Last night, as part of an effort to reclaim some of its mid-aughts glory, MTV premiered a glossy new pseudo-reality show: Siesta Key. Set in the moneyed island community off the coast of Sarasota, Florida, the program features a cast of 20-something models and would-be models ready to live it up for the summer. It’s like The Hills, in that a majority of the story lines seem to have been scripted. It’s also like The Hills’ predecessor Laguna Beach, in that most of the cast members still live with their parents. The scenes are shot like EDM videos, with lots of slo-mo entrances and close-ups of women’s butts.
I do not blame MTV for trying to re-create some of the old magic. It has been too long since we have had an overproduced, perfectly soundtracked reality show about young people being rich and upset with each other. (Though The Vineyard certainly tried to fill the void in 2013. Who remembers?) I am concerned, however, that Siesta Key has a fatal flaw.
Laguna Beach found quick success because viewers were transfixed by the love triangle at the center of the show: Would sweet Lauren finally win over her crush, Stephen? Or would he go back to his ahem, more worldly ex-girlfriend Kristin? Stephen was cute and real and cunning enough that you understood why the women were fighting over him.
Siesta Key also opens with a love triangle. This one, however, hangs on one of the most charmless 22-year-old men to ever appear onscreen. Alex. Alex? It’s Alex. He has a souped-up white truck and small teeth, and he is the star of this show. “Alex is sort of the king of our crew,” says his almost-girlfriend Juliette in a voice-over at the beginning of the premiere episode, while we watch Alex sit on a boat and then sit in a pool. “He has the most amazing house right on the beach, and everyone wants to party with him. He can pretty much date any girl he wants.” Of course, Alex’s ex-girlfriend Madisson, spelled just like that, is plotting to steal him back.
But is she really? After watching one episode, it is hard to see how, exactly, Alex makes the ladies crazy. He does not do much in the way of talking. (After a date, he tells Juliette, “Rainbows are pretty. But not as pretty as you.”) His main activities seem to be lounging in his bed in his parents’ house and lounging at the pool at his parents’ house. He tells Madisson he might go to law school. (I mean.) Even the secondary cast members struggle to pinpoint why Alex is the de facto leader of the island. Over pedicures, a blonde named Amanda tells a blonde named Chloe, “Alex has standards. Like, the girls that he hooks up with are usually really pretty.”
Still, Juliette hangs on him during his birthday party, and Madisson walks down to the beach to cry about it. There are objectively hot guys in the cast — Brandon, Garrett — but the women only seem to be concerned with impressing Alex.
My guess is this has less to do with Alex’s beautiful, blank eyes and more to do with the fact that his dad funded the pilot. The reality behind the reality show: Gary Kompothecras, a wealthy chiropractor and Sarasota celebrity known for his 1-800-ASK-GARY commercials, hired a production company to shoot a pilot featuring his son and his friends and sent it out to networks. MTV responded a little over a year later, and now we have Siesta Key, Alex’s star turn. Gary has an executive-producer credit on the show. (By contrast, MTV found the mesmerizing stars of Laguna Beach at an open casting call at Laguna Beach High School.)
“My son has such a nice lifestyle. I didn’t, growing up,” Gary recently told the Tampa Bay Times. “Seeing how much fun him and his friends were having, it felt like a good idea to show a positive image of growing up.”
The jury’s out on whether or not Siesta Key will manage to show a “positive image of growing up,” but you can bet Alex, and the women who are dying to be with him for their own private reasons, will be featured heavily in each episode. Will this be fun to watch? Depends on how desperate everybody gets for screen time.
Of course, Gary makes a few appearances on the show. At the end of the first episode, he drops in to look out over his son’s birthday party in the backyard of his 9-million-square-foot Beaux-Arts mansion, and he addresses the crowd of bikini-clad revelers thusly: “When I die, I wanna come back as Alex, that’s all I gotta say.” Wouldn’t we all?