Jersey shore, season five


 The new season of “Jersey Shore” blew in unexpectedly; I thought our DVR was mistakenly recording old episodes from previous seasons.  Then we saw Pauly D. on a talk show, and saw clips from the new season, and thought: oh my god, we’re missing it!



As with the (rancid) cream of the reality shows – “Bridezillas,” “A List: New York,” “A List: Dallas” – you can’t look away.  It’s like that scene in “A Christmas Story” when Ralphie’s little brother plunges his face onto his plate and begins to eat like a pig at his mother’s urging, and both of them are screaming with laughter.  It’s disgusting, but you have to watch it.



We are (as of this writing) only two episodes into the new season.  I know from Internet scuttlebutt that this season did not go well; apparently there was serious dissention among the Seaside Heights Eight, and word went out that a few guidos / guidettes went home for good. 



They are, I think, mostly sick of each other.  The show took them directly from Florence (where, according to Vinnie, they did “everything you can possibly do,” ha ha, yes they certainly took advantage of the opportunity to broaden their minds) to Seaside Heights, giving them no time to spend with their families and friends in between.  This (I’m sure) was meant to ramp up the tension level on the show, and it worked like a charm.  Mike and Nicole (aka Sitch and Snooki) are at one another’s throats.  Vinnie, who used to seem a tiny bit smarter and calmer than the others, is now completely worn out, and contemplating leaving the house.  Jenny (aka JWOWW) is an exhausted den mother, trying to sort out arguments and calm everyone down while serving snacks.  (Who knew she’d be the mature one?)  The others – Ron, Sammi, Deena, Paulie – are watching quietly from the sidelines, waiting for the whole thing to implode, so they can go off and do their spinoff MTV shows and QVC jewelry hours and Xenadrine ads.



But still we cannot look away.  We look, and we see:


        Snooki drinking the juice out of the pickle jar;

        Snooki wearing panties with JIONNI (her boyfriend’s name) written on the butt;

        Situation and his friend Unit (!) spraying one another with – what? – bronzer? cologne? – in a bizarre dance-like ritual;

        Paulie getting too much exposure at the tanning salon, and ending up looking like a burnt weenie (he puts Popsicles on his face to ease the pain);

        Paulie hooking up with a girl who steals his gold-and-diamond chain, then brings it back to the house, no harm done, tee hee.  (I wonder if the show’s producers prompted her to do it?  They had the felony on tape, after all.)



Who knows what lies ahead? 



Thank goodness the world ends in December 2012.  There can’t be more than two or three more Jersey Shore series before then!



Jersey Shore: Stupidita all’italiana


Do we need to speak about this new season of Jersey Shore?



Probably not. But I can’t help it.



Stupid is as stupid does, we say. Some of the cast members are turning out not to be stupid. Who knew someone named JWOWW could be (relatively) mature and intelligent? And Vinnie – while no rocket scientist – is not a dummy. And Paulie is funny, and a natural entertainer.



But now let us speak of the others.



Deena: the less said the better. She thinks she’s fun. No, really, she does! But she is not. But most assuredly she is not. She is a dull-witted hanger-on who falls down a lot. Basta.



(Speaking of “basta”: did I mention that they’re in Italy? Doesn’t matter. They could be in Teaneck or Schenectady or Hoboken. They go out to eat a lot, and you catch glimpses of the Arno and Santa Maria Novella and the Campanile di Giotto in the background, and Snooki has discovered a taste for “Italy wine.” So much for the show being set in Italy. Let’s get on with this.)



Ron: okay, my opinion of Ronnie is skewed, because I think he’s cute. But he’s violent, and we’ve seen him beat the shit out of a couple of guys, and we’ve seen him push and hit women more than once. ‘Roid rage? Just natural meanness? Doesn’t really matter. We will be hearing more from him, probably in those TMZ moments when they update us on celebrity meltdowns.



Mike “The Situation”: his psychology is so tangled it almost defies description. He can cook, for one thing, and he’s not as absymally stupid as some of the others. But he’s desperate for attention, and he loves meddling for its own sake. He discovered the TV camera before most of the rest of them did, and it took him a couple of seasons to learn not to look directly into it before doing something especially heinous. He likes creating drama and watching people fight. It was really viscerally pleasing (for me, at least) to see the murderously serious Ronnie try to beat the life out of him not long ago.



And last, the eternal Snooki (or better, as an Italian florist called her, “Nookie”). She looks like a dirty ungroomed obese hairy parakeet. She burps. She is an ungodly shade of orange/brown. She, like Deena, thinks she’s attractive. She keeps pointing to Florentine churches and wanting to know if they’re the Vatican. There’s a grotesque close-up of her kneading pizza dough (yes, they keep pretending that they’re working real jobs) with nasty claw-like blue-sparkly fingernails.



Why oh why do I keep watching this show?



Because it is just about the funniest and saddest thing on TV, with the possible exception of “The A-List: New York.”



Next week (I hope): Snooki loses one of her fingernails in the pizza dough!



RuPaul’s Drag Race

I get a huge kick out of drag. It’s not my thing personally; if I did drag I’d look like an alcoholic overage version of Nancy Kulp as Miss Jane Hathaway from “The Beverly Hillbillies.” But I admire the drag artists who do it; it takes courage to do it at all, and it takes skill to do it well.



