“College Life”
Mondays at 10:30 p.m.

3 out of 5 stars

“It’s not ‘reality’: it’s real.” As the show’s bafflingly inane tagline might suggest, MTV’s series “College Life” veers closer to probable occurrence than the channel’s other carefully choreographed attempts at slice-of-life programming.

The producers of “College Life” give handheld cameras to six University of Wisconsin students and have them personally film their foibles and failings throughout the first year of college. Much like the cast of “Real World,” the show’s core characters seem handpicked to embody every college archetype (Innocent Christian, Girl from a Small Town, Overachiever, Bro, Rebel and Kid Desperately-Clinging-to-His-High-School-Girlfriend, in case you were wondering). But unlike “Real World,” the kids are more intriguing than they appear at first glance, and their problems are fairly representative of the actual college experience.

Slacker Kevin struggles to balance constant partying with his parents’ disapproval of his failing math grade. Studious Lindsay deals with the constant presence of her roommate’s boyfriend in their dorm room. Artsy Jordan tries to figure out a way to hide his new tattoo when he returns home to visit his parents. While significantly less dramatic than the majority of reality TV, these portrayals of everyday minutiae make the show hit closer to home.

Unfortunately, the show’s editing detracts from its compelling subject matter. The decision to add and drop main characters from episode to episode makes the show difficult to follow. The interweaving of the characters’ storylines is choppy and often confusing; the struggle of forming a coherent episode from the footage taken from the lives of six students who essentially don’t interact with each other means that the same plot points are constantly reemphasized. Another issue is the show’s lack of continuity — the episodes jump back and forth between months with no logical progression throughout the year.

While this is irritating, “College Life” is spot-on in its depiction of realistic relationships. For instance, the show’s agonizing portrayal of the on-again, off-again relationship between Andrea, an overzealous Christian, and Josh, her desperate ex-boyfriend, is just as annoying and drawn-out as it probably is in real life.

The show’s lackluster production values are certainly another weakness. The nausea-inducing use of shaky handheld cameras, while more personal than a typical multi-camera reality show, ultimately detracts from the show’s overall quality. The washed-out, grainy student footage is strongly reminiscent of a YouTube video. The kids tend to shoot either tight close-ups of their face or the face of the person they are talking to, giving the show an almost claustrophobic vibe and the viewer no sense of where each scene takes place. Multiple tertiary characters refuse to be shown on camera or to allow their conversations to be taped, creating a strange hybridization of scripted television and actual reality.

“College Life,” while not groundbreaking, is a lightweight and entertaining piece of programming that the majority of college students can identify with. In this case, MTV’s decision to focus on the channel’s primary demographic of everyday students rather than wealthy southern Californians or (yet another) “Real World/Road Rules” crossover is a shrewd one.

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