(UPDATE: continuing coverage the far-less-satisfying Season 2)
They've got more bounce in California than all y'all combined, as the song likes to say and on that note let’s recognize the season-long, weekly grand slam of a show that gave us that song and so much more, MTV's 'Laguna Beach.'
For that small segment of the population not born perfectly gorgeous, perfectly confident and perfectly rich - for we unfortunate few - there are endless reasons to hate the Laguna kids - all of which end up being the exact reasons we finally like them so much.
They are gorgeous, naive and vain, rich and unappreciative. But of course, they don't know all that - they just know that, over the course of a one preposterously pretty senior year, Stephen chose Kristin over LC, and ohmahgawd, is that interesting.
And ohmahgawd, it is.
We’ll talk about the decidedly unwild and all-the-more-intriguing-for-it adventures of LC, Lo, Stephen, the dreaded Krisitn and E!’s 2008 Sexiest Man Alive, Talan, in a moment. First, to fully appreciate the watershed event that Laguna Beach has been, let’s put it in context.
It’s been a dreadful year for ‘reality’ TV. MTV's the Real World - the flagship of MTV and reality shows in general - is in Philly, grinding its way through the worst season since at least Chicago with a hopelessly chaste, disproptionately gay and obviously bored cast. And unlike Chi-town, the kids don't even have Tanya doing yoga in spandex. Throw in the insurgent-like welcome that the Philly locals have given the cast (really – who throws barstools?) and this season may be to the Real World what the 'They Did It' moment was to Moonlighting.
And all the others that smack of reality – the Surreal Life, a Bachelor who's in his 40s and looks like Rick Flair, the mechanical Apprentice and it's unwatchable rip-offs, the usual, grueling network offerings (Survivor, Great Race, etc) – are as bad as they've ever been. Family Bonds on HBO is actually pretty entertaining, but the entire 2-deep chart has a Long Island accent - only so much of that you can take. And I don’t even want to discuss Growing Up Gotti.
With Lost and Desperate Housewives at the walls, the Reality era is closing fast, which, though a net-plus for civilization, is a major bummer for those of us who can’t get enough of the dating habits of good looking, not-famous people.
Yet from the advancing shadow steps Laguna Beach, a reality show about actual reality – a document of the social lives of a loose dozen high school friends at the magnificently priviliged Laguna Beach High School. The camera doesn’t bounce, pop songs aren’t basted over tape of teeth being brushed, they don’t even scream “Whore” at each other at 3am. Surely this isn’t a reality show? Surely not on MTV?
And yet, outside of Adriana getting capped on the Sopranos, it’s been at least two years since I saw a single episode of any show as hypnotic as “What goes to Cabo, Stays in Cabo,” where Kristin catapulted herself into the all-time Reality Slut first-tier and Stephen, a VERY-not-used-to-being-humiliated-by-chicks kind of guy, dragged her into a corner and screamed at her for being a slut for, like, five minutes. And then got bleary-eyed drunk and hooked up with LC.
But that entire event led to the season’s strongest high-concept moment in the next episode, “The Best Part of Breaking Up…,” where the Stephen-LC-Kristin triangle apexes. In the final segment, the producers brilliantly intercut LC and friends watching a post-break-up reunion on Fox’s “OC” with real-life clips of Stephen and Kristin doing the same thing. A TV show mocking the TV-ness of the TV show it’s based on – marshall mcluen call your office.
And let’s not entirely discount the midget who wanted to fight Trey, the fashion designer wanna-be, in the parking lot after the Blink 182 concert (“Whachu got on this, homey? Wassup? Wassup?”). You read that right.
And then the tiny moments, like when Stephen tried to teach the utterly-unathletic Kristin to surf (I refuse to consider the notion it might just have been a ploy by the show’s producers to get Kristin to be pouty in a bikini. Again). She managed to paddle the board a few yards off-shore and whine the whole time, and then told him, “the waves are pretty bad, but I got a little bit of one” and he says, “oh that one where you got totally barreled?”
I just about fell over.
From the opener, LC is our narrator, though not much of one. Mostly she's a bored senior with a long-standing crush on lifelong-friend Stephen. LC is also, by any reasonable measure, a four-star knockout. Whaddya like? Big, soft eyes? check. Long blonde hair? check. 20 percent of body weight in her tits? The list goes on.
LC is also, by most measures, relatively sane. She doesn't brood or demand much from friends or boyfriends or anybody else. She shops, she talks on the phone, she aches for Stephen.
The very last thing Laguna Beach would ever bring up is school (in the full season, I'm almost positive they never show the actual campus), but I'd be surprised if LC didn't carry a 3.5, certainly a 3.0.
And it is LC that Stephen, the wispy, sad-eyed born-to-slay dreamer, trades in for Kristin. And you've seen Kristin before - she's 90-percent of the chicks behind the floating black bar on the Girls Gone Wild ads.
