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March 3, 2011 - 5:09pm

From Rome to Miami, "Jersey Shore" season two


I’ve come to think of “Jersey Shore” as a drama of mythic proportions. Greek — or Roman, rather. It is drama on an absurd scale, complete with unpredictably Old Testament emotion, bacchanalian pursuits of pleasure and the gleaming, marbled (or rather, bronzed) majesty of Italian sculpture.

Like in a Homeric epic, dramatic arcs reach their conclusions in a matter of moments. Battles, loves and betrayals are here and gone with the whip-crack of a commercial break. Relationships take flight and burn in 30 minutes. And aside from the occasional failure to clean up from a divine feast (see season one’s lobster fiasco), the only true blight that arises between these temperamental and decisive gods is the issue of respect. The cast of “Jersey Shore” frolics about in an aimless and immortal chase of pleasure and adoration — there is nothing more.

Can we not see Mike “The Situation” as Jupiter? The buff and wise leader of self-proclaimed lordship, whose charm and grace is equaled only by his swift and powerful judgment? The vengeful femininity of Hera in J-Woww? The youth and innocence of Cupid in Vinny? And it’s safe to say there’s a little Narcissus in everybody.

We’ve even got the modern equivalent of narrative tradition embodied by the show’s hard-working editors. We see a distorted light-speed version of some “reality." It may be scripted. But regardless, “Jersey Shore” permits us an hour-long glimpse into the incest, conquest and hyperbolic partying of some Dionysian Olympus.

Only this time, Olympus is in Miami.

The second season of MTV’s crown jewel of “reality” programming takes America’s Guido sweethearts to Florida’s party capital for more fun, sun and GTL. In a successful if not lopsided premiere, the cast members make their way to Miami, unpack their clothing for a few hours and head out to do what they do best.

Everyone’s back and pumped, both literally and figuratively, to visit bars on a new horizon. Even first season deserter Angelina, the “bitch” of Staten Island, is back in all of her foul-mouthed, irritating prime. Ronnie and Sammi, season one sweethearts, have parted ways, and things look bad. I’m worried about Ronnie, whose flushed face and glazed eyes look like the product of professional alcoholism and maybe a little cocaine.

Otherwise, the premiere has moments of season one’s best attributes. The first half hour, documenting the cast’s drive down to Florida (which must have been an editing nightmare), is entertaining and eerily relatable. Mike and Pauly D, whose brotherhood seems genuine in an endearing way, get stuck in the mud in South Carolina, lighting off a few hundred dollars worth of fireworks. Snooki and J-Woww order an appetizer of fried pickles at a bar in the middle of Southern nowhere, an experience that is, aptly put, “life-changing.” At one point, J-Woww turns to Snooki after staring at her GPS and absent-mindedly declares, “You can, like, take this road all the way down to Miami I think.” And I can say that without irony that it sounded like every road trip I’ve ever been on.

The second half of the episode drags a bit, but by then, your attention span will have probably moved on to other things.

Sarcasm aside, it’s a perfectly adequate return for the wildly popular show. The fascination, both genuine and horrific, with which “Jersey Shore” has wrought the country captivates me. To some, it is mindless, corrupting drivel. To others, it’s a mindless, madcap thrill ride. Personally, I find the cast members charming in a way few reality shoes can emulate, and their aspirations don’t stray too far from half of Michigan’s student body on a Saturday night. For all their debauchery, they seem pleasant enough. I would party with them.

I don’t think I’ve met anyone who takes the show seriously, and perhaps that’s its greatest asset. It lacks any pretension, and in the end, it provides a sort of tonic to a sea of networked programming that’s clueless in crafting humble, compelling television. It’s hard to be too upset with the cast, whose personas seem, at this point, finely crafted for maximum outrage, because they never claim to be role models. The staff of Fox News does a better job of spreading filth on the country than a dozen Guidos.

Jersey Shore is some sort of an absurdist dead-end for reality programming. The “reality” is impossible to discern, and yet we enjoy looking at the mirror, picking and choosing the images we like and laugh at, reveling in the absurd demands of these Adonises and Madonnas. We can dispose of them as quickly as an issue of Us Weekly, but as soon as they cheat, throw up and dodge a few “grenades,” we can’t look away.

Only the ratings will tell, but the oracle in me believes MTV is up for another successful season of legendary proportions. Or, at least, a few fun fables.