Jersey Shore: Family Vacation is well into its second season, as MTV is inviting viewers to once again delight in the antics of Snooki, JWoww, The Situation, and the rest of the guidos and guidettes get the gang back together for an epic vacation in Vegas, Atlantic City, and, of course, the titular Jersey Shore. While the idea of watching a bunch of party animals on their worst behavior was what made the original show so beloved in the first place, viewers might be surprised to find that the new series isn’t just the crew up to their old antics. In fact, they actually seem to be slowly but surely getting their shit together and the show is a whole lot more entertaining for it.
When the original Jersey Shore became a pop culture behemoth, its appeal primarily stemmed from the fact that Snooki, the Situation, and the rest of the crew were a perfect representation of the pure recklessness of youth. Vanity was the moral imperative. Gym-Tan-Laundry was a perfectly acceptable life philosophy. And watching these young, wild, and free 20-somethings engage in balls-to-the-wall debauchery was the height of shamelessly shameless reality television. There were catfights, all-out brawls, cast hook-ups, and that time the Situation ran head-first into a wall at full-speed. The more chaos created by the cast, the more viewers wouldn’t be able to stay away.
Cut to less than 10 years later and the landscape of reality television has evolved in an unexpected way: Dysfunction became boring. Countless shows tried to cash in on the anarchic behavior of fame-hungry youths, to the point where the market became oversaturated. Suddenly, people were more interested in watching British ladies being nice to aspiring chefs than Gordon Ramsey going on expletive-filled rants. Queer Eye preached the values of positive affirmation over public shaming. And when the Jersey Shore crew made their return to TV with Family Vacation, they did the most subversive thing they could do in 2018: they admitted they had (mostly) left behind their immature ways and actually grown up in the years since the show ended.
Of course, in the world of Jersey Shore, “grown-up” is a relative term. The gang still constantly engages in petty behavior, including when Ronnie and his girlfriend Jen get into a nasty fight right after she gives birth to their child and they both take to social media to air out their grievances. But whereas the gang once reveled in their terrible behavior, they now seem to be at least trying to leave their self-destructive habits behind.
Part of this maturation appears to be the natural shift in priorities that tends to come with aging but the biggest factor is the fact that the majority of cast members are now parents. Of the seven main cast members, five have had kids in the years since the original Jersey Shore ended and this major life change seems to have affected nearly all of them for the better and the new show demonstrates that in the title. While the original show was them trying to constantly chase the pleasures of booze, sex, and, most of all, drama, Family Vacation makes it clear this is a vacation of sorts from their more boring and likely fulfilling lives. And like countless other parents on vacation, they are letting loose and reliving their glory days while never forgetting that this escapism is temporary.
None of this is to say the show is boring. It isn’t. The idea of the Jersey Shore cast progressing as humans might not sound enticing at first but, in reality, it’s so much more interesting to watch than if they were still living their lives with the same self-centered, nihilistic attitudes they had nearly a decade ago, like an aging pop star touring shopping malls and casinos long after their days of relevance are behind them. Instead of feeling like a sad continuation of the original show, this feels like a reunion of sorts, as everyone has moved on with their lives as opposed to desperately clinging to the past. And the show is better for it.
So if you decide to see what everyone is up to on Family Vacation, don’t tune in expecting a blast from the past. Because just like you, the cast has changed with time and the same crazy people you once knew have gotten married, found real careers, and even become parents. As a result, they’re a little bit older, a little bit wiser, and have gone from drinking an incomprehensible amount of alcohol each episode to an inadvisable amount of alcohol each episode. And for these lovable rage monsters, that’s real progress.