Jersey Shore ended its largely joyless Italy-set season last night. Snooki and Deena tried too hard to outdo past excremental and drunken accomplishments, while The Situation — once one of the show's biggest breakouts — was a mopey outcast for reasons never satisfactorily articulated. In other words: It was a hit reality show in its third season. So many wildly popular reality crazes with a regular cast (The Hills, Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica, The Real Housewives of New York City, The Osbournes) had the same slide in their later seasons. If this were a hit sitcom or a high-concept drama like Twin Peaks, you could blame it on the writers. But what's to blame for a reality fizzle? Vulture editor Josh Wolk and X Factor recapper Dave Holmes discussed the phenomenon.
But the image that stands out in my mind is Abby Lee Miller in the opening sequence of Dance Moms. Hers is the last face we see, and she's rolling her neck like Regine in Living Single, like "Oh, HELL no." But what is she Oh HELL no-ing? She is on a soundstage in front of a green screen! It is phony and empty, and the phoniness and emptiness show in her face, and the show has not yet started. I would argue that Abby guides us to a post-post-modern era in reality TV; people have gone into reality TV ready to play a character for fifteen years, now they're showing up for work already tired of it.