The Weekend's Television: Jersey Shore, Sun, MTV<br/>The Undercover Princesses, Sun, BBC3

They're the last resort

Reviewed,Tom Sutcliffe
Monday 22 March 2010 01:00

Call me old fashioned but I'm not convinced that Jenny – aka Jwoww – is the kind of girl you'd want to introduce to your mother.

I don't know her very well but I know what she comes up with when asked to introduce herself to the viewers of MTV's Jersey Shore, a spirit-sapping reality show that has been a big hit in the States, provoking editorial soul-searching and franchising proposals in equal measure. This is Jenni's pitch to the world: "I am like a praying mantis... after I have sex with a guy I will rip their heads off." She has stiff competition for dimmest thumbnail self-portrait though, because, among others, she's sharing a summer house on the beach with Sammi ("I'm the sweetest bitch you'll ever meet"), Mike ("My abs are so ripped up it's called a situation") and Pauly D ("I was born and raised a Guido"). The G-word, incidentally, is what caused the editorialising – not all Italian-Americans being quite as relaxed around this racial epithet as the participants in Jersey Shore – and very few of them choosing to itemise the values of their culture in the way that Pauly D does: "Family. Friends. Tanning. Gel."

The early moments of Jersey Shore were so low IQ that they made the Big Brother house look like High Table at All Souls. There was a collision of toned torsos and highlights and lip gloss (that was the boys) with hair extensions and sexual posturing from the girls. There was also much talk of proud Guido heritage, though that didn't always exactly square with the melting-pot manners of those involved. When Vinny pitched up and greeted the early arrivals with "Yo, yo, yo... what up, homeboy" – yet another white boy talking ghetto – it occurred to you that his fantasies of patrimony had got a little muddled. Then Snookie arrived – four feet of human with about three feet of backcombed hair on top. She had already declared that it was her ambition – as a dutiful Guidette – to marry a Guido. She can't be said to have started well – getting smashed almost instantly, climbing into the Jacuzzi in her underwear and smearing herself lasciviously over every male present. When she fell unconscious into a nearby beanbag, her new housemates took the opportunity to hit the boardwalk and bond by sharing their disapproval of her behaviour.

They seem to be expected to do more than boast and fornicate, being obliged to turn up for work at a shore-front T-shirt shop, where they're given orders by their landlord, Danny. Sadly, Snookie failed to make the induction in time, nobody having responded to Sammi's invitation: "Who wants to hold her hair while she throws up?" The first episode concluded with a charming interlude in which the boys invited three female outsiders off the boardwalk to join them in the Jacuzzi, provoking the girls already in the house into a fury of moralistic rage. "This situation is going to be indescribable," said Mike sheepishly, dimly aware that cavorting with semi-naked strangers might have put a crimp in his developing romance with Sammi. "You can't even describe the situation that you're going to get into this situation." That's where the franchising comes in, by the way. Mikey is developing a fragrance called Sitch. It smells like a culture gone bad.

The Undercover Princesses is as sweet as Jersey Shore is rancid, though no less artificial in its basic premise. Three real princesses have been housed in Essex – notionally to search for relationships undistorted by their wealth or status, which are not revealed to their various dates. Princess Aaliya, from Gujarat, isn't having much luck, cultural inhibition and an entirely sensible wariness about unpolished Essex manhood holding back her strike rate. Princess Xenia of Saxony – who is both gorgeous and certifiably flirtatious – has been leading a poor boy called Elliot up the garden path, while Princess Nvannungi Sheillah of Buganda has actually gone and fallen in love, with a West Indian basketball player called Paul she met in the local supermarket. The bits where they go out and make artificial small talk with their dates are excruciating, but when they get together and tease each other about boys, as if they're at an extended sleepover, it's touching and funny. This week saw the reveal – comic in the case of Elliot, who was suddenly confronted with ballgown Barbie in his local pub and a bit worrying in the case of Paul and Sheillah, on whom it's beginning to dawn that a jolly piece of reality television may be ramping itself up into a full-blown constitutional crisis. Bugandan princesses are not expected to select their consorts through the agency of a bit of BBC3 bubblegum telly. Next week, Paul goes back to Uganda to see how Sheillah lives and meet the parents. One hopes they get a fairy-tale ending.

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