First Impressions takes a look at new and returning TV shows, just as they’re kicking off. We fill you in, spoiler-free.
Although Jersey Shore ended just over a year ago, it has felt like an eternity to some of us. The conclusion of that hallmark entry in reality television history has left a gaping chasm in lowbrow culture’s heart, and it’s one that has yet to be filled.
Until now… Potentially.
Last week, the preeminent purveyors of trash culture at E! premiered a new show alongside the channel’s flagship contribution to Western civilization, Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Eponymously titled Rich Kids of Beverly Hills, the program revolves around a group of wealthy, primarily female young adults as they spend their parents’ money and ponder the quaint exigencies of their hypnotically opulent lives.
In the first episode, a wonderfully perverse theme of superficial civic-mindedness dominates the girls’ psyches. Dorothy opines that “everyone has to give back once in a while” as she signs a five-digit bar tab. Later, she hosts a community blood drive. These moments may serve as sophisticated comment on the inherent egoism of most upper-class philanthropic endeavors. Or maybe they just give Dorothy something fun to do.
Often, seemingly abysmal entertainment contains hidden meanings that are exposed upon reflection. From what I’ve seen so far, this show will be bursting with such obscured themes.
For instance, there’s a moment when a male side character spills wine on Dorothy’s obscenely expensive shoes and purse. Although she’s initially upset, her panic and wrath quickly subside when she acknowledges something simple and seemingly uncharacteristic: “They’re only things,” she seems to acknowledge.
This statement was far more complex than it’d initially appear. Her attitude was borne not of some kind of unconscious anti-consumerist impulse. She does not, and will probably never, be the one shouting at her spouse, “it’s just a COUCH!” Rather, her lack of an emotional attachment to material things is the natural result of her unfathomable privilege and her abiding belief that, as the daughter of a billionaire, there’s always more where that came from. Her rejection of commodity worship was not anti-materialism, but hyper-materialism.
In a sense, this is just expressive of her essential frivolity and wastefulness. But for some reason this moment stuck with me, as if demonstrative of how thesis and antithesis paradoxically align once each position becomes extreme enough.
Am I delving too deep? Yes. What I really meant to say was that this show is hilarious. The real star of the show is Morgan Stewart, a vulgar Republican blonde who runs a brilliant website called Boobs and Loubs, which is half wealth lifestyle blog and half diary. I find her remarkably silly and wonderfully awkward affectations legitimately endearing. She is delicately nuanced and astonishingly bitchy. At the end of the day, I’ll be tuning in next week for more of her.
So what are the show’s drawbacks?
For one thing, I’m not convinced (yet) that these cast members are really crazy enough to keep from going stale in a month.Dorothy and Morgan are both funny and smart, but it’s hard to imagine either of them engaging in the level of debauched hijinks that we really need in a reality show.
The best reality TV thrives off of drama. Serious drama. Relentless, cartoonish, stranger-than-fiction irrationality and capriciousness. See, e.g., The Bachelor/ette, Mob Wives, and Real Housewives of New Jersey. I won’t recount the first episodes’ intra-cast issues, but suffice it to say they’re comparatively underwhelming.
The show’s producer has acknowledged this about the show, describing it as “much more Clueless than it is Mean Girls.” With modern Clueless already taken, it’s quite possible viewers may prefer to see something more like Mean Girls.
In retrospect, the best thing about Jersey Shore was not just its unusually funny cast, but also that they were all severely warped (read: unique, fascinating, inscrutable). The humor draws you in, but you stay for the psychosis. That’s why it’s sometimes difficult to call the various Kardashian permutations quality reality. At their most dramatic, that family is still rather commonplace (forgive me). Wealth doesn’t always equate to charisma.
We’ll see where this show is headed. For now, it has my undivided attention once a week for 22 minutes. No more, no less.
Time is money, after all.