Well sports fans,
Welcome to the first of what I hope will be many TV Club entries for MTV’s Jersey Shore. It might seem odd covering a show six episodes into its historic run but this Christmas break my girlfriend got me hopelessly hooked on this apex of the television arts. That’s a little out of character for me, because I’m generally not a reality TV guy. So what makes this show about drunken, well-muscled, oversexed twenty-something dumbasses different and superior to all other reality shows about drunken, well-muscled, oversexed twenty-something dumbasses? I have been thinking long and hard about that question, or rather as long and hard as anyone can possibly can contemplate the Jersey Shore and here’s what I’ve come up with:
1. The anthropological angle
Jersey Shore is somewhat remarkably, a show about New Jersey that features only one cast-member actually from the Garden State. So it’s less a show about New Jersey as an actual location and more about New Jersey as an idea, as the epicenter of everything tacky and shameless and unapologetically white trash. So while the housemates aren’t actually from New Jersey, they embody something strangely pure about the state or at least our conception of it.
The show consequently functions as bubblegum pop sociology, a goofball exploration of a curious genus known as the Guido and Guidette. They’re a curious breed with skin a tan color unseen in nature, unusually muscular physiques and giant hair that can withstand any hurricane or tornado. We’re not just reveling in the stupidity of a colorful band of half-wits and dullards; we’re learning about their culture and peculiar mating rituals, which revolve around taking shots, the pumping of fists, a pre-sex ritual involving a Jacuzzi swimming with venereal disease and finally several minutes of sweaty, unpleasant intercourse with creatures known as Pauly D or Mike The Situation
The plague of reality television has set the bar pretty damn high or pretty damn low for flamboyant, attention-starved exhibitionists but Jersey Shore has found some real keepers, most notably in the form of Mike The Situation, a bottomless font of undeserved self-confidence and quotable one-liners, like when he said something to the effect of, “You can say what you want but how can you really hate on someone who basically looks like Rambo with his shirt off?”
There’s also Angelina, who couldn’t handle the responsibility of working one day a week at a tee-shirt shop and left the show two episodes in, but not before delivering the timeless bon mot, “To be honest, working at a tee-shirt shop was beneath me. I mean, I’m a bartender so I, like, do great things.” No you don’t, sweetie. You serve people alcohol. That’s a useful and necessary skill. You don’t do great things.
So far the fan favorite is Snooki, the 4’9 Anna Nicole Smith of the house who has previously won the hearts and minds of audiences by doing backflips while exposing her vagina, hitting on everything that moves, stumbling about in a boozy haze and getting punched in the face twice.
3. Shamelessness and lack of self-consciousness
Pretty much everyone on Jersey Shore is entirely comfortable with their mind-boggling superficiality. In one of the show's signature moments Mike The Situation and his partner in skank-chasing Pauly D (alternately known as DJ Pauly D) find out that they’ve developed a reputation around the Jersey Shore as shameless pussy wolfers who will fuck anything that moves. Instead of imbuing the fellows with existential ennui they’re fucking psyched. Woo hoo! They’re known as guys who get laid! A celebratory high five is in order. There’s almost something honorable about Mike The Situation’s unrepentant sleaziness, in the way he brags about how most of the women whose numbers he collects at clubs won’t actually, you know, answer their phone but that twenty or thirty percent will and that’s good enough for him. Similarly, there’s something refreshing about Snooki saying that she totally kissed another girl in the hot tub because men like that kind of thing and she would like to ensnare a steroid-abusing Italian-American gentleman in her mantrap.
Ah, but on to tonight’s show. I’m afraid we’re beginning this TV Club post on a pretty down note. I think of Jersey Shore as the ultimate fist-pumping, beat-beating-up guilty pleasure but tonight the darkness and despair lurking just under the party-hearty surface rose to the fore.
Ronnie, he of the Incredible Hulk physique and genius for the English language and Sammi Sweetheart, the self-styled “Sweetest bitch you’ll ever meet” were the show’s resident sweethearts, despite Ronnie’s notorious early claim never to fall in love at the Jersey Shore.
The couple’s unwillingness to engage in the binge-drinking, anonymous hook-ups and desperate, vaguely tragic partying of their cohorts made them outcasts. The show’s editors have worked overtime trying to create the illusion that Ronnie and Sammi Sweetheart’s relationship is romantic and sweet and not the doomed mating of monosyllabic mouth-breathers.
That fiction fell apart tonight. Ronnie made an unwise crack about Sammi’s Fred Flintstone feet and Sammi lost her shit, leading to Ronnie pushing Sammi and engaging in a violent altercation with a random barfly on the boardwalk. In a seeming heartbeat the couple went from muscleheads in lust to a white-trash version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
That wasn’t the only violent skirmish of the night. A trio of women whose physiques led the housemates to refer to them by some rather unkind, zoo-themed sobriquets entered the house and quickly got into a drunken brawl with Snooki. It’s almost as if steroids+alcohol+incoherent rage+the maturity of an eleven year old=fucked up, violent situations.
Tonight’s episode was less dumb fun than a David Mamet-like look into the depths of human depravity and the fundamental darkness of human nature. There were so many tragic or comitragic moments in the show, like when Snooki decided to “test” a juicehead she was intent on fucking by asking him if he’d rather go home with her or bar-hopping and look for random skanks with her housemates. He, perhaps not surprisingly, took her up on the offer. This invites the question, who is insecure enough to ask a potential hook-up if they’d rather chase other skanks? And who is a big enough douchebag to actually take them up on that offer?
Then there was the horrifying moment where Ronnie, in a fit of rage after his big fight with Sammi, decided he was going to “creep” along the boardwalk looking for skanks to bang. Other housemates used the phrase “creep” to describe Ronnie’s broken-hearted pussywolfing, which just made me sad. Creep; that’s such an appropriate phrase for so much of the show.
Tonight desperately lacked the comic relief and wackiness that makes the housemates’ lives fun instead of soul-crushingly depressing. It wasn’t all bad vibes and free-floating creepiness though. I’m quite partial to housemate Vinny, who at least seems to be a pretty sweet, likable, non-idiotic guy. In last week’s episode Vinny accidentally hooked up with his boss’ date. In the hands of someone like Pauly D or Ronnie this could easily lead to yet another violent altercation but Vinny and the boss handled it maturely. I also liked Vinny’s riff on Mike The Situation and Pauly D’s “GTL” schedule: every day it’s all about gym, tanning and laundry. Cause that’s what the ladies love.
So yeah, I wish I could begin this TV Club blog on a peppier note but I’m psyched about next week’s episode. I think a change of scenery will do everyone good.
—A female version of Mike The Situation. The mind reels. Then boggles.
— Oh Snooki, I thought you and that guy from the club you were going to be together forever (cries single perfect tear).
—“Being a wingman for The Situation is a losing proposition.” From his mouth to God's ears.
—“I understand where she's coming from because I just got punched in the face by a guy.”
—“You don't even look Italian!”
—I lost six followers live-Tweeting the show. I guess not everyone is as enamored of Jersey Shore as I am
—What happened to JWoww? She’s all kinds of fun. And sexy in a supremely trashy sort of way. I would like to have seen more of her tonight.
—Aren't we all ultimately just Snooking for love?
—What did you guys think of the post-game commentary and the Michael Cera commercials?
— “If one thing leads to another I'm not going to tell him him to get off of me” Isn’t that from Keats?