The best thing you can say about The Show With Vinny – MTV’s latest Jersey Shore franchise extension – is that the concept isn’t half bad. Vinny Guadagnino was the most believable human being on the Jersey Shore cast, the only person on the show who didn’t gradually morph into a cartoonish self-parody. He was also genuinely funny – his riffs with hetero-lifemate Pauly D lent the show a slight air of self-awareness.
And there is a lot of potential in having Vinny interview the celebs in his own house, with his mom and sisters and various other relatives on hand to provide a homey vibe. The whole talk-show format has gotten pretty stale lately. Celebrities are always on their guard inside an overlit studio and in front of an audience. Wouldn’t they feel more comfortable in a family dining room, with the host’s mom serving them broccoli rabe?
Unfortunately, the premiere of The Show With Vinny squanders whatever potential the idea had almost immediately. As a reality-show family sitcom, The Show has one trope: Vinny’s relatives do something embarrassing, and Vinny feels embarrassed about it. As a chat show, the series is hilariously navel-gazing: Vinny spends half his interview with YouTube celebrity Jenna Marbles flirting with her. (At one point in the interview, they start joking about stuff that happened to Vinny on Jersey Shore. Snooki also makes an appearance via Skype, looking bored.)
Lest the phrase “YouTube celebrity Jenna Marbles” makes you think that this show only features D-listers, the first guest on the series is declining rap god Lil Wayne. The interview was shot before Wayne’s recent health problems, but it’s striking – given the depth of his talent, and given everything that’s happened to him in the last couple of years – just how radically un-illuminating his talk with Vinny is. Vinny asks Wayne about his favorite tattoo. Vinny asks Wayne about his T-shirt line. Vinny’s Uncle Nino swings by and calls Lil Wayne “John Wayne,” and Lil Wayne laughs. At one point, Vinny asks: “You ever been to Staten Island?” Wayne: “Nope. Just Riker’s.” It feels like an opening for something… but Vinny, notably awkward, just says “Riker’s… Riker’s Island,” and laughs. Then they go skateboarding.
I want to give Vinny and his show the benefit of the doubt. No talk-show host is perfect right out of the gate, and the lineup of upcoming guests is intriguingly mixed: Mark Wahlberg, A$AP Rocky, Jenny McCarthy, and Whitney Cummings will all be making appearances. But the snippets of the interviews that played during the previews looked less illuminating (and far more stilted) than an electronic press kit.
The whole presentation of The Show With Vinny feels almost purposefully off-putting. There are regular shots of the camera crew and the sound guy; at one point, when Ms. Marbles expresses her wish to do something unprintable with Rihanna, there’s a shot of a cameraman laughing. It all creates a weird air of self-satisfaction, as if the mere fact that someone decided to make a show about a guy interviewing celebrities in his garage deserves nonstop laughs. It was easy to make fun of Jersey Shore, but in the show’s earliest and best seasons, there was a thrilling go-for-broke mentality, as if every castmember was constantly struggling to keep the viewers (and themselves) amused. Things happened on Jersey Shore: Fights and drinks and jokes and poor decisions.
By comparison, the show’s spin-offs all feel lifeless, with the stars coasting off jokes that were already old three zeitgeists ago. The Show With Vinny is better than Snooki & J-Woww and The Pauly D Project. That ain’t saying much. C–
The Show With Vinny premieres tonight at 10 p.m. ET on MTV.
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