Although it has to be the least insightful observation in the entirety of television criticism, readers still (still!) complain to me that MTV no longer plays any music videos. I tell them what I’ve always told them: MTV is not required by pop-cultural law to show music. Its only requirement is to provide a steady and toxic jet spray of grown-up repellent, by any means necessary.
Ergo, I judge all its programming by that one rule; if I’m unamused, then we’re all good. Two of the network’s new series, premiering Thursday night, confirm that everything at MTV is in fairly standard working order. Vinny Guadagnino, a 25-year-old fireplug of a mama’s boy from Staten Island, who made a name for himself by being one of the relatively saner denizens of “Jersey Shore,” has a new talk show, and it’s clearly marked as an effort to broaden Vinny’s brand, if it still exists.
“The Show With Vinny,” a contrived hybrid of a reality series and a talk show, is a surprisingly sweet exercise in hospitality and good cheer, in which guests are invited over to the Guadagnino house for a home-cooked meal, courtesy of Paola, Vinny’s ma.
Lil Wayne (whom Vinny calls “Little Wayne,” as if more consonants will fully convey his respect for the man) “drops in” with his entourage. Paola and Vinny’s sisters have been duly warned to be on their best behavior (“Little Wayne is my Tony Bennett,” Vinny explains to Paola, who immediately gets it), but nothing can be done about Uncle Nino, who arrives open-shirted and camera-conscious, hoping to meet “John Wayne.”
Everyone here goes through the motions of pretending this is an organic, everyday experience, especially Vinny, who unconvincingly groans when Paola asks Lil Wayne, a New Orleans native, what gumbo is. Beneath all the phony-bologna, however, there are some tender moments, as when Lil Wayne sincerely thanks Paola for dinner: “We[’re], like, convicts and [stuff]. People don’t really invite us over.”
In the next segment, Vinny welcomes Jenna Marbles, whose comedic YouTube commentaries have garnered millions of subscribers (which Vinny envies). Jenna gamely accompanies Vinny to the garage, which has been retrofitted to serve as his mancave. A nervous Vinny giggles his way through their “interview” and relies on his fallback guido persona to flirt with her. The only things I ever knew about Vinny from my tentative watchings of “Jersey Shore” are that he earned a 3.9 GPA while at the College of Staten Island and that the ladies have responded positively to the size of his manhood; both claims are firmly restated for Marbles’s benefit, and she does him the kindness of seeming impressed.
There are a lot of scripted shows out there — comedies, mainly — attempting to mine both the relative comfort and underlying ennui of being a man who still lives at home with his parents, with the Great Recession as a social backdrop matched with a sense that millennial American culture suffers from prolonged adolescence.
None of them get it quite right, but for some reason, Vinny seems like a genuine subject to follow and observe — no longer a boy, not quite a man, and yet appealingly self-aware. More than a dozen celebs are slated to come over to the Guadagnino house (Mark Wahlberg, Jenny McCarthy, A$AP Rocky and so on) in future episodes, but really, I’d be content to simply watch Vinny muse directly into the camera about what he believes his future holds.
Moving right along, then, to Bo Burnham, a rangy-ropy 22-year-old musician/comedian whose bedroom-made YouTube videos propelled him to college-circuit fame.
A few times now (a Comedy Central special here, a Web link there) I’ve tried to see what the kids see in Burnham, and I just don’t. His comedy draws on a predictable and facile combination of teen awkwardness and hormonal overconfidence, expressed in satirical raps and ballads. Watching an audience of college students scream with laughter at his shtick is not unlike the experience of watching these very same young people squeal at a Wiggles concert when they were toddlers. Who can figure it? (Don’t mind me, kids, I’m only here to take measurement of the generation gap — and, yep, it’s widening. Huzzah! You have no taste! Carry on.)
“Zach Stone is Gonna Be Famous,” airing after “Vinny,” is Burnham’s tardy attempt to parlay his stage antics into a scripted TV comedy. He plays 18-year-old Zach, who has decided to skip college and spend his life savings to hire a camera crew to follow him around and create a reality show.
Every mockumentary trope you’ve ever seen before — from “Spinal Tap” to “The Office” to “Parks and Recreation” — is employed here, including Zach’s vain attempts to get the crew to stop filming whenever the action runs counter to his bloated sense of self. He’s a royal pain to all around him, including his worn-out parents and horrified brother. By the time Zach fashions a sex doll out of a basketball, duct tape and his mother’s ski suit for a manic rehearsal of the hoped-for loss of his virginity, a viewer will find Burnham’s antics both exhausting and irritating.
One thing about MTV’s so-called original programming is that it is often a safe refuge for the criminally unoriginal. I would like to point out that we can extradite Burnham back to reality and prosecute him as an adult. This show is so bad, it’s beneath even MTV. (Which, I’ll allow, might possibly mean that it’s brilliant.)
(30 minutes) premieres Thursday at 10 p.m. on MTV.
(30 minutes) premieres Thursday at 10:30 p.m. on MTV.