There’s a kernel of a good idea in the new CW reality series H8R, which premieres Wednesday at 8pm. The show pairs ordinary people with celebrities who they hate to try and resolve the underlying hatred. As a TV critic, I’m guilty of hating on various celebrities and reality show contestants and I also have a front-row seat to message boards and forums where anonymous Internet users spew their vile disdain for celebs they don’t really know.
Trying to understand that blind hatred is an interesting subject to tackle, but H8R offers little more than a cosmetic solution to the problem rather than address the real issues behind it. Host Mario Lopez arrogantly grins his way through awkward encounters and basically comes across as the most unlikeable person I’ve seen on TV in a long time. If the show lasts, I fully expect Lopez to get his own “hater” in a future episode.
The premiere features two easily hateable reality celebrities: Jersey Shore‘s Snooki and The Bachelor‘s Jake Pavelka. The two segments each have serious problems, but they also have moments of genuine insight.
Nick is a typical Jersey guy who hates Snooki for giving Italians a bad image and acting like a “drunken donkey.” Together, these two make a great pair in a battle of witlessness, and a scene of the two shopping for groceries is enough to make any viewer like both of them. Throughout the day, Snooki (or Nicole, as she prefers to be called) does a good job showing Nick and his family that she’s not the drunken donkey she appears to be on TV, but that’s not the real issue.
H8R misses a golden opportunity to actually address the philosophical debate of perception vs. reality. Of course Nicole Polizzi is a nice, normal person whose dad is a volunteer firefighter, but that’s not the person who appears on Jersey Shore. Yes, Snooki on Jersey Shore is a selectively edited character who doesn’t necessarily resemble the real person, but that doesn’t make Jersey Shore itself more redeeming nor does it mean that hating the character is wrong. The Snooki we see on Jersey Shore actually IS a drunken donkey who falls down, gets arrested and is an embarrassment not just to Italians, but to all humankind.
It’s perfectly reasonable to hate Snooki, to hate the fact that she makes $30,000 an episode, and to hate that millions of teenage girls watch her and want to emulate her. However, the important thing to realize is that Nicole Polizzi is NOT Snooki. One is a character on TV and the other is a real person who is sweet and normal.
Nicole needs to take some of the responsibility for the hatred she gets because she is the one going on TV and doing these things, agreeing to look like a fool for money like a well-paid court jester. The point I’m trying to make is almost made by Danielle, Jake Pavelka’s hater. “You put yourself in the position where you’re gonna have people who don’t like you,” Danielle tells Jake, “And you could be perceived as someone you’re not.”
This brief moment of clarity gave me hope for H8R. Danielle realized that the real reason she hates Jake is that he voluntarily puts himself in the limelight knowing that he’ll be portrayed as a villain, yet he continues to do it anyway. Her accusation that he’s a “fame whore” is 100 percent accurate, as exhibited by the fact that he agreed to be on H8R in the first place.
The real lesson is that celebrities must be careful not to let fame control them. Nicole seems to understand that she is not the same Snooki that people see on TV, and because of that seemingly simple self-awareness, it’s easy for her to make people not hate her. Pavelka, on the other hand, seems to embrace the “tabloid gossip” that he rails against and he plays it up. He has taken on the characteristics of the Jake America saw and hated, thus becoming a cheap parody of himself and, in the process, becoming someone we can hate even more.
Future celebrities on H8R will include Kim Kardashian, Levi Johnston, Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis, Eva Longoria and Dancing with the Stars pro Maksim Chmerkovskiy. You could mindlessly watch the show, chuckle a few times at the people and be done with it. But watched through an academic prism to understand the concept of fame, H8R becomes a rather fascinating but ignorant examination of modern celebrity culture. Or maybe I was just so bored by the stupidity of the show that I started reading too much into it, like an art critic who gazes upon a blank canvas and sees brilliant truths about the universe.
(Image courtesy of the CW)