Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 12, 2010)
Scads of reality shows hit the air every year, but few enter the pop culture realm as actively as Jersey Shore. On the surface, it provides yet another Real World-style series in which a bunch of extroverted meatheads live under one roof and do lots of outrageous things. Underneath the surface, that’s also what it offers, so what makes Shore different than all the others?
Hair care products. Lots and lots of hair care products.
Along with radically inflated concepts of self-importance and an absolute, utter lack of self-awareness. The casting call must’ve read “applicants must think they’re the hottest people on earth and have no concept of shame.”
I think the other series of this sort attempt diversity among the cast, but Shore goes in the other direction, as all its “Guidos and Guidettes” are variations on the same theme. They’re all Italian, they’re all superficial and they’re all just looking for a good time. Nonetheless, in the interest of greater discussion, I’ll post cast bios from the series’ official website. I won’t bother with episode synopses, as that seems pointless; no actual “plots” occur, so a summary of the characters feels like the most logical way to set up the review.
“Angelina (22 - Staten Island, NY): If Angelina has something on her mind, it'll be out of her mouth before you know it. She always has something to say and doesn't care what anyone else thinks. The question is, how long will her housemates put up with it? She has a new boyfriend and intends on staying faithful--but who knows what the summer will bring.”
“Jenni ‘J-WOWW’ (23 - Franklin Square, NY): When Jenni walks into a bar, the guys yell ‘J-WOWW!’ She may have a boyfriend, but down at the Jersey Shore all bets are off. Impulsive and spontaneous, Jenni is a party girl with zero self-control. Wherever she goes, drama is sure to follow. But under her tough exterior there is a softer side which makes her the resident big sister.”
“Mike ‘The Situation’ (27 - Staten Island, NY): Mike may have a sensitive side, but he has plenty of game to go with it. He knows what he wants from his summer at the Jersey Shore and is not going to let anything stop him from getting it--even his roommates. The way he sees it, he has the situation under control.”
“Nicole ‘Snooki’ (21 - Marlboro, NY): Nicole is looking to meet the man of her dreams. When she goes to the gym, she goes in full makeup, hoping to make a splash with all the toned men. Her height has been as much of a strength as it has been an obstacle, and it will color her summer at the Shore in a big way.”
“DJ Pauly D (28 - Johnston, RI): Pauly D is Rhode Island's most well known DJ and keeps a tanning bed in his house. He orders gel by the case and does his hair twice a day--once in the morning and once before hitting the town. For Pauly D, cleanliness is close to godliness, so he is not sure how he's going to handle living with roommates.”
“Ronnie (23 - Bronx, NY): Ronnie might find himself in a brawl or two, but he is a lover who just wants to have a good time. He comes into the house with one rule: Don't fall in love at the Jersey Shore. But as the summer goes on, he finds rules are meant to be broken.”
“Sammi ‘Sweetheart’ (22 - Hazlet, NJ): Sammi has been a serial dater all her life, but she's now single and loves every minute of it. Her friends call her a sweetheart, but when it comes to guys she is a heartbreaker. Just ask Mike and Ronnie.”
“Vinny (21 - Staten Island, NY): Vinny is a self-confessed mama's boy and natural entertainer. He knows how to get a laugh from everyone he meets. Having just turned 21, Vinny has been waiting for this summer his whole life and is ready for a wild time with no boundaries.”
(Note that one of the cast members leaves the show pretty early in its run. I figured this person would eventually return, but that didn’t happen. I’ll leave the identity secret to avoid spoilers.)
Like I mentioned, no real storyline emerges here, though we do find consistent themes. The guys tend to work out a lot and hit on girls. The women start catfights and pout. Lather, rinse, head to the hot tub!
The show forces the cast members to work in a boardwalk T-shirt shop, but don’t expect much from that location. I suspect the series’ producers thought that it’d be a good idea to have the cast interact with regular folks at the store and comedy/intrigue would ensue, but I guess that didn’t happen.
Heck, after the first couple of episodes, it’s not even clear if the cast members still work at the store! We get a fair amount of drama related to the shop at first, but then the topic arises pretty infrequently. I’d guess that the cast still works there but none of the footage proved to be worth using.
This means that Shore rarely shows us events during daylight hours. Granted, this party-hearty crew tends to stay up very late and sleep well into the afternoon, and their daytime hours seem to involve nothing especially telegenic. As the guys mention, their routines revolve around “gym, tanning and laundry”. (Tanning in a salon, to be specific; some cast members don’t even seem to realize they’re at the beach until the end of the summer.)
