This week is a big one for celeb-reality. Not only did Oprah Winfrey talk to the Kardashian clan on her OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network on Sunday, but both Bristol Palin and the Jersey Shore tandem of Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi and Jenni "JWOWW" Farley have series premiering. "Bristol Palin: Life's a Tripp" begins at 10 p.m. tonight on Lifetime with back-to-back half-hour episodes. "Snooki & JWOWW" premieres at 10 p.m. Thursday on MTV.
Since these are all familiar faces from reality TV (Palin was a competitor on "Dancing With the Stars"), the shows have tried to put them in new situations - which, as is so often the case with shows like these, means fish-out-of-water deals. Palin's series involves her moving from Alaska to Los Angeles, with son Tripp and sister Willow accompanying; Polizzi and Farley move from their homes (in Polizzi's case, with her parents) to share an apartment and bond still more closely in what may be a farewell to previous hedonism; Polizzi's pregnancy is an issue before the first episode ends.
While "Snooki & JWOWW" begins on a somewhat domestic note, with the twosome home-hunting, "Life's a Tripp" has echoes of "Jersey Shore," particularly in a well-publicized barroom confrontation last fall between Bristol and a patron who disparaged her mother.
What, after all, was "Jersey Shore" without similar, dimly lit disputes? And Palin's heckler proves to be astoundingly inarticulate when confronted; you might imagine the Situation fed him lines.
Of course, there are basic elements that these shows have to draw on.
One is the way that, while offering something that resembles reality, the shows function in a world that involves the projection and even protection of certain images.
While Bristol says at one point that "the image thing to me doesn't mean much," it certainly does. A well-off, best-selling author and co-star in a highly rated TV series, she is nonetheless presented here as a bit wide-eyed, even disapproving, as if she has never seen wealth and excess before. You could similarly see Polizzi and Farley as just a couple of regular Jersey girls, not as the kind of people known widely just by their nicknames. (Nicknames, by the way, which they don't use when talking about each other: It's Nicole and Jenni, not Snooki and all those capital W's.)
Both shows also try to build drama. In "Life's a Tripp," it's the bar scene and, later, whether Willow will keep helping to take care of Tripp. In the MTV show, it's when and how Polizzi will share with Farley the secret of her engagement and pregnancy. How much of this you can take depends on how much you care about the people - or, more precisely, about the people as shaped for your viewing.
'Bristol Palin: Life's a Tripp'
premieres at 10 p.m. today on Lifetime
'Snooki & JWOWW'
premieres at 10 p.m. Thursday on MTV.