When I was a kid, I used to spend summer weeks at the home of my grandparents. They lived only three miles away, at the end of a long, dusty country road, but they seemed to exist in some other country, in a place removed from time itself. I suppose that's how all grandparents' houses feel to grandkids, but staying up late in the cool summer evening air and hearing the cicadas droning outside and having one last grape soda before bed while my grandmother watched the end of the late local news forms one of the most cherished memories of my early childhood. Inevitably, she wouldn't be quite ready for bed after the late local news (and neither would I - how different we were from my boring, too-easily-tired parents!), and she'd flip the TV over to The Nashville Network, where we'd watch a little country and western dancing as a part of the late night programming on that network. It was just a bunch of poorly color corrected men and women who appeared to be dancing in the late '70s doing some stiffly executed moves in starchy skirts and shirts, but there was something charming about it nonetheless, a sense that my out-of-time grandmother had found a similarly out-of-time program to enjoy (on, I should mention, her out of time cable box, which had seven or eight little buttons on the front that you pressed to switch between the cable channels).
Tonight on TNN, America was treated to the sight of a man in a goat mascot costume dry-humping a trophy case. Which is about as far from that treasured childhood memory as you can get and smack dab in the middle of one of the worst TV shows I've seen this year.
OK, so, technically, The Nashville Network - better known as TNN at the time - is long gone. At some point in the '90s, it evolved into Spike TV, which purports to be television for guys. I'm not really sad about that, since I never really watched TNN outside of the times I did with my grandmother. And that's probably a better tack for the network to take insofar as continuing to exist than, "Gosh darn, wasn't country and western music great in 1972?" But at the same time, had TNN never become Spike TV, I probably never would have been subjected to Blue Mountain State. Ostensibly a comedy, Blue Mountain State is TV for guys in the sense that a crusty old FHM in some 25-year-old's unkempt upstairs bathroom that you use when the other bathroom at the party he's throwing to celebrate his continuing attempts to trick himself into thinking that working at that shitty post-college job for the rest of his life is what he wants is constantly occupied by one of his other college pals who swears that it will never get any better than this, dude, is reading material for guys. Yeah, it mostly hits all of the beats that guys stereotypically want to see hit, but it doesn't bother to do so in any manner other than perfunctorily.
I mean, let's be honest. There's a way to do this kind of "for guys" stuff and make it largely enjoyable. I get that Maxim isn't for everyone, and I doubt I've picked it up since I graduated from college, but there's something to that magazine's editorial philosophy that's cohesive and enjoyable if you're in the right mindset (which is roughly 20-year-old straight guy). Similarly, there are some great guy-heavy film and TV comedies, even in the college-centric milieu of Blue Mountain State (Animal House, of course, but also Undeclared). But all of these items have something in common: They might embrace the lowest-common denominator to get laughs (well, maybe not Undeclared), but they do so with a healthy degree of respect for the lowest-common denominator. If you get that sometimes a fart joke is just a fart joke but it can still be funny, you can get away with murder.
Blue Mountain State, on the other hand, seems to almost completely hold its audience in contempt. It's a comedy about college for guys, so, of course, large portions of its running time are taken up by drinking and boobs. Literally every observation the show makes has been better made or more succinctly made or more disgustingly made by some other entertainment at some point in time. It's like the show is content to merely be a big compendium of things it thinks guys will like, tossing them at the audience with little regard for anything like a original voice or even cinematic pacing and continuity. The overriding message of the show might as well be, "Here are some things that other movies and TV shows have said about college. Enjoy!"
"But," the producers and creators of Blue Mountain State, one of whom calls himself Romanski, for fuck's sake, might say, "we're using all original characters and situations!" Well, sure, all of the characters have the names you've given them, and all of the situations are not direct ripoffs of prior college-based stories, but the overall effect here is like when you look at a school child's paper and can see the fact that his friend wrote in the answers for him because he didn't do a very good job of erasing. The trace evidence is still there, show, and it's really hard to ignore.
I realize that I've just been harping on how unoriginal this show is without really providing any examples, so here are some of the major plot points of the first two episodes (both of which aired tonight). Perhaps you will be impressed by the wit and wisdom of the Blue Mountain State gang:
- Football is homoerotic, and those who play it are barely suppressed homosexuals.
- It's fun to watch girls kiss each other!
- Women are controlling shrews who won't let you have sex with them but DO make you make ridiculous promises to them, which you will gladly keep, just so long as they offer the hint of sexual satisfaction.
- It'd be gross to have to eat something that was in your ass!
- Drinking and hot chicks are awesome.
Now, look. I agree with any number of those. I would not especially enjoy eating something that was in my ass, and I definitely get the appeal of drinking and hot chicks. But there's nothing in there that remotely speaks to why this show is on the air beyond the fact that all involved just really like watching '80s movies like Porky's (and, oh, hey, I found an interview to that effect). This is both a time of great promise and great problems in the television world. It's a time when more and more networks (like Spike) are plunging forward with scripted programming, even as it's a time when there's less and less money to devote to that programming. It's a time when there are so many original voices out there, struggling to be heard. It's a time when the last thing we need is yet another show that tells us a bunch of stuff we've already heard, told much better by the original tellers. Blue Mountain State isn't awful because it's television for guys. It's awful because it's deeply disingenuous television for guys. At least the country and western dancers seemed genuine.