Nothing boosts ratings like nostalgia, so it’s no surprise that MTV—a network whose very name makes us want our bygone youth back—is revisiting past successes in an attempt to return to its glory days. In addition to bringing back TRL, the network is reviving the sun-soaked reality TV formula that was oh so popular in the early aughts. Enter Siesta Key, which follows a gang of privileged twentysomethings as they booze, feud, and screw their way through summer break in a beach town. Sound familiar?
The show is set in Siesta Key, a resort town in Florida, but that hardly matters. Siesta Key is really set in some unholy mash-up of all of MTV’s most popular oceanfront reality shows. It most closely resembles Laguna Beach, with a “close-knit” group of friends and frenemies living care- and consequence-free in their parents’ mansions. But we also get hints of Laguna spinoff The Hills, in the shimmery aesthetic and tightly-controlled storylines. And since the show’s sun-kissed stars are college-aged, we also get the drinking and debauchery of Jersey Shore. One of the main characters even has a cousin named Pauly, a deadbeat DJ/rapper who seems plucked from the same coast up north.
So this all sounds like harmless fun, up to now. Unfortunately, in the social media-savvy Trump era, this slice-of-one-percent-life programming misses the mark. For one, the stars probably grew up watching Laguna Beach, which is to say they know exactly which reality-TV ready archetypes they’re meant to embody. The result is a bunch of one-dimensional characters spewing lines no actual human would say. Take, for example, Alex, the aloof playboy, who tells his girlfriend—wait, sorry, “friend,” since he refuses to commit to any one girl—“rainbows are pretty awesome but not as pretty as you,” or Chloe, the promiscuous "villain" in this setup, declaring no man safe as she sips wine during a pedicure. The only moment that rang true in the show’s first episode, which aired Monday, is when one of the cast takes an iPhone photo of his meal before eating it.
To be sure, shows of this nature have always indulged contrived storylines and dialogue, even made wonderful entertainment of it. This is not the most offensive thing about Siesta Key. The show is seeped in the male gaze, something its audience might not have noticed or complained publicly about a decade ago, pre-Twitter. There are the literal shots of butts, boobs and abs that frame each commercial break, but even the primary conflict is told from the male perspective. The show centers around a love triangle between the aforementioned Alex, Madisson, his high school sweetheart, and Juliette, his new flame. Both girls are defined by their relationships with Alex—when they’re introduced, their onscreen IDs literally read “Alex’s ex-girlfriend” and “Dating Alex” (another women is identified as “Alex’s best friend”). At least on Laguna Beach there were glimpses of genuine female friendship. Here, it’s every woman for herself as she vies for the attention of “our hero,” be it platonically or romantically.
Let’s take a moment to talk about this so-called hero. In Alex, it appears as though the producers were casting a devil-may-care, Brody Jenner-type—the player with a heart of gold. Unfortunately, Alex has about as much charisma as a moldy beach towel. By the time he tells a bartender, “This is the best vodka Red Bull I’ve ever had,” he’s already your least favorite person on television. What’s worse is he has no regard for the women who are portrayed as worshipful of him; in the first episode, he takes both of them on a romantic seaside date and then invites them to his birthday pool party. Then, he carries one of them off, caveman-style, presumably to a bedroom, right in front of the other.
Alex is scum and if he doesn’t wind up alone or with a venereal disease, this show has failed women everywhere.
Incredibly, the worst part of Siesta Key may not be its misogynistic worldview or even Alex. It’s the fact that it's boring. We can see wealthy strangers and their squads showing off simply by visiting the “discover” page on Instagram, there’s really no need to watch an entire series about it featuring a bunch of nobodies with zero charm and less to offer. Keeping Up With the Kardashians, a show that launched pre-Instagram, this is not. Sorry, MTV, but this sad slice of reheated nostalgia ought to be kept in deep freeze.
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