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April 19, 2014

High School Reunion: Meet the Mustangs (season premiere)

by Jay Black, posted Mar 6th 2008 10:01AM
I wish a comet had hit Maui during the filming of this show...(S04E01) Three years ago, I was asked to perform stand-up comedy at my high school reunion. I wasn't a full-time professional yet, but I was getting close; I figured I would go in there and kill. I imagined all the girls who didn't find me attractive in high school (which was, uh, all the girls) would instantly swoon for me and I'd get some measure of closure on what was a very disappointing chapter in my life. Of course, I tanked. Badly. The people at my reunion couldn't have been less interested in what I had to say if I was trying to sell them timeshares. I spent the rest of the night mixing cold medication and hard liquor, trying to find a combination that wouldn't shut down my liver but would help me forget how poorly I performed that night.

I never thought I'd regret a decision more than my accepting that high school reunion gig. Now, three years later, I've finally found a decision I regret more: accepting the assignment to review TV Land's new reality show, High School Reunion.

This is not an awful show. It's efficiently produced and the people they've asked to become one-note archetypes ("The Lesbian", "The Jock") effectively fill their one-note roles. If this were ten years ago (or hell, even five years ago), I'd probably be writing a semi-good review right now.

The problem is that my capacity to enjoy reality TV has been dulled by my never-ending exposure to it. To put it another way, if reality TV is dinner, then I'm Monty Python's Mr. Creosote. I tried to tell TV Land to "F*** off, I'm full," but somehow they managed to persuade me to consume this show, this one last wafer thin mint of a show.

This review is me exploding. [Link NSFW]

(If you're going to write a comment saying, "Jay, you've obviously become jaded and shouldn't be reviewing this show!", I'm saying you're right. You are absolutely right. I should have never accepted this assignment. But I did and now we're both stuck with this review. Believe me, I don't like it any more than you do.)

High School Reunion is a very simple concept: film a 20th high school reunion as a reality show (though, instead of a rented VFW hall, the reunion is taking place on the now-standard-for-these-kinds-of-shows McMansion). The cast is each given a few seconds to describe what they were in high school ("I was kind of a dork"; "I was one of the 'artistic kids'") and then they're off for ten kind-of-dramatic days in Maui.

Here are my observations:

1) Most reality show casting agents have an entire nation worth of desperate, soulless people to choose from. The problem with HSR is that, by its very nature, it is stuck with the "talent pool" of a single high school. Missing, then, is the carefully calibrated balance of charismatic nut-jobs that we've grown used to on shows like The Real World and The Bachelor. In its place are a dozen classmates, none of whom have one-tenth of the charisma of a Boston Rob. Or even a Kristy Jo. They're, you know, ordinary. Ordinary doesn't cut it when you're dealing with reality.

2) We've grown too used to the conventions of the reality show genre to buy into the idea that any of the "twists" are actually twists. For instance, at the heart of this season is the relationship between Mike and Lana. See, Mike was the class rebel (James Dean he is not) and he married Lana, the school drama queen. They divorced after fourteen years because Lana slept with Mike's best friend (also a classmate).

As the show opens, we're introduced to Mike first, who says that he's there on the island to put this whole Lana thing behind him and have a good time catching up with his friends. He expects us to believe that he doesn't think there's a chance Lana would be showing up. Uh, let me see, there's one interesting thing that happened in this entire group of people and you didn't think TV Land would exploit it? It makes me wonder if future episodes are going to revolve around Mike trying to help a deposed Nigerian prince he read about in his email.

Anybody who has ever seen a reality show -- ever -- knows what happens next. Lana, of course, shows up.

I don't mind this storyline -- as I said, it's the only thing that even makes me just a nanobit interested in the show -- but I do mind the faux-drama of the Lana/Mike build up. You can't do this anymore -- the audience is too savvy. It means that either the producers are morons and think they really dropped a bombshell on everyone when Lana showed or they think that we, the audience, are too stupid to predict what's coming next. Either way, it doesn't speak well for the show.

