TV Review: The CW's 'H8r'
Mario Lopez plays Anti-Robin Hood taking dignity from the weak and restoring it to the strong
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Dramatically satisfying humiliation rolls only one way and that's uphill.
CBS can get a hit reality show out of sending CEOs into the workforce and letting blue collar workers laugh at their inability to pick up trash or handle an assembly line.
CBS could not get a hit reality show out of sending a high school dropout, hand-to-mouth single father of four, into a corporate boardroom unprepared, let the guy make a couple dumb suggestions and then watch the suits mock his ignorance before sending him home empty-handed. [Ignore, for a second, how frequently that's exactly what happens on "The Apprentice."]
There are exceptions in the case of a show like "Same Name," in which an Ordinary Joe had to live the life of a Famous Joe and invariably learned that being famous isn't nearly as easy as he might have imagined. But in the case of "Same Name," not only was there an equal level of humiliation, with the Famous Joe recognizing that he probably wouldn't do so well living the life of an Ordinary Joe, but beyond simple reciprocity, "Same Name" episodes ended with the Famous Joe doing just a little bit to improve the life of the Ordinary Joe, through a well-considered gift. The need for the episode-ending present was a tacit acknowledgement that even if you conclude with a less powerful person recognizing the difficulties of a more powerful person's life and *even* vice versa, equality isn't sufficient for dramatic satisfaction. The viewer realizes that whatever lesson the powerful person learned isn't sufficient payback, because they're still returning to their position of power (usually with a welcome dose of humility), while the normal person learns a lesson and returns to their second mortgage, their failing business and their more relatable struggles. On an intellectual level, viewers know that nothing the famous person could possibly do would even that playing field (and it's all a bit condescending), but viewers appreciate the token, at least on an emotional level.
When the weak mock the powerful it's counter-hegemonic, it's iconoclastic, it's revolutionary.
When the powerful mock the weak, it's bullying.
Even if we weren't in a period of economic unrest, it would require a profound disconnect to think it a good idea to do a humiliation-based reality series in which the humiliation rolls downhill, a show in which the powerful make the essentially disenfranchised look like fools and then lecture them on their failings.
The "Saved by the Bell" star and the "TBL: The Beautiful Life" network have joined forces on "H8r," an astoundingly stupid and offensive reality series in which Mario Lopez's D-list friends confront people who dislike them and make it clear that it's unacceptable for anybody to have an opinion or express it on the Internet, or at least a negative opinion.
So when The CW encourages you to tweet or Facebook during its programming, I have some advice: BE CAREFUL. Feel free to praise Blake Lively's fashion sense or celebrate the "Supernatural" stars and their cheekbones. But don't think that it's OK to suggest that a budding thespian on "One Tree Hill" is an inadequate actor or that one of the "90210" kids is much too old to be playing a high school student. Because if you do... Mario Lopez is coming for you, and when it comes to people who aren't tolerant of his friends, Mario Lopez is not a very tolerant guy. And Mario Lopez doesn't care how little money you make or what you do or even if anybody out there on the Internet cares about whatever mean thing you might say, because he's got a point to make, one that he believes in strongly: Even the lowest-level celebrity -- ESPECIALLY the lowest-level celebrity -- should be exempt from criticism. But feel free to love them and write about that.
It's pretty insecure stuff, but I guess if Mario Lopez wants to be the Anti-Robin Hood, stealing dignity from the less fortunate and restoring it to Snooki from "Jersey Shore" and The CW wants to enable him, that's their mutual prerogative.
More after the break. I'm hoping that if I type for long enough, Mario Lopez will come bursting through my door, because I'm sure that if there's anything less acceptable than h8ing on Kim Kardashian, it's h8ing on "H8r."
In a smarmy introduction, Lopez declares, "Celebrities... most are loved and adored by their loyal fans, but every star has at least one... hater."
Got that? Natural state of affairs regarding celebrities? Love and adoration. Hatred? The domain of deviants.
He continues, "Most people do it anonymously, so they think somehow that makes it OK."
Got that? It's not OK to hate. It's especially not OK to hate if you hate as ZackMorrisFan468.
Lopez finally concludes by announcing the purpose of the show: "For the first time ever, we're going to hold H8rs accountable for what they say."
"Hold accountable." That's the kind of rhetoric you normally hear prosecuting attorneys use if they're gunning for the death penalty or World leaders use if they want revenge for a terrorist attack.
