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TV Tonight: Jersey Shore Is a State of Mind

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Tonight, Jersey Shore returns to MTV for season 2. Which is not set in New Jersey. Rather, the metaphysical state, or Situation, known as “the Jersey Shore”* has drifted down the eastern seaboard to Florida, where Snooki, The Situation, J-Woww and company relocated earlier this year.

*A brief public service to the Garden State, which I love, and the Jersey Shore itself: it’s not all like what you see on MTV. Next month, I’m taking a vacation on Long Beach Island, a pretty, quiet, even dull stretch of the Jersey Shore where I spent a great week last year, without drunkenly punching anyone out or getting in a hot tub once. New Jersey and you! Perfect together!

In the shift between seasons, the show itself seems to have changed a little, though probably more because of time than location. Like The Real World, The Hills and other MTV reality shows eventually did, Jersey Shore increasingly seems like a TV show about being on the TV show Jersey Shore.

The attitude shows up, in the debut episode, in small ways, such as how the characters talk about “bringing Jersey”—i.e., all the hijinx you loved last season—to Miami. (Which, per the clip above, has apparently been renamed “Miami, Bitch.”) The dudes and dudettes of Jersey Shore are famous now, so the show comes across less as a study of spray-tanners in their natural habitat, and more like The Touring Road Company of Jersey Shore.

And it shows up structurally, in stunts like bringing back Angelina, who left the show abruptly in season one, so that she can fight with the other women about how they fought and she left the show in season one. This climaxes in the first episode in a claustrophobic, loud, heavily-bleeped argument in the back of a cab, in which Angelina ends the whole expletive-filled showdown by saying, “I’m trying to be classy right now.”

Also like The Hills, there are the occasional, oblique references to the cast members’ new off-camera fame. For instance, Snooki’s bonding with Sen. John McCain over their opposition to the tanning-bed tax that emerged from the healthcare-reform effort. McCain—who, ironically, has been outspoken about skin-cancer prevention after a bout with melanoma—tweeted his support for Snooki after she criticized the tax in a preview of season two. And here Snooki tells us why she (despite pulling in an estimated $10,000 an episode, with a hefty raise coming) has been economically driven to mere spray-tanning:

I don’t go tanning tanning anymore because Obama put a 10 percent tax on tanning. I feel like he did that intentionally for us. McCain never would have put a 10 percent tax on tanning, because he’s pale and he would probably want to be tan. Obama doesn’t have that problem. Obviously.

She’s trying to be classy.

That said, the show still has the moments of off-the-cuff comedy and guilelessness that made the first season fun to watch, if not exactly a parade of role models. Some of the most winning moments come on the cast’s road trip down to sunny Florida, as when Snooki stops in a diner en route and discovers a regional delicacy, fried pickles: “This puts pickles on a whole other level.”

Can we have Jersey Shore season 3 as an Anthony Bourdain-style travel and eating show? It would put food television on a whole other level.