Since Shore ignores the daylight so much, this leaves a heavy focus on nightlife. This makes sense for the series, I suppose. It’s more likely that sex and drunken violence will occur at 1AM rather than 1PM, so we follow endless bouts of clubbing and attempts at hooking up.
These provide the expected semi-intrigue, but they also mean that the series becomes rather monotonous after a while. The producers attempt to spice things up with a quick trip to Atlantic City... where the cast members club and attempt to hook up.
Well, they’re nothing if not consistent. Granted, not all of them look for love in all the wrong places. Pretty early on, Ronnie and Sammi form a romantic couple, and their partnership’s ups and downs turns into the closest thing to a storyline. They still party a lot, and they occasionally flirt with others, but they stay together – to the annoyance of the others, who want them to party more.
Without a real narrative, the cast members become the main attraction, and the series’ popularity clearly stems from the impact these folks made. Like I mentioned at the start, we don’t get much diversity here. It’s not like there’s the gay one and the prom queen and the Asian rattlesnake handler; we get four Italian guys with tans and four Italian girls with tans.
Personality differences do emerge, of course. It appears that Snooki and the Situation were the series’ “breakout stars”, probably because they’re the cartooniest of the bunch. Early on, Snooki looks like the biggest drama queen… and that perception never really changes, though she becomes less wild as time passes. At the start, she looks like the biggest PITA of the bunch, but she’s not really. She’s instead the saddest one, as she tries desperately to hook up with someone – anyone! – and can’t succeed.
Mike is essentially the bad guy of the house. Except for his sidekick Pauly, he rubs everyone else the wrong way, and his utter obsession with “creeping” on girls makes him even more superficial than the others.
When rejected, Mike also pouts like a tween girl at a sold-out showing of the newest Twilight film, which leads to the series’ odd role reversal. The guys on the show obsess more about their looks than the women; the men are all in amazing shape, while the girls tend to have a little pudge on them. The guys also seem to be the only cooks, and the women just sit around a lot. Who knew Guidos and Guidettes would lead the charge in the change of sexual roles?
Of all the participants, Vinny comes closest to seeming like a normal person. This is probably why he gets the least screentime. He sports a normal haircut – unlike his three gel-obsessed male housemates – and while fit, he doesn’t work out relentlessly. While Vinny clearly wants some action, he doesn’t seem as focused on getting drunk and getting laid as the others. He’s obviously the most intelligent of the bunch, and he’s easily the most likable.
In terms of three-dimensionality, the biggest surprise comes from Ronnie. Granted, he’s often the perfect stereotype of the muscle-bound meathead, especially when he knocks some guy unconscious and then whines to the police about how it was “self-defense”. However, when he and Sammi get together, he shows a sensitive side that we wouldn’t imagine. Indeed, he seems more emotional than she. When Sammi gets upset, she tends to whine and pout, but Ronnie appears to be really verklempt. I guess there’s that role reversal again.
For the most part, the women do seem more callous than the guys. Jenni constantly lies to her sucker of a boyfriend, and Sammi gives off a relentless “me, me, me” vibe. Snooki is too good-natured to be offensive, but she also gets into a serious “poor pitiful me” thing a lot of the time. The Situation never shows any signs of caring about the women he attempts to conquer, but the other guys display some indications that they’re not just “creeping machines”. Even though it’s clear Pauly wants to be the Situation, he can’t help but try to do the right thing.
One shouldn’t expect the cast members to ever become particular fleshed out, though, as they remain pretty thin and cartoony – which is just how reality TV likes its personalities. It’s the outrageousness of the characters that made Jersey Shore a hit.
Despite that, we start to sorta kinda care about some of them as the season progresses. Sure, they still do/say a lot of stupid and obnoxious things, but the series actually manages to slightly humanize them as time progresses. They’re still caricatures, but they’re not uninteresting ones. While I can’t say that Shore is fascinating TV, it keeps you involved.
Note that the DVD’s packaging promises “uncensored” content, but that’s not totally accurate. We do find lots of profanity, though for reasons unknown, a few words remain bleeped. I’d guess those instances were just goofs; I couldn’t discern any logical reasons that those terms stayed blocked in the set.
If you hope to find some uncensored naughtiness, you’ll feel disappointed. All the digital picture blocking remained, even with non-nude sequences. For instances, the DVD masked shots of girls in panties. I’m not sure what made those images so offensive that they couldn’t appear on MTV, so I’m even more perplexed why they were cut here. I’d guess the DVD’s producers just didn’t want to bother to unmask the shots; there aren’t a ton of them, and they’re not especially stimulating.