Yes, once upon a time the Internet was part of the great democratization of thought. It you had an opinion, you could put it out there. And many people used to think this was a good thing. Mario Lopez does not. In this instance, the Internet is a colonialist force and Mario Lopez is something of a General Cornwallis and he's determined to crush this colonial uprising on the behalf of his queen... Queen Snooki.
The star of the first segment of "H8r" is Nicole Polizzi. Or, as Lopez puts it, "Call her controversial, call her unpredictable, but she answers mostly to Snooki."
In a segment titled "The Ambush," Snooki is launched at H8r Nick Petrillo like a round, brown lumpy missile.
Nick Petrillo is 31 and he doesn't like Snooki. He hates Snooki. In hidden camera footage he rants and raves about Snooki.
Mario Lopez is a white knight, so he must be stepping in to save Snooki from a potentially dangerous psychopath who made threats on her life, right?
"She makes $30,000 for being a drunken donkey," says Petrillo at his most inflammatory.
I don't know how to tell Mario Lopez this.
I don't know how to tell producer Mike Fleiss this.
I don't know how to tell The CW this.
SNOOKI MAKES $30,000 [per episode and for some public engagements] FOR BEING A DRUNKEN DONKEY.
I can modify "donkey" into "buffoon" or "Oompa Loompa" if Mario Lopez would prefer, but the contention that Snooki has other skills that would allow her to make millions of dollars a year, to author a bestselling book and to be a high profile celebrity is laughable. And what's worse is that she does it as "herself" and she does it under her own generally chosen name.
"He has no idea who I am!" Snooki tells Mario Lopez indignantly.
But what Nick knows about Snooki is exactly what Snooki has decided the world should know about her and exactly what has made her rich in a way that even the most depraved of ancient Romans would find unseemly. She's made what would be a private embarrassment for most people into a source of public pride and she's celebrated that image and capitalized on it and, in the process, she's contributed to taking New Jersey from a punchline and making it into an even larger punchline. There's a reasonable school of thought that would say hating on Snooki should be the default, not the aberration. [I've barely watched "Jersey Shore." I don't have a dog in this hunt.]
Snooki does nothing to improve that image by ambushing Nick at a pool hall and yelling at him like a dwarf banshee.
All the while, Mario Lopez sits in a limo -- Yes, he sits in his LIMO -- watching this inept attempted takedown, cackling.
"He's in shock. He doesn't know what to say!" Lopez gloats, dimples splitting at the seams.
And what could anybody possibly say when pounced upon by a rabid pygmy?
Nick's not really all that clever. He insults Snooki with the creativity of a 12-year-old and Snooki fires back with the creativity of a 10-year-old and like any immature child, Snooki's final point of recourse is go to Nick's parents and tattle on him for being a H8r.
Over dinner, a dinner at which Snooki also accuses Nick's mom of being a H8r for saying she's not a very good role model, Snooki says "Nick is like your typical H8r. He judges a book by its cover. He doesn't really try to get to know somebody."
She also announces, "If everybody hates me in this world, there's nothing I can do about it."
Um. No. Snooki is the total master of her image. She tries to get everybody on "H8r" to call her by her given name, but Nick never expressed an iota of hate for Nicole Polizzi. "Snooki" is a self-fabrication and one that MTV and Snooki have exploited equally. But tomorrow, Snooki could wake up and say, "I'm not going to get publicly drunk anymore. I'm not going to treat sexuality with the respect normally given to a damp dish towel. I'm going to spend time giving back to the community, take some classes so I no longer sound like a fool and I'll attach my name to good causes rather than a police blotter." Perhaps this new Snooki would really be Nicole Polizzi and almost certainly MTV wouldn't pay her $30,000. And she wouldn't get five figures for showing up at club openings. She would be forced to make a living based on whatever aptitudes Nicole Polizzi possesses, but while Snooki would continue to be a punchline for many a year, "Nicole Polizzi" would be able to search the Internet and find nary a discouraging word, anonymous or properly attributed.
This is not a choice she makes. She makes a choice to capitalize on a specific image.
But if that's her choice and her right, I'd need Mario Lopez to explain why it's not OK to dislike a woman making millions for perpetuating an image that's kinda difficult to defend as anything more complimentary than "an entertaining trainwreck."