3) I know reality shows, by their nature, reduce people to types, but this show has decided that people are completely and utterly defined by their types. Whereas for most of us maturity means realizing that people don't fit into tidy labeled boxes, for the people on this show, maturity means "showin' everyone how wrong they was about me!"

My favorite example of this is Justin, The Pipsqueak. See, in high school, his defining characteristic was that he was small. Now, however, his defining characteristic is that he's not small. Evidently, Justin's pituitary gland is more interesting than he is.

I'm not arguing that there should be an attempt at nuance on the show -- this is, after all, a reality show -- just that the formulated phrases used to describe these people not be so fixed. J. Alfred Prufock had more mobility in his character than these people seem to have.

4) We need a moratorium on people saying "You haven't changed a bit" at their high school reunions. The only one that this is even remotely true for is your fifth high school reunion, and if you're attending your fifth high school reunion you need to be taken in the back and beaten with the stupid stick.

After that, you have changed. You might look good for 37, but you don't look 17. Stop lying to yourself and everyone else.

(Full disclosure, I'm typing this with my shirt off and I'm looking down at a forest of hair that makes Steve Carell in The 40 Year Old Virgin look like an Abercrombie and Fitch model. It might be this hair, which certainly wasn't growing on the 17 year-old me, that's making me so cranky about all these softening thirtysomethings congratulating themselves for looking no different than they did in high school.)

5) Speaking of that -- it occurred to me while I was watching this show what it might be useful for. It can serve as a Scared Straight for kids who are currently caught up in high school drama. As a former teacher, I remember all sorts of speakers coming into our school to discuss the dangers of bullying or the need for better interaction between the school's differing cliques. High School Reunion might finally be the show that brings all the different groups together.

How? It'll serve as the ultimate ghost of Christmas future. "See that, popular girl? One day, you'll be a thrice-divorced cougar desperate for someone to show you the same kind of attention they did in high school. Yes, Mr. Stud, one day you'll have a huge bald spot in your hair and look exactly like the less-famous Stork brother from One Crazy Summer. WoooooOOOOooooooh!"

6) If you're going to Maui for ten days, for the love of God, tan before you go. Usually I'm not an advocate of tanning salons, but these people all have that uncomfortable looking "just got back from vacation" orange semi-burn.

--

It's not that High School Reunion is a bad reality show, it's that it's every reality show. You can piece together the entire hour from one thirty second preview. There are no tricks you haven't seen before. There are no people who show any complexity beyond the one word graphics that appear under their names. There are no situations that haven't been played out better hundreds of times before.

The saddest thing is that out of all the shows that were canceled by the WB, this is the one that gets resurrected. I would have preferred Buffy. Or Unhappily Ever After. Or Sister, Sister. Or Savannah. Or Kirk. Or... you get the picture.

If you got asked to be on next season's High School Reunion, what would be your formulated phrase?
The Jock14 (8.9%)
The Nerd32 (20.4%)
The Cheerleader16 (10.2%)
The Emo Kid5 (3.2%)
The Fat Kid Who Always "Forgot" His Gym Clothes9 (5.7%)
The Stoner15 (9.6%)
The Quintessential 80s Movie Villian4 (2.5%)
The Kid Who Learned Karate from a Kindly Japanese Handyman and then Fought the Quintessential 80s Movie Villian at the Tri-Counties Tournament15 (9.6%)
Other (Add in Comments)47 (29.9%)

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4 Comments

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Chuck

The Misanthropic Recluse Who Hates All Of Them. All Of Them, I Tell You. And One Day . . .

April 02 2008 at 3:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Liz

The BAND GEEK!!! Band still rox my sox, LOL!!! yep, even after 22 years later......J/K...but I'd be the band geek

April 02 2008 at 2:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Al

The overachiever.

March 31 2008 at 9:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bianca Reagan

My label would be "The Perpetual Teenybopper". I know I'm not the only person who watched VH1's Manband.

March 07 2008 at 3:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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