Jersey Shore is finally back, with the rare reboot that doesn’t make us wonder wait, who did they vote for? or why is this happening to me?
Dusting off a group of reality TV has-beens, dragging them away from their partners and families and making them black out nightly in Miami might not sound like feel-good television, but Jersey Shore: Family Reunion, which premiered two back-to-back episodes on Thursday, is shockingly pleasant. Five years later, this cast is clearly still close, as well as incredibly cognizant of what makes for quality TV. Anyone who wants to argue (stupidly) that starring on a reality TV show doesn’t take talent should watch Snooki, a mother of two children, take her shirt off and pee in her vacation house’s infinity pool like absolutely no time has passed at all.
These people are really good at this, so their confusion as to why it took five years to get them back on the air is understandable. Still, this off-camera sabbatical has produced a fascinating sample of ex-reality star life outcomes, answering a question that probably says a lot more about our very weird times than it does about these mama’s boys and meatballs: What happens when a group of small-town guidos become, for a short period of time, the most famous people in America?
In the cases of Snooki, Deena, JWoww, Vinny, The Situation, and Pauly D, reality-TV stardom has sped up some life trajectories, and had minimal impact on others.
Snooki, Deena, and JWoww are all wifed up, and Snooki and JWoww each have two kids (Snooki: “I always said I wanted to meet a tan guido and have tan babies and it basically happened just like that.”) In one of the best catch-up montages I have ever seen, we reconnect with Pauly D via a Cribs-style tour of his Las Vegas home, which is full of motorcycles. Pauly D is a world famous DJ now, which means that he gets to keep his motorcycles inside the house. He also has like three Lamborghinis and a cardboard cutout of himself. Vinny, the Internet realist’s boyfriend, is as sweet and low-key as ever, immediately coming clean that, “There’s not really crazy stuff going on in my life.” But he has a girlfriend! And he doesn’t live with his mom anymore!
Tied as always for last place are Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino and Ronnie “Rahn” Ortiz-Magro. Mike has repented for his past bad behavior and is now sober and, as other cast members repeatedly insist, “nice.” Unfortunately, Sorrentino’s life makeover didn’t happen soon enough, and the infamously aggressive roommate is facing his biggest adversary yet: the United States (as in, the United States vs. Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino). While The Situation is grappling with potential prison time for tax evasion, Ronnie is also waiting, powerless, for a fate that he seemingly wouldn’t wish on his worst enemy: fatherhood. About seven months in and still in a state of shock, Ronnie tells the camera, “I’m a soon-to-be dad, it seems…fuck.” He goes on to insist that, “I’m definitely grown up, I’m definitely an adult,” as old Jersey Shore footage of him kissing a stripper while she is upside down on a pole plays in the background, taunting him.
The main plot lines and conflicts of this reunion season have been masterfully set up in the first ten minutes of the premiere: Will The Situation stay sober and/or go to jail? Can Ronnie be a responsible partner/soon-to-be-father? Is Vinny officially hot? And where is Sammi Sweetheart?
The cast prepares for their upcoming trip in a totally normal and non-scripted way: meeting up in pairs to discuss the Miami vacation and unpack their personal fears, aka brainstorm plot devices. The Situation goes to Vinny’s gym and tells him all about his four-year-long legal predicament. Vinny, scrambling to think of something substantive to say about his own life, offers that he’s “super into nutrition” now. Despite both living in Las Vegas, Ronnie and DJ Pauly D don’t hang out very often because Pauly is “busy doing my work.” What work is that? “DJing all over the world.” At a rare gym session, Ronnie tells Pauly that he’s having a kid, bro. Pauly is shook, but tries to give Ron some parenting advice. Ronnie concludes that, “I’ll always be a shitty husband, a shitty boyfriend, but I’ll never be a shitty father.” On the way home Pauly gleefully calls Snooki to gossip, squealing, “Ronnie knocked up a chick—and it’s not Sammi!”
With one last, ominous threat from Ronnie’s super-pregnant girlfriend (“don’t make me come down there and be all crazy”) the gang is off to their respective airports. Unfortunately, The Situation finds out at the last minute that he has to stay behind for a court appearance.
After landing in Miami, Snooki, JWoww and Deena proceed to a beautiful mansion, complete with an infinity pool where Snooki plans to “sit out” and “like, contemplate life.” Ronnie and Pauly D arrive and lots of hugging and cheerful drinking ensues, as does the introduction of one of Jersey Shore: Family Reunion’s best running gags: making fun of Snooki’s new face. Or as Pauly immediately jokes in one of his first talking heads, “The girls are looking brand new. They got some work done.”
