Last night, TV viewers (and TV critics) were able to lay their eyes for the first time upon MTV's newest iteration of trashy reality TV, "Buckwild."
Show follows a handful of young, Southern adults spending spring/summer in West Virginia, their home. The unscripted program stirred up controversy before its January bow when a senator for West Virginia condemned the show and demanded that MTV not air it, arguing that it portrayed West Virginians in a negative light.
(Sound familiar? Similar controversy emerged during the "guido"-filled early episodes of "Jersey Shore," as Italian-American groups slammed the series as disrespectful to them and their heritage. The Jersey Shore wasn't pleased by the show, either.)
MTV's goal with "Buckwild," while not explicitly stated, was to fill the large programming hole left in the wake of "Jersey Shore's" end in late 2012. Many anticipated "Buckwild" to be a combo of "Duck Dynasty" and "Jersey Shore," two powerhouse reality skeins, but, unfortunately for the show and MTV, it was neither.
In fact, it was awful.
Not that MTV didn't give "Buckwild" all of the proper reality cues in hopes of capturing lightning in a bottle once more, in the same way that the cabler did with "Jersey Shore," even airing the show in "Shore's" former timeslot.
The opening of "Buckwild's" preem episode was enough to trigger any "Shore" fan's subconcious memories, as it featured the Southern college students driving to each other's houses to pick them up for a trip back home to a small West Virginia town. ("Shore" opened each season typically with the cast members picking one another up for a road trip to the Jersey Shore.)
But what occurred on screen after this opening segment was, bluntly put, reckless programming.
"Buckwild" starts each episode with a disclaimer in the same vein as "Jackass," warning viewers to not
attempt what they are about to see at home. (When was the last time you saw that in a follow-around docuseries?) As it turns out, about half -- if not more -- of "Buckwild" is the cast members doing downright dangerous stuff, from setting cars on fire, to riding in the back of a pick up truck (while drinking) and roaring through ditches of mud, to swimming in water running off from a nearby power plant, to jumping off the roof of a house. At one point, two of the male cast members clutched the back of a dump truck as it dropped tons of dirt out, and they both laughed, "We could die!"
Aside from the occassional "Oh shit!" reaction from "Buckwild" that "Jackass" often summoned from viewers, these incidents were enough to make the guy I was watching the show with, who has his own history of being a hoodlum, say, "What idiots." And what separates "Buckwild" from "Jackass" is that on "Jackass," there was a notion that these wild, adrenaline-addicted men were not like normal people. They were profressionals in the world of reckless behavior. "Buckwild," however, features average young adults doing dangerous things in average settings. Suddenly, this kind of behavior feels far more accessible, possible and real.
Plot was scant throughout the back-to-back episodes, save a narrative about Cara, one of the female cast members, being the apple of pretty much all the redneck males' eyes. Alcohol is rampant throughout, though the ages of the cast is never revealed (and they all look truly young). What's more, one of the central cast members, Shain, who spearheads a majority of the dangerous activities, has a southern drawl so thick it called for subtitles throughout. This, in turn, hints at the scripted nature of his interview lines, which feature polysyllabic words and complete, comprehensible sentences.
Suddenly, that West Virginia senator's comments don't seem so out of line. Also, I suddenly understood why MTV didn't provide screeners for the press before the show's premiere.
The social media community was largely not amused by the show, nor were (surprise, surprise) many West Virginia natives. Could you blame them? While "Jersey Shore's" cast consistently danced upon the line separating the entertaining and the offensive, "Shore's" "GTL" messaging was, for the most part, positive and fun. It should also be noted that the majority of the "Shore" cast's activities echoed the activities of college students and twenty-somethings, helping the show resound with that demo.
"Buckwild" brings barely anything uplifting to the programming, save perhaps the ingenuity of turning a dump truck into a makeshift swimming pool. A drunken fight between a cast member and a West Virginia resident who simply wanted a "Buckwild" party to be quieter was enough to make even this reality TV viewing vet (yours truly) cringe.
Additionally, "Buckwild" highlights the fact that "Shore" managed to cast young adults with true star and branding power. They were entertaining to watch, over the top in behavior and garb. It was fun, even though the show jumped the shark once the cast's fame skyrocketed. They went on to rep fashion and beauty lines, land major sponsorship deals, spinoff shows, and more. The cast of "Buckwild" lack that entertaining -- and thus branding -- power.
I remember my first time watching "Jersey Shore." I had MTV blaring in the background while I studied for final exams in college. I'd said I wouldn't watch the show, it looked too trashy, but as a marathon aired while I studied, I became enthralled. My mother threw shade at "Jersey Shore" before watching and episode and becoming addicted to the program, herself. While not intellectual programming, "Jersey Shore" was fun to watch.
"Buckwild" was neither fun nor addicting, though I'm sure viewers will tune in nevertheless for the shock value of the backwoods stunts and constant hookups. But, to think that "Buckwild" is MTV's new "Jersey Shore"?
Well, that's about as naive as thinking setting a car on fire is a good idea, if you know what I mean.