Tonight at 10:30 p.m. ET, MTV debuts The Paper, a reality series that follows the staff of The Circuit, the student newspaper at the country’s largest high school, Cypress Bay High School in Broward County, Fla.
As a former high school journalist and editor, I was psyched when MTV first announced the series, and was convinced it’d be interesting. Any series set in high school is going to be filled with drama, and add in what amounts to a part- or full-time job working on the student newspaper, and you have great material for a reality series.
Alas, the producers took something interesting and created a terrible show, and along the way, all but ignore actual work on the newspaper. From the very beginning of the first episode, which is free on iTunes, The Paper proves to be nearly unwatchable. When there are genuine, heartfelt, dramatic moments, the editors wreck them by crafting the show into a near-cartoon version of reality TV. The production values are ridiculous, particularly the over-the-top music, which includes a marching band, disco, and early-’80s pop songs. Ultimately, the show just trivializes the students’ experiences.
There’s one moment at the end where it accidentally becomes a good show for about 45 seconds, but then the producers conclude with a staged, scripted, histrionic scene that ruins the whole thing. Perhaps later episodes will let the students’ experiences take precedent over being cute with music and editing and fake stuff.
The first episode follows the competition between four junior staffers who each want to become editor-in-chief, and the show chooses to focus the most on the one person who’s the most self-conscious, even if she still thinks using Microsoft Word’s WordArt is a good idea. Amanda provides the first episode’s obnoxious scripted narration, but the most tragic part is how she comes off as convinced that she must over-act and force herself to be the show’s star. It’s especially unfortunate since she’s clearly the object of derision among her peers, and the show sets her up for the whole world to judge her in the same way.
Ultimately, the cast members, particularly Amanda, come off as being so aware of the conventions of reality TV that they’re almost unbelievable, especially once the producers get their hands on the cast members’ lives. Welcome to what The Hills has wrought.