It’s hard to know, sometimes, when real life MTV is actually real life. The big highlight of the current season of Jersey Shore is watching the cast toe the line between Jersey fabulous and Jersey famous. Anyone picked to be the upcoming season of The Real World: Back To Las Vegas won’t have spent much — if any — of their conscious life in a world where that show didn’t exist. (This should make everyone feel old: The show’s entering its 25th season.) Even MTV wouldn’t make the argument that The Hills even clung to a semblance of reality as it came to an end last year, with a big “whaaaaa?” Newhart ending involving the blending of real life, a Hollywood set, and Brody Jenner’s stupid face.
And the same thing is true for My Life As Liz, which opened its second season tonight. In fact, around this time last year, A.V. Clubber Todd VanDer Werff mulled over the real meaning of the show, ultimately deciding that the best reason to watch it was to figure out whether it was real or not. And while the show didn’t blow up, ratings-wise, in its first season, that’s apparently why enough people tuned in.
Or maybe it was because of that darn Liz Lee and her wacky cast of characters, real or not. The illustrious USA Today called the show “My So-Called Life meets Pretty In Pink meets The Real World,” and while that might only be true in that the main character has red hair and purports to be kind of nerdy, there is a certain sort of charm in watching an awkwardly endearing teen girl sort of find herself, haters of the world be damned.
I totally get the criticism that My Life As Liz is mega-fake. There are countless moments that, even with creative, youth-positive editing, are fakity fake fake. (In the first three minutes alone, Liz is fake-blasted with a wall of water by a cab, pays $10 for a SmartWater and a pear, and is (not really) pooped on by a bird as she sits in Central Park. Puh-lease.) Behind it all, though, there are elements of reality. Liz has actual friends, who she actually likes and talks to on the reg on her very active Twitter account. She has a long-distance Texas honey, Bryson, who’s cute as all get out, but she’s got a real life Brooklyn lonely boy who seems to be kind of patiently waiting for her to sort her shit out. And while the way she met said lonely boy might be fake on the show (he fished her out of a dumpster she fell into while looking for crap for a found art project), he’s probably really in her life. As is Bryson, and yeah, they’re probably having a hard go at their LDR, being college freshmen and all.
That’s kind of the thing with these TV youth of today: Their reality isn’t the reality us jaded 20- and 30-somethings grew up with. These badass 18-year-olds might have had cell phones since they were 10. They live in textspeak, and they live their lives publicly, for better or for worse. It’s got to be bad enough for ol’ Liz Lee to be the girl from MTV in her freshman class at Pratt, but then, to have the whole concerned world watching her tweets to see how often she’s talking to Bryson, or if she’s made any new male friends, or blahblahblah. The pressure’s on, man, and it’s not just to do well and have a good life, but to live in a way that might make good television.
For her part, though, Lee does this with grace and poise. You never doubt that she’s smart and will do great things, other than have her own handbag line or signature perfume in a kitty cat shaped bottle. At the rate she’s going, she might end up working for MTV sooner than she’ll be using that Art History degree she’s working toward, but hey, it’s something.
So, while the ever-capable Todd looked at Liz and thought it failed by being almost too self-aware, I’m of the mindset that, within reason, there’s nothing wrong with being charmingly self-aware. Liz Lee isn’t Kristen Cavallari or Kris Kardashian. The hijinks viewers might see her get in on TV might be set up a little bit, but they’re never so out of hand that anyone watching couldn’t, in some way, see themselves in what Liz goes through or deals with. (Of course, I was an outsider 18-year-old girl trying to find herself in this crazy world at one point, though I don’t entirely think that matters in this argument.) The second season premiere kicked off in slightly more far-fetched fashion than the first, but, hey, whatever. There are genuine moments here and there, and as long as viewers go into the show knowing and thinking that, duh, it’s a TV show, then they should be fine. Lee’s life is far more real than any of her similarly genre-d counterparts out there, and while that’s maybe not saying too, too much, she’s a hell of a gal, even if she’s not really real.
- Liz’s BFF Sully is, of course, one of the best reasons to watch the show. It’s downright endearing when he tells a sad and whiny Liz, “It’s like a punch in the wiener hearing you say stuff like that.” High five, dude. High five.