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Review: Jersey Shore: Family Vacation, on which everything old and tired is back again

When Jersey Shore ended in December 2012, its sixth and final season had lost about half its viewers from its start to its finish. But 2.4 million viewers who stuck around until the very, very end of something very, very tired are a lot of viewers, and if they showed up, say, Thursday night, that’d give a mega-hit to struggling, aging MTV. That’s why it’s understandable that MTV has reached into a dusty drawer and pulled it out.

The show’s brand is still valuable enough to the network for them to have used half of it in a nonsensically named but thematically identical series that aired last year, and following it is the return of the parent series, rebranded slightly as Jersey Shore: Family Vacation (MTV, Thursdays at 8).

Adding “Family Vacation” to the title seems to be an attempt to suggest that this isn’t just the original series all over again, because things have changed.

And they have: Snooki and Jwoww—excuse me, Nicole and Jenni, as they mostly all call each other by real names (“Ron”, “Mike”)—each have two kids. Ronnie’s girlfriend is pregnant. Most of them are in committed relationships, most of them have kids, many of them seem pretty wealthy, one of them is facing prison time for tax evasion.

“I’m living the life I’ve always wanted to live,” Pauly D says, showing off his lavish house, which has motorcycles inside because he was never allowed to have bikes inside when he was a kid.

Vinny tells us, “I am a completely different person,” and the Situation says, “I was pretty much just a shell of the person you see today.”

Since their lives have changed, and since they talk about how they haven’t had time to spend with each other—the things of life, such as kids and breast implants, took priority—they get together in Miami for a reunion.

It’s a decent idea, but the problem is that once they get there, they just perform their old roles again. And that was so uninteresting five years ago that half the show’s final season audience didn’t even stick around until the season finale.

They’re all super at-ease in front of the cameras, and whether this is performance or personality or impossible to tell the difference between the two, it feels natural, and they feel at home with each other.

What that means is that they scream, they drink, they say mean things, they say nice things, they scream, rinse, repeat, boring. There are clips of the old Jersey Shore interspersed throughout that just reinforce how little has changed.

The cast is even recycling things from the show that was a terrible carbon copy of their show, Floribama Shore. On that show’s premiere last fall, a drunk cast member peed on a bed; in the second hour of the two-hour Jersey Shore revival, Snooki pees in the pool instead of just going to a bathroom.

The problem is that this all got super-old, super-fast, which is why the show went off the air. Now what are they going to do? Ruin their relationships for our entertainment? Maybe, but is that really what people want to watch?

Occasionally the show brushes up against something interesting, but either the editing or the production or their expectations for what they’ve been hired to do swings them away from it really quickly. For example, they mock each other for using condoms during sex before realizing that not using protection is what gave several of them children, but then breeze right by that, because why think about consequences, even when those are human lives?

At one point, Nicole tells Ronnie, “Go crazy, get wild, because once you have that baby, bitch, it’s done.” She says that while she, a mother of two toddlers, drinks wine, and shortly before she has to be carried out of a bar. She’s doing the same thing Ronnie is doing—going crazy and getting wild—but making the cliche argument that his life is over once a baby is born. Maybe there’s something to explore there; Jersey Shore doesn’t bother.

Most of the first hour is spent catching up and getting them to Miami, and that was the most interesting part of the first two hours to me, and I wanted more of that—or more of how their fame affects them.

There are conspicuous security guards hovering around them in public, and lots of random people filming the cast with their cell phones and watching, and exploring that would be new. So this is just more of the same, as the original series also ignored their fame and even shipped them to Italy for a season to get away from fans.

What’s left is watching this group drink and dance and fall down blind drunk onto the concrete. Is that still entertaining? If it is, well, Jersey Shore: Family Vacation will deliver.

But it’s hard not to think of them all as Sammi Sweetheart—not the real Samantha Giancola, who opted out of participating in the show, but a sex doll version of her that one of the guys brings into the house. It comes complete with recordings of Sammi’s catchphrases.

That the production did this—and spends so much time focusing on it—is pretty grotesque behavior that masquerades as comedy, even when the doll is thrown into the pool to drown while they still refer to it as Sammi. Just think about what’s happening as they drown a surrogate for their alleged friend.

Yes, in this reboot, the show has replaced a cast member with an inanimate thing, as a life-size sex doll, objectifying her in the most literal way possible by turning her into a catchphrase-spouting prop that can be carried around and placed into allegedly entertaining situations. There couldn’t be a better illustration of what Jersey Shore: Family Vacation is doing to its entire cast.

About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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