She's stupid - or at least has honed acting stupid into a science - slutty, whiny, dismissive and never smiles unless it's to make STEE-vaaaaannnn do something for her.
Kristin is everything you'd never want in a girlfriend - but she’s a five-star knockout to LC's mere four and that apparently is enough for Stephen.
Of course, we’re free to read more into it – like if Stephen, bored and disinterested in his world, were to take a shot at the relatively good-hearted LC, he'd find himself with far more than he bargained for. And that’s not his deal.
On the other hand, once he gets to college, Stephen will miss Kristin for about 32 seconds.
No fool, big Steve.
And that’s the genius of Laguna Beach – the kids are so hopelessly shallow and blank, we can paint anything we want onto them. And Stephen is the blankest slate of all, with no discernable interests other than surfing, talking on his phone and enjoying the first few trickles of what promises to be a lifelong flood of women through his bed. He could be a 4.0 student body president, a hopeless weed head or anything in between – until the final two episodes, where graduation appears to hit him harder than most, he’s virtually transparent.
Around that basic triangle, Laguna Beach rotates.
And let’s not forget Lo, LC’s best friend, and I would bet by season’s end most people’s favorite character. Again the show never reveals resume bullets, but Lo MUST be the smartest of the bunch – she’s going to the best school of the bunch (UC Santa Barbara) and though highly endowed with ditzyness, doesn’t seem as perpetually confused as the other girls. Her trashcan-lid sunglasses are always hysterical and somewhere midseason she endures what has to be the worst date captured on film since Broadway Danny Rose.
There’s also the properly ignored Kristina, whose father is Robert Schuler, the Sunday morning glass-palace TV preacher and Morgan, the fat virgin. Well, fat Mormon and therefore, alledgedly, virgin by choice.
A quick Morgan tangent: on the day she gets her letter from BYU (the only place she applied), she takes Kristina to the beach so they can open it together, and Morgan makes a big deal about how important it is to her to go to college with people who share her values and she REALLY REALLY hopes she got in! Ok, fine. The whole time she’s holding the decisive letter in her hand and finally she opens it and reads it aloud and – oh no! – she gets turned down. And cries (duh). Only… it was just a letter, which means she HAD to know she was about to have a new common experience with her boyfriend. It’s the Cardinal rule of high school: big envelope, yes; little envelope, no.
How could she not know that - of course, she got rejected by BYU, so she may not think as well as she, say, eats.
And, watching a rerun, it was clear to me Kristina – who patiently listened to the morals rant - knew the whole time.
But all these charater sketches are just the lyrics - we haven’t discussed the music. The music is the rich, glowing sunlight of southern california, the spotless cars, the white-walled boutiques, the impossibly green forests that surround and consume the layer-cake houses.
And the all-contraction cell phone calls: 'sup? chillin'. rad'. n'way. Dunno. f'sure. ‘m’over it. late'. Click.
Everyone looks great here, and who wouldn't if you were 17? Who wouldn't talk like this, with that rapid, bouncy cadence that floats from word to word without ever finding its way through a sentence (and, dude, seriously, shut up, listen, i was all - it's just like- wierd. whatever). That accent - as distinctive as any southern drawl - that picks up, plays with and dismisses everything in its way.
The whole show is on film, which captures the So Cal sunshine with a vibrancy video never can. The music – including the incredibly catch “More Bounce IN California” and the theme song, “Rain come Down” are poppy and simple and used to perfect effect by the producers.
A gem of a show.
And here’s the big news – there’s going to be a Season 2, where Kristin, now a senior, takes over.
I personally am about through with her (much like Stephen). I’m sure she’ll be thirty times brattier next year, and without LC to parry against and Stephen to chase, she has little purpose. But not to worry. Season 2 has a star in the making – and I mean, like, Barak Obama at the DNC convention star-in-the-making – in the almost unbelievable complete package, Talan.
Talan – and with a name like that, I shouldn’t even have to say this – is a stone cold bitch magnet. He’s taller, lankier, smiley-er and way dreamier than Stephen. Not to mention, he’s the quarterback (go ahead - google his name if you want – Laguna went 5-5 with him and was 1 game away from the CIF playoffs before he got hurt). As LC told us each week in the opening credits of this year’s show: “Talan is a surfer that’s hooked up with almost every girl in my class. Twice.”
If he’s not the LeBron James of Reality TV, I’ll give up ranting.
Laguna Beach. Coming to a Sunday afternoon-marathon near you.
Ps – so tonight I caught Last Letters Home on HBO. Interviews of parents of dead soldiers, each reading the last letter they received from their kid, often delivered after their death. The father of the dead Captain, in Knoxville is, pound for pound, the most devastating 60 seconds of tape you’ll ever see.
Not to break the mood, but it’s another show not to miss.