It took me a week longer than I expected, but here it is, my Jersey Shore column. The results are predictably sarcastic, hopefully funny, and even a little surprising. Please enjoy!
I waffled. I can’t lie. A week ago, I promised you a Jersey Shore Season One viewing column, and then I hesitated. It took me a couple days to get further than the first three minutes, and then once I got through the episode I guess I needed to figure out how to arrange my thoughts. Simplicity is generally the best side to err upon, so this is going to break down into two sections: What Happened? and What Have We Learned?
And with that, let’s get right to it.
SEASON ONE/ EPISODE ONE
All of the show’s principal cast were introduced. They moved into their shore house in Seaside Heights for a month, chose up rooms, and had their first major controversies.
Here are the cast members:
DJ Pauly D is the smiley guy with the hair that reaches for the heavens like an overdramatic preacher. Pauly D is from Rhode Island, where apparently it’s cool to resemble a Russ troll. Pauly D moonlights as a club DJ, under the name “DJ Pauly D”, which has to be one of the most uncreative DJ names ever. Ever. Ever. Ever. He calls himself “your girl’s favorite DJ,” and claims that he wants girls to “[BLEEP] in their pants”. I don’t think he means “poop.”
Nicole “Snooki” is from Poughkeepsie. She is small, very small – at a reported 4’9”, Snooki is technically a little person. She is also orange, and round, like a Cheeto. Like everyone else in the cast, Snooki is very enthusiastic about going to the Jersey Shore. Her battle cry is “I love Guidos, let’s go!” and also “Let’s go to the Jersey Fucking Shore!” Which means that the “Uncensored” Jersey Shore DVD allows certain four-letter words but not other ones. Snooki can say “Fuck” but Pauly D can’t say “Come” – what does this mean for censorship on this show in the future, I wonder?
Mike “The Situation” is one of the few cast members who is actually from Jersey. People who judge people from New Jersey based on this show, and those who worry that people will judge people from New Jersey based on this show, should try to remember that. Besides, this guy isn’t exactly representative either. Mike works out five times a week and calls his favorite feature — his abdominal muscles — and by extension himself, “The Situation.” That’d be like me referring to myself as “The Fire Hose,” it’s strange and kind of desperate, but it seems to make him happy, so live and let live. Mike’s lead-off quote is: “What can you possibly say to someone who looks like Rambo with his shirt off?” Well, you can concede that he has well-defined abs but you could also point out that he has a seriously dopey, droopy face. He’s the male equivalent of what us guys refer to as a “butterface.” The Situation looks like one of those wooden tourist displays where goofy people stand behind a drawing of a muscleman. Also, one might point out that anyone who has that much time to devote to the gym probably doesn’t have much else going on. But other than that, you know, you can’t say much to a guy who looks like Rambo with his shirt off.
Sammi “Sweetheart” is also from New Jersey. She proclaims, “If you’re not a Guido then you can get the fuck out of my face!” Not that I want to get in Sammi’s face, but it’s sad that she has such rigid parameters for people she prefers to interact with. It’s the whole FUBU concept. If we keep looking for ways to separate and differentiate, we’ll never unite as a species, and we’ll never reach the stars. It’s sad that Sammi doesn’t want to reach the stars, but what can you do? There’s been a lot of controversy around these kids and their proud use of the word “Guido.” Yeah, it’s a stupid, uncreative, annoying word that originally began as a slur, but that’s how these kids define themselves. There isn’t much else they can come up with. How much effort do you want to spend trying to explain to people like Sammi why words like “Guido” are troublesome? You’ll never enlighten someone like Sammi. You can only provide them with the easiest-to-understand birth control practices available, and pray that they don’t procreate too much.
Vinny is from Staten Island. While everyone else in the cast was clearly chosen for their more exaggerated personalities and appearances, Vinny seems relatively normal. He seems to have at least a fraction of self-awareness, which is a vast reservoir compared to his castmates – although he doesn’t seem to notice the sweatstains on his armpits during his talking-head segments. Vinny is the Marilyn Munster of the cast so far – as soon as he gets an eyeful of his incoming housemates, he smartly goes for the one single room in the house. Good move. I hope Vinny survives the season.
