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Monday, May 27, 2024

An ode to ‘Jersey Shore’

A piece of TV history, best left that way

In the second most viewed episode of “Jersey Shore,” watched by nearly 9 million people during its first airing, couple Sammi Giancola and Ronnie Ortiz-Magro nearly tear one another apart. Giancola punches Ortiz-Magro in the face in retaliation for his newly formed friendship with another female cast member. Two episodes later, Ortiz-Magro, after seeing Giancola dancing with someone else at the nightclub Karma, returns home and smashes her things in a flurry: her glasses, medicine, jewelry, the contents of her closet. He throws her clothes and bed onto the patio. 

When Giancola returns, they embark on a screaming match for the ages, with the six other tenants of the Shore House as the only force stopping them from (physically) killing one another. Giancola is visibly crying at multiple points during the on-the-fly (OTF) interviews that editors place throughout the episode, which serve as a clever tool of framing to ensure that the viewer can correctly interpret the events without too much brainwork, providing context through the questions that cast members have been instructed to answer in the present tense (to allow for seamless integration). Giancola spent much of Season 3 crying, and producers allowed her to leave the Shore House for two episodes following the altercation.

According to a story producer who worked on the show’s first three seasons, the couple’s most violent fight appears choppy and chronologically confused because the other cast members of the show pleaded directly into the cameras for production to intervene or to call the police, accosting the silent cameramen who had flooded the room like hungry strays once the first shout rang out. The editors decided to cut this, as the cast’s desperate SOS threatened the sanctity of the fourth wall.

“We were seeing incredible television being made before our eyes but at the detriment of two kids,” the anonymous producer wrote. “It still doesn’t sit right with me.” The fight was “horrible and far more intense than what aired.”

It appears that the producers of “Jersey Shore” operate under a mantra akin to the Prime Directive from “Star Trek”—no interference, no matter what. It seems to have worked out quite well, since all but 16 episodes of “Jersey Shore” had higher ratings than the series finale of “Mad Men.”

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi’s favorite moment on the show was apparently getting punched in the face at the end of the fourth episode, a moment MTV ultimately decided to censor with a cut-to-black in the broadcast version, but which nevertheless generated enough buzz to breathe real life into the show’s viewership after an anemic debut. Controversy seems to have been a mechanism of advertisement for the show, with sponsors like Domino’s pulling advertisements before the show’s debut after complaints from Italian-American organizations like UNICO about the show’s use of the phrase “Guido” in advertising and its apparent desire to exoticize the Italian heritage of its cast in tandem with their hedonic lifestyles. Despite the show’s marketing, a quarter of its cast isn’t even Italian, including Polizzi and Jenni “JWoww” Farley.

A gigantic Italian flag and “Scarface” poster serve as gaudy centerpieces in the Shore House, silent observers of alcohol poisoning, violent breakdowns and heartbreak. A runthrough of the cast’s house during Season 2 with creator SallyAnn Salsano reveals that castmate Paul D. DelVecchio Jr. keeps 11 cans of hairspray on the floor next to his bed. Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino was addicted to painkillers during the show’s first five seasons and was sentenced to federal prison for tax evasion in 2018. Cast member Vinny Guadagnino is now a Chippendales dancer.

According to what evidence exists, the show’s first few (and most influential) seasons were mostly uncoerced. Tan lightning in a bottle—the product of exquisite casting and luck dooming eight strangers to the maximum amount of strife and conflict possible—or as the anonymous producer from earlier put it, “incredible television.”

The show’s soundtrack sounds like a Xanax-snorting Blink-182, predominantly distorted electric guitars playing power chords in major keys, acquiescing to “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”-style strings and xylophone when a scene is branded as comic relief. The show wants you stimulated in all ways all the time.

One-third of the show’s cast gets arrested on camera over the show’s six seasons. One cast member, Guadagnino, suffers an anxious breakdown and leaves the show for several episodes. Ortiz-Magro punches a stranger unconscious in the streets of Seaside Heights under the watchful eye of an MTV camera. Seven out of the nine cast members are shown crying.

Before leaving, Guadagnino tells DelVecchio Jr., “Every day I am suffering.”

“Jersey Shore” prompted MTV to produce a number of imitation programs, including “Geordie Shore,” “Каникулы в Мексике,” “Warsaw Shore” and “Acapulco Shore.” None have come close to the viewership of “Jersey Shore.”

Written by: Jacob Anderson — arts@theaggie.org


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