Logo TV, bless its gay little heart, is currently bringing us another season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” On one level it’s just another reality-show competition. On another level it’s wonderful. Drag has always been about performance and competition. Cattiness and rivalry are endemic to the drag community, so there’s no need for the producers to inject drama into the show; the players bring it with them. And there’s little or no real malice or bad feeling here. New York Magazine this week noted that this is just about the only reality-show competition with likeable contestants. The judges don’t pull any punches, but they don’t mock the contestants; they mostly point out presentation flaws. They do it wittily and pointedly, but – hey – that’s part of the drag scene. If your dress isn’t hemmed correctly, if your wig isn’t right: hey, girl, watch out!


I used to think that drag was bad advertising for the gay community. It implied that we weren’t serious. I’ve come to realize that the drag community is sort of like our Knights of Columbus lodge. Drag queens, and the Knights of Columbus, put on parades and socials; they host charity bingo events; they get to wear bizarrely colorful outfits and gigantic feathered hats.


In both cases, it’s performance art about being openly and proudly different in a hostile and indifferent world.


As Lady Bunny, a guest judge at last year’s “Drag U.”, said so memorably: “Honey, I always envied my older sister when I was a kid. And now here I am, famous, and my sister’s in a mental institution. So that just goes to show you.”


Amen, sister.





Teach, Tony! Tony, teach!

Omigod, a blog about Tony Danza.

First, read this.

Now: continue.

Quick summary: “Teach” is a “reality” show in which Tony Danza, the actor, goes into a Philadelphia public school to teach tenth-grade English.  Trials, tribulations, tears, small defeats, small victories.  In the words of Groucho Marx, there are many scenes of splendor and fierce antagonism.


Let’s deconstruct, shall we?


A “celebrity” goes into an “ordinary Joe” situation (a la Nicole and Paris on “The Simple Life”) in which he is forced to work hard and struggle (a la “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!” and “Celebrity Apprentice”) while dealing with issues of his own status/celebrity (a la “Undercover Boss,” anything with Kathy Griffin, anything with Kirstie Alley) while working in a naturally challenging situation (a la “Deadliest Catch” and “Kitchen Nightmares”), all in an effort to enlighten and entertain us, to bring us a laugh and a tear.


Did I miss anything?

First of all, it’s on A&E.  This used to stand for “arts and entertainment,” but cable networks have gotten a little sloppy about their self-identification (TLC, once “The Learning Channel,” showed “Jon & Kate Plus Eight,” after all.  Perhaps they abbreviated their name in shame.)  I’m not sure what a reality show about Tony Danza pretending to make a career out of education has to do with either “art” or “entertainment.”  Perhaps the “art” is the art of self-deception, and the “entertainment” is the Schadenfreude variety.

I’m being mean, and it’s easy to be mean.  This show has “quick and cheap” written all over it.

But TV is always a hall of mirrors, and sometimes things aren’t what they seem.  

Let’s be venal.  What do the participants have to gain from this show?

  • Danza: Face time on TV.  
  • A&E: A cheaply-produced program about a hot-button topic, using a (presumably) inexpensive B-minus list celebrity who’s hungry for face time.
  • The school: Publicity.  Hopefully good publicity.

Let us now speak of Tony Danza.  His publicity aside (degree in education, middleweight boxer, movie/TV actor, etc.), his great accomplishment in life has been the creation of a character named “Tony.”  “Tony” is a small but tough Italian-American man, ugly/attractive, who looks and sounds like a thug, but who is much more intelligent and sensitive than you give him credit for.  “Tony” keeps finding himself in odd/unexpected situations in life: he’s driving a cab, he’s a housekeeper – but through his combination of toughness and heart, he keeps succeeding despite all odds.  His last name changes, depending on the show, but “Tony” is always “Tony.”  He was “Tony” on “Taxi,” he was “Tony” on “Who’s the Boss?”  (I find while browsing IMDB that he was “Tony” on something called “Hudson Street” too, as well as “The Tony Danza Show” (?!), on which he played “Tony DiMeo.”)

Well, he’s “Tony” again.  Except now he wants to be a teacher.  Evidently he wants to be a teacher the way he wanted to be a boxer, and then he wanted to be an actor.  He is very sincere about all of the things he wants to be.  He wants to be . . . everything.

Again I’m being mean.  Deep breath.  Apologize.

“Reality” TV has very little to do with capital-R Reality.  Film crews.  Staged situations.  Have you ever noticed that the cops on “Cops” are generally extremely polite?  And how the Bad Girls on “Bad Girls Club” are extremely loud and boisterous?  A camera crew does wonders for getting people to act in exaggerated ways.

But sometimes, unexpectedly, “reality” TV breaks through into capital-R Reality.

“Tony” is very eager to make a good impression.  He clowns for the students and staff.  He talks non-stop.  He thinks he’s doing a good job as a teacher, and is crestfallen to find that he’s broken rules, and that the students don’t invariably think he’s wonderful.  He tries very hard to create interesting lessons and good tests, and gets mixed reviews.  He cries a bit.  He finds that, despite all his best efforts, he is . . . average.  

He wonders if he’s a good teacher.  He wonders if this whole thing was a good idea.

Just the way a real brand-new teacher would.

. . . 

P.S.: I told Partner this morning that I was writing about Tony Danza today.  “You be careful,” he said warningly.  “You know he’s the boss.”

Enough said.

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