Where MTV's original succeeded because of drama between Lauren Conrad and Kristin Cavallari, "Siesta Key" flounders due to its focus on generic guys in boardshorts.
Photos courtesy of MTV
Billed as a Laguna Beach revival that is not actually a reboot of the reality TV classic, MTV's new show Siesta Key follows a group of rich kids parading around a beach town where it's summer year round, in this case the titular town on Florida's Gulf Coast. It's MTV's latest attempt to recapture its dominance on young audiences, after betting on scripted shows and resurrecting MTV News failed. (A TRL reboot launches this fall.) Siesta Key's narrator, Juliette, sums up the plot at the start of the pilot: "The kids here are wild. There's a lot of money, and even more drama."
It sounds like a through-the-looking-glass version of Laguna Beach, prime viewing for a country of youths obsessed with Bush-era pop culture. Except the kids are not, well, kids. They're college graduates who've returned home to party on their parents' dime in between undergrad and grad school. Juliette is also no Lauren Conrad. She is a supporting character who narrates the life of her beau Alex, the program's protagonist.
According to MTV, Alex's father, Dr. Gary Kompothecras, masterminded the show. Kompothecras knows much about television, having come to local fame for "1-800-Ask-Gary" TV spots advertising his medical firm, and he believed audiences would adore a show chronicling his wealthy son and his surf bros. (It's worth noting it's difficult to surf in Florida, because the state receives few waves.)
Alex claims he plans to leave town soon to attend law school, but for now, he's spending his summer taking his shirt off with his bros and dating Juliette. In her opening narration, she brags, "He can pretty much date any girl he wants, and now he's with me." She notes that his high school sweetheart, Madison, has also returned to town, and she is not happy about it.
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It's unclear why these girls want Alex. His chest lacks hair, and when we meet him, he dons American-flag boardshorts. He is, at best, a wannabe Instathot with 10,000 followers. On a date at a restaurant in the middle of a swamp, he compliments Juliette's fishing skills. "You got the swag," he dotes. "You know how to do it. You yank and crank!"
Their date concludes with Juliette pointing out a rainbow developing over the swamp, as Brooke Candy and Sia's "Nothing Can Stop Me" begins to play. The inappropriateness of the tune and glossy cinematography matches Laguna Beach's notorious soundtrack and aerial shots.
The next few scenes follow Madison, Alex's ex, as she tries to rekindle a sexual relationship with Alex. They meet on the beach and reminiscence about how they used to steer boats as teenagers because they were too young to drive cars. Later, as Madison and her girlfriends dress for Alex's 22nd birthday party, she pronounces that she will "mark" her "territory" on Alex.
Alex fuels the girls' competition. At his party he teases a bikini-clad Juliette, "Do you like when other girls aren't as pretty as you?" And the girls love it (Juliette licks Alex's ear in response to his rude question). MTV wants us to know Alex is the object of the girls' battles set at beaches and mansions against misplaced Sia songs.
Siesta Key resurrects Laguna Beach's aesthetics, but it misses its heart. The plot reverts to Laguna Beach's first season, in which the OG basic girl Lauren Conrad, a.k.a. L.C., feuded with bad girl Kristin Cavallari over beach boy Stephen Colletti. Siesta Key shows what it would be like if Laguna Beach was told from Stephen's point of view.
But the narrative device flattens Siesta Key's characters. Sure, fighting over boys occurred on Laguna Beach, but plots often revolved around women-focused stories like Cavallari's driving difficulties and the girls' fashion shows. Viewers often watched Conrad ponder life with sidekick Lo Bosworth during slumber parties.
Laguna Beach worked because some of the girls loved their friendships. Their time together could collapse into theatre of the absurd (how many teenagers attend that many charity events?), but Laguna Beach passed the Bechdel test by chronicling the strange lives of a clique of rich girls.
That probably has something to do with why young women and gay men gravitated towards the show. It is unlikely Siesta Key will find a similar fanbase.