Jenni “JWoww” is from Long Island and has huge cartoon boobs. JWoww has an even more abominable nickname than DJ Pauly D, but this is the world we live in. She also has a boyfriend at the beginning of the show, but she doesn’t seem particularly committed. She states, “If you don’t know me, then you hate me, and you wish you were me.” This is a flawed tautology, because if you take me as an example, I don’t know JWoww, but I don’t hate her, and I definitely don’t want to be her. I mean, I’d look pretty silly with huge cartoon boobs, don’t you think? Interestingly, the segment introducing JWoww gives us one of our first glimpses of any of these people without makeup on, and it’s very, very telling.
Ronnie is from the Bronx, which has me rooting for him at least. (Yankee fan.) Ronnie is a giant ogre of a human being who believes the following: “Take your shirt off and they come to you, like flies come to shit.” So as you can see, Ronnie has a way with a simile. Jersey Shore is starting to remind me of the old comic books, where every superhero team had to have a giant strong guy. I expect we’ll come to find out that Ronnie has some kind of superhero weakness, like he’s afraid of mice or something. One troubling thing about Ronnie is that he uses lip gloss. According to Vinny, this is actually some kind of a cliché in this world, but I’ve never heard of such a thing before. It’s kind of funny that these hyper-macho guys don’t account for the fact that they wear makeup.
Angelina is also from the Bronx. In fact, she calls her self “the Kim Kardashian of the Bronx.” Unlike Ronnie, Angelina doesn’t have a facility with simile or metaphor. I’m not the world’s biggest Kim Kardashian fan, since she’s dumber than dirt and probably wouldn’t give me a second look, but even her harshest critics would have to admit that she does have a phenomenal body and a pretty face. Angelina doesn’t have the latter qualities, although if she meant the dumb-as-dirt thing, then maybe she’s got a point. I just don’t think, if I had to guess, that Kim Kardashian travels using Hefty garbage bags as luggage.
So anyway all of these characters move into the shore house, which has an Italian flag painted on the garage door, which indicates that the producers have coached them all to behave as much like caricatures as possible. Happily for them, the kids perform impeccably.
Before I watched Jersey Shore, I assumed that the show was based around a group of people who already know each other, but that’s not the case – it’s more like a Real World scenario, where they presumably haven’t met until they first show up at the house. Immediately, DJ Pauly D and The Situation form a partnership. Immediately, Snooki gets into the booze and begins behaving like a trainwreck. Immediately, Vinny ponders that he expected Sammi to be hotter. (So did I.)
The gang briefly meets Danny, their landlord, who is also their boss at a boardwalk T-shirt store. We can assume that this is going to be a problem area on both fronts, and we can hope that Danny was well-compensated for his troubles. After this brief introduction, the partying begins in earnest.
The Situation cooks dinner for the group, at which the housemates insist on saying Grace, which is both touching and sacrilegious at the same time. Snooki continues to get more drunk throughout the evening. By the time they all get into the hot tub, Snooki has stripped down to her underwear and begun to make sloppy passes at the male housemates. Vinny and Ronnie both begin referring to her as “Snickers” throughout the episode. Not getting the attention she’d prefer, Snooki gets messy, cranky, falls down the stairs, and passes out.
It’s at that point that the rest of the group goes a’wandering. The Situation is interested in Sammi right off the bat. In a real summer-camp move, they start holding hands the first night they’ve met. Any adult male I’ve ever met would tell The Situation that this can only end in complications and strife, but unfortunately The Situation does not benefit from the same company I do. Sure enough, this becomes a problem as quickly as it began, as the guys invite some girls back to the house to party in the hot tub. Meanwhile, Snooki has woken up, and she isn’t happy. She calls her dad on the house duck-phone (they have a phone shaped like a mallard, WTF) and lets him know that she’s considering coming home already.
At the same time, the guys are hooking up with those girls in the hot tub, as Sammi and Angelina sit on beach chairs nearby and watch, with running commentary. Situation keeps looking over at Sammi, without much discretion. For a guy who looks like Rambo with his shirt off, Mike sure does indulge in plenty of rookie moves. I just give him credit for being able to tell Sammi and Angelina apart, because at this point I really can’t. They’re like the same character.
