In light of the news that The Situation is now in rehab, the most interesting plotline Jersey Shore Season 5 has become, retroactively, one that only happened between the lines — Sitch's clear and disturbing downward spiral into shaky, broken paranoia. Why? Because it's the closest the season came to telling an emotionally honest story.
Yes. We just complained that Jersey Shore isn't emotionally honest enough. Why shouldn't we? As much as the show's about drinking and sex and ridiculousness, it's also supposed to be about something akin to reality. Season 5 lost hold of that goal entirely, and we'd argue that's exactly why it was so damned boring. At least back when Sammi and Ronnie were fighting all the time it was disturbingly dysfunctional in an honest way.
Here's the thing: Jersey Shore started much in the vein of MTV's genre-defining The Real World, throwing together some random strangers to see what happened. The idea was that the cast was made up of average-Joe kids who like to party at the Shore; we were supposedly getting a docu-look into their wild and crazy lifestyle.
And that was fine, for a season or two. You can argue about how much a forced setting like the Shore house can ever truly capture anything resembling reality, but at least the Macaroni Rascals were, at the time, what the show wanted them to be: regular people in an irregular situation. Whatever else Jersey Shore brought to the table, it was, in its way, a portrait of some random young people from a very specific subculture. But as time went on and the show kept the same cast, that premise became more and more disconnected from the truth. Far from being your everyday partygoers, the cast quickly became celebrities in their own right.
This posed a problem for the show. The entire conceit of giving audiences an inside look into the lives of real people goes out the window when the cast is famous. However, Season 5 proved one thing for certain: clinging to the original premise while keeping the same cast just doesn't work.
This season was incredibly dull. It wasn't just the worst season of Jersey Shore, it was one of the most lackluster attempts at making entertaining reality TV we've seen in a long time. Why? Because the producers refused to acknowledge the cast's fame and, as a result, had to resort to cheap, obvious interference in an attempt to stir up drama more appropriate to their entirely imaginary story of non-famous, non-rich guidos. But the plots The Powers That Be tried to inject were so clearly manufactured, there was no sense of tension. Suddenly, we were watching a game where there weren't really any stakes, and the only people who had something to lose was the audience (the hours of our lives we won't get back...).
There were interesting things happening this season, but they were all danced around on screen because they involved the cast being more than just people partying at the Shore. Which is too bad, because in Season 5 the show really had the chance to take an in-depth look at the toll fame takes.
As the most obvious example, Vinny had a full on breakdown due to anxiety. It was something he was ready to be open and honest about, and yet on the show we got — nothing, really. He went home, yeah, but no one ever really said why. Homesickness, maybe? This was a real opportunity to inject some much-needed brutal honesty into the narrative, and it was entirely passed over in favor of pretending that Vinny's departure would mean having to get a new roommate.
And therein lies the problem. No one — no one — cared about the "new roommate," but we could have cared about Vinny's fragile mental state if we were given even half the chance.
We have to wonder what the point of keeping the same cast members around is, if the Powers That Be don't let the audience in when they're at their most vulnerable. We've grown attached to these crazy kids, and we want to know how they really feel — and, inevitably, that means we want to know how being recognized everywhere they go affects their lives.
Fortunately, sources say Season 6 will finally deal with the cast's "off-camera fame," and show creator SallyAnn Salsano told us she plans to be honest about Snooki's pregnancy and Sitch's sobriety. Maybe that means Jersey Shore will actually take a chance and reinvent itself as the show it could be. Sure, it will never not have a trashy veneer, but there's potential for it to become something more: An honest portrait of what it's like to be a reality star at the height of your fame.
Maybe that's asking too much from a show that revolves around a club called Karma. But hey, we gotta hope, right?
Need a Jersey Shore fix? Catch the next new episode of The Pauly D Project on Thursday, April 5 at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on MTV.