Critic’s Notebook: On ‘Jersey Shore Family Vacation’ and ‘Trading Spaces,’ Reality TV Eats Itself

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Pauly D, for his part, had no backsliding to do. “I’m telling you, I’m the No. 1 guido, and I still am,” he exults. “Killing it, and never fell off!” His hair remains a glorious, hurricane-rated sheaf of wheat.

Only Mike — the Situation — has triumphed over his own self: He is two years sober, his ego is slightly diminished, and just as the show began taping, he pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion — the beginning to close an ugly chapter.

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‘Jersey Shore: Family Vacation’ Official Trailer | Premieres April 5th + 8/7c | MTV Video by MTV

On the surface, the original show, which ran from 2009 through 2012 and led to a handful of spinoffs and reunions, was about alcohol-fueled mayhem, but beneath that was a narrative about tribal allegiance and improvised families. Nothing has changed here — everyone is wiser, but not quite warier. Even if they’ve grown up somewhat — Ronnie jokes about GTB: “gym, tan, baby” — they’re experts at their jobs, happy to be hired once more.

The same is true of the “Trading Spaces” regulars, progenitors of a torrent of home-remodeling shows. On the new version, very little has changed. The bubbly Paige Davis is back to host, as are many of the designers and carpenters, including Ty Pennington, who is effectively demoted from his antic “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” days.

The original “Trading Spaces,” which aired from 2000 to 2008, used home design as a proxy for a sort of Milgram experiment, seeing how far ordinary people could be pushed toward giving their neighbors a revamped room they would likely rue. The results could be traumatic — some old nightmare gems still linger on YouTube — and buyer’s remorse was a feature, not a bug.

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Trading Spaces | Sneak Peek Video by TLC

Judging by the premiere, that hasn’t changed. The two designers, Doug Wilson and Hildi Santo-Tomas, are by turns exasperated, resentful and snide. (The designers and carpenters rotate each episode.) Their couples — sisters Melissa and Michele, who live next door to each other with their husbands — exude a mealy ordinariness. They are seemingly easy marks.

But Michele, at least, understands the game, and came to play:

Michele: “Melissa loves penguins.”

Hildi: “Ohhhhh.”

Michele’s husband: “Yes”

Michele: “So it would be really fun if we could …”

Hildi: “Make an igloo.”

Michele: “Can we build an igloo? [laughs] No.”

Michele’s husband: [laughs]

Hildi: “Conceptually.”

Michele: “It would be really fun if we could pull in some of her collection of penguins and you know just have it a little more personal in here.”

Hildi: [skeptically] “Great.”

Michele’s husband: “We got these ready for you” [opens drawer and pulls out penguin figurines].

Hildi: “Oh god, you’re not kidding.”

While it may be Michele’s sister’s house, it is Hildi’s show, and she is not one to be outmaneuvered. (She once covered a wall in hay, and another time in flowers.) She returns with a loud geometric-print fabric and announces, “I kind of saw it as a deconstructed penguin.”

It is no such thing. Rather, it is a pretense to force this amiable couple into many hours of painting this awkward pattern on the walls and the ceiling, a task they greet as enthusiastically as you might a mandatory Saturday night at the office, followed by being forced to clean up after a neighbor’s gastrointestinally challenged cat.

In the end, Melissa makes a strenuous effort to enjoy her remade room — the paint job, she insists, is “gonna grow on me.” The sisters embrace in tears, either happy or wounded or both. Rooms come and go, but “Trading Spaces” remains.

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