That's not the kind of show "H8r" is. It's designed so that Nick has a Come-to-Snooki moment and begins to see her as a human. She's still a human who takes no responsibility for the negative side of her image. "H8r" is celebrity aspirational programming. While most "civilian" aspirational programs ask that the people expecting improvement do something to change, "H8er" implies that the celebs don't need to change, that it's we as a society who must change.
Don't worry, I haven't spoiled much of what happened in the first segment.
Then, in the second segment, "Bachelor" veteran Jake Pavelka and a perpetually cackling Mario Lopez go on the offensive, attempting to take down Danielle, a skunk-haired 20-year-old who thinks Jake is "a douche." [Note: Like Snooki, Jake Pavelka is not famous for any skills or aptitudes he might have. He's famous for being Jake Pavelka on a reality show.]
Jake announces, "She'll see who I am outside of reality" and then proceeds to take Danielle on a corny near-parody of a reality TV date, flying her around on his personal plane and and even taking her to the "Bachelor" mansion.
At this point, Danielle utters the wisest words I think I've ever hear on a reality show.
"It's a house. I've seen it before," she grumbles. "I don't need to be in front of it to know that it's real. Where's the rest of his LIFE?"
[In this case, the house is both literal and metaphorical. I can explain it to Mario Lopez sometime if he's curious.]
There's no evidence that such a life exists, because "H8r" and its editorial POV never stray from Jake Pavelka's side. Jake doesn't need to prove he's not a douche, because all "H8r" really wants to do is convince Danielle that hating, in any form, is wrong. The trial is rigged and the burden of proof isn't on Jake to prove that he isn't a douche, but on Danielle to admit that she was wrong to think him a douche. Hating is a crime that must be renounced entirely.
There are disgusting and reprehensible things aplenty about "H8r," but none is worse than the producers insinuating that the underlying message of their show has any connection to the epidemic of cyberbullying, violence and suicides. It's not surprising that the producers, so clueless on even rudimentary power dynamics, would be confused in this way. But if you can't understand how Snooki getting revenge on a lumpy stranger for posting anonymous comments about her is different from targeted and systematic bullying based on sexual orientation, race or religion, you sadden and scare me.
Snooki is angry at Nick Petrillo, but she isn't hurt by him in any way. Mario Lopez has created a circumstance in which Snooki is ambushing some guy she'd clearly never heard of before "H8r" came to town and the guy is being ambushed not really for hating so much as listing the personality traits without which he (and the world) never would have heard of Snooki.
Nick isn't the Internet's Most Prominent Snooki Hater. He isn't the operator of a wildly popular anonymous blog mercilessly torturing Snooki and listing her misdeeds. He doesn't have a Twitter network of millions. His words have no power to impact public awareness of Snooki, nor anything beyond the most limited private awareness. "H8r" doesn't try to make any argument that this lone, anonymous man's hatred means anything. And yet, this one man's opinion has been deemed dangerous enough to be crushed by AC Slater under the auspices of a television network owned by one of the world's largest corporations. "H8r" comes down to MTV, Warner Brothers and the CBS Corporation knocking on some guy's door and saying, "Stop posting mean things about Snooki on the Internet." They could kill his dog, firebomb his house and vivisect a Nick statue in effigy and the effect would hardly be more wildly out of proportion. [Similarly, in the Pavelka segment, Lopez goes after the 20-year-old girl who reads tabloids and entertainment magazines that print possible mistruths, rather than going after the tabloids and entertainment magazines in what might be a fair fight.]
You want to know who the bully in this situation is, Mario Lopez? It's not the straw-men you picked from pointless obscurity to tear down. It's the man with the dimples and the reach of millions and the wealth of media companies at his back.
I don't know how else to say this, but if you read articles on the Internet -- anonymous or properly bylined like this one -- and if you comment on the Internet -- using your own name our using a witty (or not witty) screen name, unless you consume popular culture with a guileless and unconditional embrace, you are the villains according to "H8r."
And do you know whose side Mario Lopez, Mike Fleiss, CBS Corp and Warner Brothers are taking over yours?
Snooki. Jake Pavelka. Kim Kardashian. Ron Artest. Joe Francis.
So you'll forgive me if I'm just a bit nauseated by the whole thing.
I'm not an anonymous denizen of the Internet, thankfully.
Mario Lopez, my name is Daniel Fienberg and your show sucks.
The CW premieres "H8r" at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, September 14.