Vinny arrives, bearing the bad news that The Situation has been delayed on account of possible prison time. This announcement introduces Jersey Shore: Family Reunion’s second best running gag: various cast members expressing their complete lack of faith in The Situation’s ability to survive a prison sentence. Or as Pauly D puts it, “He’s literally not going to survive.” (Runner-up quote goes to JWoww: “The IRS is like the mafia: you don’t fuck with them.”)
Even faced with the knowledge that their friend is facing five to ten years, the Jersey Shore gang is contractually obligated to go to the club—but first, Pauly hauls out a trash bag to reveal a weird plastic sex doll version of Sammi, who’s been programmed to recite Sammi catchphrases and fight with Ron. She’s even wearing an “I’m in a really good place” tank top, which was the reason she gave for not wanting to return to the shore and rehash old drama. This doll is pretty funny but, as Sammi BFF Deena points out, also “fucking weird.”
Despite doing some pretty crude things to the Sammi doll, Ron, who is calling this vacation his “dadchelor” party, swears that he’s going to follow his girlfriend’s rules aka monogamy. Still, rude and funny talking head queen Pauly D intones, “We might end up with another girl pregnant with Ronnie’s baby.” Everyone roasts Ron for not using a condom and then they cheers to their kids. As the gang makes their way to the cabs, at least one roommate is visibly blacked out (Ron).
At the club, we see that times have changed—everyone is too “bougie” to dance—but the Jersey Shore cast still fist pumps. Vinny has added a new dance move to his arsenal, and it’s very difficult to describe (something about the beat being trapped in a safe, which Vinny then needs to kick open in time for it to drop). Needless to say, Vinny is wasted, probably because he doesn’t eat carbs anymore. He’s also in a relationship, but doesn’t let that stop him from being the best wingman he can be. Choice Vinny quote: “I’m holding this girl’s hand while she’s grinding on Pauly, just to give her support because she might hurt her back. From twerking.”
While competition is stiff, our girl Snooki still manages to pull ahead as the drunkest mess, grabbing Pauly’s girl’s boobs and then passing out in the middle of the street. Ronnie carries Snooki to the cab like he’s Ryan Atwood in Tijuana for an oddly moving and nostalgic end to episode one.
Episode two picks up in the most dramatic place possible: A Miami mansion with no lights and no power, full of drunk and emotional guidos. Snooki immediately takes her shirt off and pees in the aforementioned infinity pool, leading the sage Vinny to conclude that, despite “Nicole’s” veneer of mature domesticity, “Take Snooki and put her in Miami, and it’s still Snooki.” In a new installment of Vinny Does Not Eat Carbs, this incredible, stupid show dedicates a good portion of the episode to watching Vinny pick apart his pizza, as everyone else mercilessly mocks him for not eating the crusts (Pauly: “You’re really gonna disrespect that pie like that? That is not the Italian way.”)
In an inevitable grudge pairing, Deena and a still-very-wasted Ronnie have it out over Ronnie’s perceived disrespect towards Sammi and the fact that he didn’t reach out to Deena after her father died. This fight is very dark, as Deena and Ronnie tearfully argue amidst the remains of the pizza that Vinny destroyed. Pauly sits terrified in the background, miming “cut” at the camera. Eventually everyone makes up, and it’s really sweet.
The next morning, Snooki wakes up (“did I pee my pants?”) takes out a trash bag full of pizza and ants (while muttering “I hate my life” over and over again), and brings a leftover pizza pie into bed with her (“I love you, you’re my best friend.”) The gang heads out to get brunch before The Situation’s belated arrival. Over a comically large drink, Snooki starts crying because they’re playing her son’s favorite song (at a Miami day club?), and we learn that Snooki doesn’t know how to spell “Situation.” Pauly and Vinny head to the airport to “complete M.V.P.,” and everyone else heads to another club—or as Vinny so wisely narrates, “Just picked up our sober roommate, now we’re gonna go to The Clevelander with a bunch of drunk moms.”
The Situation seems to quickly question his choices, as he is immediately surrounded by beer, bad influences, and Ronnie giving a bunch of girls in unitards lap dances. Everyone else is ecstatic because they have a new designated driver (“The Situation is now The Designation”). The entire cast is super impressed with The Situation’s new personality—especially Snooki, who complains to Deena, “Why can’t we be like that?…Why am I such a whore? Like, a mean whore? I hate everyone!” Unfortunately, after the high of Mike’s welcome dinner at The Delano, Snooki gets wine drunk, drowns the Sammi doll in the pool, and loses her wedding ring, leading the newer, wiser, Situation to intone, “Karma is not just a club.”
Welcome back to the Jersey Shore, everyone. It’s great here.