)
As a bonus, make them all dead ringers for a particular ethnic stereotype.* Give them all horrible nicknames. Have the guys remove their shirts except when it is absolutely necessary to wear one.**
(For some reason, I don’t expect to see a Detroit or Chicago version of the Jersey Shore anytime soon. Jesse Jackson doesn’t have much to do these days, but he’d jump all over that.)
(One of my favorite aspects of the show is how the guys whip off their shirts as soon as they walk in their house and go shirtless until time to hit the clubs again. I may start doing that.)
In the end, the show is like a train wreck. You don’t want to watch but once you look, you can’t look away. There’s a guy nicknamed The Situation who says things like, “Basically, we got these girls back into the hot tub and now we’re going to try to have sex with them. That’s the situation.” So his nickname is based on his catch phrase. I guess that makes him the Willie Mays of reality TV. Brilliant. You laugh out loud and you fear for our country’s future at the same time.
I wondered if the appalled side of my reaction was just grumpy old manism creeping in. But I really think if this show had been on when I was 23, my reaction would not have been much different. I might be a more dedicated viewer, but I hope there would still be a part of me that was disappointed that a show like it existed.