Again, the “Uncensored” DVD proves to be surprisingly prudish, as the thongs on display are blurred out. These girls are wearing more clothes than you see on an average issue of Vanity Fair, but still the blurs persist. No comment on the strange contrary mindset of a network that places kids in corrupting scenarios and encourages their worst behaviors, yet still is as timid as a Murder She Wrote fan when it comes to the human body. Except shirtless male torsos, which is MTV’s bread and butter, of course. Great.
Anyway Sammi or Angelina eventually flip out on the girls in the hot tub, chasing them out of the house and calling them “whores.” The first house meeting is convened, where the episode’s central drama, The Jacuzzi Incident, is discussed and debated. Angelina and JWoww call out Situation for being involved in the hot tub scene, when he was clearly interested in Sammi. Sammi, meanwhile, sits on the side and giggles, clearly not as distraught over this incident as the other girls claim to be. Ronnie takes over for the male point of view, loudly pronouncing that this is why he didn’t want to bring those girls into the house. Then he dresses down Situation for being disingenuous with Sammi (although he doesn’t use the word “disingenuous,” because I don’t think he knows it.) Meanwhile, Snooki is sulking in her room. Eventually, the other girls remember her, and try to convince her to stay.
End Episode One.
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
As a human being with a heart and a soul (I hope), I have two major concerns for these people. The first is skin cancer. Tanning is the one behavior (besides drinking and talking loudly) that all of these folks have in common. I don’t know what kind of tanning program they’re all on, but it can’t be entirely healthy to so obsessively irradiate oneself. JWoww in particular has a tremendous amount of freckles on her frequently-exposed skin, and they don’t look like natural redhead freckles like a Conan O’Brien or a Lindsay Lohan. They look like too-much-tanning freckles. If I could get any message to the producers of Jersey Shore, it would be to urge them to employ a staff dermatologist for regular check-ups. The other concern, obviously, is venereal disease. That hot tub water looked ominously murky; that’s all I’m saying. (Then again, it could be due to all the hair product being employed. This was a definite issue with the pool at my high school.)
The most surprising thing that I personally learned from watching my first episode of Jersey Shore is that I don’t despise these people the way I was led to believe I would by the controversial cultural response to the show. I’ve had some fun at these kids’ expense during the course of this article, but I didn’t hate any of them at all, and I even found a couple of them goofily charming. Obviously, these are not smart people, and they say and do many ill-conceived things. But The Situation, for example and for all of his boasts to the contrary, is obviously kind of a sad sack. He wants to express himself to the world but all he really knows is how to do is sit-ups. He wants friends, and he wants love, but he isn’t sure how to achieve either of those things on the force of genuine personality alone. He’s lame, sure, but also more than a little tragic.
Snooki, meanwhile, really comes off more like a child than a privileged, vapid Paris Hilton kind of asshole. She’s still in her very early twenties, after all. Obviously she shouldn’t act as babyish as she does, but who among us was our best self at 22? I’m not projecting that Snooki will grow into a legitimate glamour queen or a class act, but I’m willing to cut her a little more slack than the rest of our judgment-happy society seems to be. On the flip side, most of her castmates come off as significantly older, such as Pauly D, who is already in his thirties, and JWoww, who resembles a particularly spry 55-year-old, and so there’s an air of melancholy to the rest of them too.
The only cast members who come off poorly in a mean way, rather than a harmless clumsy way, are Sammi and particularly, Angelina. Of course we can never trust reality-show editing and it’s possible that they’re really sweet in real life, but the cattiness that these two display in this first episode is pretty unpleasant. I’m sure that some of the other characters will have plenty of time over the upcoming episodes to lose my sympathies – Ronnie is closer to the borderline than the rest – but otherwise, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. None of these types are entirely unfamiliar to me. I’ve known people like this in my life, and I’ve known enough of them to know that almost everyone has feelings, almost everyone has something worthwhile to say, almost everyone has at least some kind of virtue. I’ll be interested to see if the rest of Jersey Shore disabuses me of that notion.
But so far, the Biblical apocalypse seems a little further away than I thought it might.