End of a Shore Thing

The great BBC sitcom "Coupling" exited with the birth of one couple’s child. The show instantly ended as new life began amid the realization that the old, immature life was over.

The touching "Coupling" finale strangely came to mind while considering the impending conclusion of a less sophisticated, at-times unintentional comedy about nonfictional cases of arrested development: "Jersey Shore."

The successful MTV show starts its sixth and final season Thursday night, a sign – along with the recent arrival of Snooki's baby – that the party is over.

We're among those who won't miss "Jersey Shore," which features human cartoons taking perverse pride in referring themselves by an anti-Italian slur. But whether you like or dislike their antics – or are happy just to laugh at them – there's no denying the high-energy crew fist-pumped their way into the pop culture psyche.

Some enduring performers – Cher, Madonna, Elvis – are instantly recognizable on a first-name basis. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the "Jersey Shore" phenomenon is that the largely untalented bunch quickly became known by nickname – Snooki, The Situation, JWoww – among those who watch the show and much of the rest of the populous. That’s a fun-house-mirror reflection of a celebrity-obsessed culture that needs to create non-celebrity celebrities to keep chugging.

And what better outlet for plucking pseudo-celebrities than the grab bag that is Reality TV? MTV merged youth with the nascent form 20 years ago via "The Real World." While the first two seasons proved fascinating, the show eventually started attracting cast members who actually watched “The Real World,” adding a layer of expectation-built play-acting artifice.

Still, "The Real World" benefited from diversity, even if character "types" soon emerged and the premium on outrageous behavior grew. "Jersey Shore" marked a step backward – in mass culture, if not ratings – by offering a show celebrating insularity. That led to cheap, manufactured culture clashes during seasons set in Miami Beach and Italy. 

We'll give the "Jersey Shore" gang this much: They’ve packed quite a bit of partying and publicity into the last three years. They put on a show as hard to watch for some, as it is difficult not to watch for others.

We don't be done with them, of course, after this season ends. There are still the spinoffs, “The Pauly D Project" and "Snooki & JWoww," which presumably will focus in Season 2 on life with baby – a change that for most people means more time devoted to laundry than to the gym and tanning.

But life clearly can never be the same after this final season of “Jersey Shore,” which features a pregnant Snooki, her televised bacchanalia over – or at least on hold. It’s time to grow up, if only a bit, on screen and off.
Check out a promo spot for the finale season below. The clip’s tagline – “It may be ending, but it will never be over” – might make some sentimental and others shudder. But it’s an apt early epitaph for a program that provokes feelings as powerful as Ronnie’s muscles:

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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