[5 September 2006]
MTV’s super-hit Laguna Beach aired its second season as another MTV reality staple, The Real World, was inching towards its 20th. Both series purport to show the lives of real youngsters and their unscripted, everyday dramas. Yet The Real World has always prided itself on cobbling together a cast that comprises different social backgrounds, ethnicities, ages, and viewpoints.
But have you noticed something a little bit odd about recent Real World casts? Whereas once they were a strange, varied, and downright goofy-looking group of assembled parties (remember cartoonist Judd Winick from the third season?), its casts in recent years have all gotten a little younger, have taken on a bit more muscle mass, and are a little bit more telegeni—okay, make that way more telegenic—than the motley casts of the early ‘90s.
With Laguna Beach, MTV drops The Real World‘s conceit of a social experiment and dispenses with its trademark lip service to diversity, taking Laguna Beach to the logical extreme of the direction The Real World has been moving: a cast of teenagers that are all exceedingly attractive, fashionably dressed, and incredibly wealthy. And that ethnic diversity? Just forget about it.
After filtering out the unpopular, unglamorous, and uninitiated, Laguna Beach‘s scope is narrowed down to a buzzing group of queen bees and their social relationships. It turned out to be a winning formula for MTV, so the second season of Laguna Beach gives fans a big helping of more-of-the-same: more hookups, more break-ups, drama-filled formal dances, a drama-filled spring break in Cabo, tear-filled goodbyes as cast members leave for college, and lots of gossiping and back-stabbing. It follows almost exactly in the footprints of the first season; no new ground is broken here.
While the first season mostly concerned itself with a Kristen / Stephen / Lauren love triangle, this year the big romantic entanglement was Jessica / Jason / Alex, or maybe it was Stephen / Kristen / Talan, or perhaps it was Jessica / Jason / Lauren . . . In the end, does it really matter? Swap in any of the tanned, toned, perfectly coiffed girls with any of the laconic surfer boys, and it doesn’t really make a difference to the show, so long as there is something for the popular crowd to buzz about.
However interchangeable the cast members might be, there is something compelling about watching these epics unfold, something guilty-pleasure-like that makes marathon viewings of Laguna Beach irresistible. The series is like a real-life Mean Girls or Cruel Intentions being played out for the audience’s benefit. It’s almost amazing the way these girls (and it’s always the girls) connive and conspire to achieve their romantic goals, and how the boys just fall in line in accordance with their whims—unless there is another girl to stop them, of course.
In this respect, Kristin Cavalleri—the show’s breakout star in that she had a spot hosting the short-lived reality show Get This Party Started and scored a guest role in the acclaimed Veronica Mars—is the most appealing to watch. She’s invincible, pulling in guys with her wily tractor beam and then leaving them holding torches for her. Any why not? The show never even hints that these kids have something going on in their lives besides each other.
The Laguna Beach world is one without school work, part-time jobs, heavy domestic problems, heart-wrenching death or disease (unless you count Alex’s mysterious rumored “hygiene problem”), and pretty much without parents. It’s a world where an axiom like “Boys are like purses: There’s the one you’re comfortable with that you wear every day, and the ones that are gorgeous that you want everyone to see you with,” is met with not scornful laughter but unchallenged approval. While some might find this aspect of the show aspirational wish-fulfillment, it might make others glad that they went to high school during the grunge-infused, slacker, laissez-faire high school of the ‘90s (um, myself included).
For those who can’t get enough of the inner-workings of the in-crowd in the 17 regular episodes, the second season of Laguna Beach comes with a whole disc of bonus material. It’s hard to imagine anyone slogging through the whole thing, though. In the special feature “Laguna Guide to Love”, cast members are rounded up and asked for their responses to softball questions like “Is it ever okay to lie to a boyfriend?” Excuse me, Jessica, you stood in front of a club full of people and called yourself a whore after stealing back your ex-boyfriend from his rebound relationship (Episode #9, “Cabo, Cabo, Cabo”). You’re the last person who should be doling out relationship advice.
Lengthy deleted scenes evoke gratitude that such meandering conversations weren’t included in the original episodes. In the “Laguna Memories” feature, cast members share old home movies that are displayed as one uninterrupted reel, without any identifying commentary to set the time and place. Yes, it’s just as boring as any other series of home movies, only this time you don’t have to smile at the proud parents and pretend to be interested. Still, even with all the extra footage, home movies, and behind-the-scenes glimpses at magazine photo shoots, cracks never form in the sun-drenched, attractive suburban universe that MTV creates out of Laguna Beach.