The bad boys and girls of summer are back.
MTV’s “Jersey Shore” returns Thursday for its second season — based in Miami this time around, not Seaside Heights, N.J. Debuting in December 2009, the show quickly became a cultural phenomenon that raised hackles, spawned late-night jokes and made celebrities out of eight previously unknown 20-somethings. It also brought a whole new and not exactly salutary meaning to such words as “pouf,” “pump,” “juicer,” “gorilla,” “creep” and “grenade.”
Here are six questions and answers to help you get a better handle on what’s ahead.
—So what do those words mean, anyway?
A “pouf” is hair that’s been built up to Everest heights with the aid of a large quantity of gel. “Gorilla” and “juicer” refer to pec-laden males who may have added something to their Mai Tais to help said muscles grow. To “creep” is to cruise for women, although you might want to avoid a “grenade,” euphemism for a less-attractive female.
—How did this become a hit in the first place?
There are a lot of reasons, but here is one short answer — “Jersey Shore” is “The Anti-Hills.” It’s vulgar, in-your-face and frequently offensive. There’s no Lo here, and certainly no Brody, with their frosted, perfectly constructed sweat-free exteriors. There’s no Kristin or Audrina, either, decked in Abercrombie & Fitch rompers or Vintage Polos.
The dialogue doesn’t feel scripted, and the scenes don’t look like they’ve been rehearsed — although it is unclear how one would rehearse hot tub scenes with drunken cast members in various states of undress. For better or worse, “Jersey Shore” put the “real” back in “reality,” and after six seasons of highly stylized pseudo-life on “The Hills,” viewers probably were ready for something fresh.
“It’s something we talked about in the beginning,” says Chris Linn, MTV’s chief of production. “We already were feeling that our audience was looking for an authentic, realistic experience. There are so many shows that you can smell and feel are not real, and we really wanted to go in that other direction.”
—But surely it’s not that simple, right?
Surely not. Pick any reality show from the many dozens on the air, and you could make the same argument, from “Gene Simmons: Family Jewels” to “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.” What’s specific to “Shore” — setting it apart from “The Real World” franchise, which inspired it — is the culture of the locale and the characters themselves. We haven’t seen a lot of people like them on reality TV, including “Real World,” have we?
—If “Jersey Shore” put the “real” back in reality, then after endless tabloid stories about salary disputes, club brawls and egos run amok, how can it possibly return as the same show?
While there are exceptions to this rule, sharks are typically jumped the minute something that was once deemed hot becomes a complete parody of itself, as “Jersey Shore” nearly has. The show almost became too popular too fast — not a good sign — and the tabloids swooped in to feed. The spectacle has often been tacky, gross and seamy.
Those three words may actually work in “Shore’s” favor, considering it’s a show about outsize characters with potty mouths and highly dubious hygienic habits (back to that hot tub). “Obviously, there was some nervousness that they were going to be different, more self-aware, play it up for the camera (during the second season), but we were really pleasantly surprised,” Linn says. “They haven’t changed.”
—What about the controversy over the word “guido” that caused so much grief last season — where does that stand now?
One of the first words out of Pauly D’s mouth last season was “guido” (“I was born and raised a guido”) and the slur was instantly echoed by everyone else. MTV tried to strip the word of its inherent ethnicity and stereotype, insisting it had nothing to do with Italian heritage, but rather a certain type of lifestyle. Various groups representing Italian-Americans were infuriated and began a running battle that continues to this moment.
Just last week UNICO, the Fairfield, N.J.-based Italian-American service organization, announced that the large Italian flag painted on the garage door in the series had been removed by MTV. Also, the word “guido” was rarely used after the pilot. UNICO national president Andre DiMino said, “We certainly are going to be watching it very, very closely to see if they continue with their negative stereotyping and denigration of Italian-Americans, but I’m cautiously optimistic.”
—Can “Jersey Shore” survive?
The big question saved for last. Shows live and shows die, although the life cycle for reality phenoms is dramatically accelerated. Characters, especially brassy ones, can wear out a welcome quickly. Plus, “Jersey Shore” won’t even be at the Jersey Shore this season, and instead in Florida’s South Beach (the show needed a locale with a warm climate to get the second season launched in July; it will be back on the shore for the third season). In a sense, that means the most important character — if the show title is any indication — won’t even be back this season.
“Overall, we’re happy with the show,” Linn says. “In terms of it being a hundred percent real and genuine, we’re overjoyed. The cast does not disappoint and the show does not disappoint.”
TV viewers will, as always, be the judge of that.
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MEET THE GANG FROM ‘JERSEY’
—Vinny Guadagnino, 22
FROM: Staten Island, N.Y.
BEST KNOWN FOR: Coming from a big Italian family. Closest to “Sitch” and Pauly D, he’s probably the least showy of this whole group. While he can be a little wild, he is also the one who sits back and observes. He is the Quiet One.
—Angelina “Jolie” Pivarnick, 24
FROM: Staten Island, N.Y.
BEST KNOWN FOR: Being just a little bit snippy and standoffish. A bartender, she arrived with belongings in trash bags last season, which became a running gag. Left after three episodes then returned to stir up trouble on the January reunion show. Wangled invitation back for the second season, but reportedly will not be back for the third.
—Paul “DJ Pauly D” Delvecchio, 30
FROM: Johnston, R.I.
BEST KNOWN FOR: His hair. Or his hair gel. Can’t live without the stuff. Plus, he’s got a tanning bed in his house. Pauly D is a neatnik, and is probably closest to “The Situation,” but did have a fling with JWOWW.
—Jenni “JWOWW” Farley, 25
FROM: Franklin Square, N.Y.
BEST KNOWN FOR: Probably those long blond highlights last season; those are gone in the new season. Tough and brash, this club promoter-designer even smacked The Situation across the mouth in one episode. Everyone’s just a little bit fearful of ol’ JWOWW, who calls herself the “praying mantis” of the little group, with obvious implications. She and “Snooks” are also being sued by a Chicago woman who claimed they beat her in a Miami club. Has a new fashion line called Filthy Couture.
—Ronnie Magro, 24
FROM: The Bronx, N.Y.
BEST KNOWN: FOR Decking someone who was harassing him last season, and then spending the night in jail. He’s probably the nicest of the bunch. Yeah, a little hotheaded, but basically a softy. He had the only long-running in-house hookup in season one — with Sammi. But that is so over.
—Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, 22
FROM: Marlboro, N.Y.
BEST KNOWN FOR: The true free spirit of the group, she got off to a bad start in season one. Got inebriated, made a fool of herself and nearly left a couple of episodes in. But since then she’s easily become the most recognized — and parodied — of the “Shore” gang. Spent the first season looking for a guy, nearly hooked up with Sitch, who thought of her as his little sister, and then — during the off-season — found a guy (they’ve since broken up).
—Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, 29
FROM: Staten Island, N.Y.
BEST KNOWN FOR Everything. He is the straw that stirs this odd drink. He’s the Funny One, who has abs with a name (“The Situation”), and a resilient ego. He and Pauly D “creep” on the ladies, with one obvious intention. However, the Sitch’s luck in this endeavor varies; tried to hook up with Sammi, who never expressed interest. He recently inked a book deal; the tome’s about tanning salons, protein and other secrets to the good life. He’ll also be releasing a workout video.
—Sammi “Sweetheart” Giancola, 23
FROM: Hazlet, N.J.
BEST KNOWN FOR: Dumping guys. She claims to be the “sweetest (rhymes with “witch”) you’ll ever meet,” which technically is not true.