Nostalgia is a hot commodity in television right now, and MTV wants to bring back memories of its ’00s reality shows with its newest series, featuring a location very familiar to Sarasota County residents.
“Siesta Key,” which debuts 10 p.m. Monday, follows seven young adults on the barrier island and hopes to recapture the relationship drama of previous MTV reality shows “Laguna Beach” and “The Hills.” It has the same producers as the former and tied itself to the latter with a commercial proclaiming “From the Hills to the Beach, Welcome to Siesta Key.” MTV is even airing a marathon of the two shows Friday and Saturday to promote “Siesta Key.”
MTV has also also tried to distinguish “Siesta Key” from that other reality series “Jersey Shore,” which will soon get its own revival on E! But in its attempts to separate itself from the salacious antics of that show, “Siesta Key,” at least in its first episode, goes too far in the other direction and comes off as a bit uninvolving.
It begins by establishing a love triangle centered on Alex, the son of legal and medical referral service 1-800-ASK-GARY founder Gary Kompothecras. Alex is dating Florida State University student Juliette, but still has feelings for his high school girlfriend Madisson, who is home after graduating college. Also, Alex cheated on Juliette shortly before the events of the show.
Alex’s longtime friend Chloe has a crush on Brandon, another friend of Alex’s and the only person of color in the main cast. And new girl Kelsey, a model who recently moved to Siesta Key to be with her mother who has multiple sclerosis, is dating personal trainer Garrett, but her runway looks are catching the interest of the other guys as well.
The second half of the episode is set around Alex’s 22nd birthday blowout at his family’s enormous Siesta Key mansion, with attendees partying in the house’s sprawling pool overlooking the beach. There, all the various romantic entanglements come to a head, with dramatic montages set to songs by Lana Del Rey and Lorde.
Siesta Key’s No. 1-rated beach gets a good deal of screen time, as do some local businesses. Kelsey and Chloe both work at Casey Key Fish House and Tiki Bar (it seems likely that all of Sarasota County will be conflated with Siesta Key on the show), and Brandon has lunch with his mom at Siesta Village restaurant The Cottage.
And with its beautiful beach and expensive condos and mansions, Siesta Key is a suitable enough setting for a story about privileged, attractive kids. But really, the relationship drama that makes up the show’s storyline could be filmed anywhere.
At least in the first episode, there’s none of the “Jersey Shore”-esque, drunken, running wild in the streets that some locals feared — the onscreen partying is fairly tame and confined to a private residence. But while the main cast may not have the over-the-top personalities of Snooki or The Situation, save for a sweet scene involving Kelsey and her mother, they don’t yet display much personality.
Even though Juliette and Madisson are both college students they’re defined almost entirely by their relationships with Alex, each fretting about wearing the perfect outfit to his party. That’s worsened by the fact that their love triangle isn’t particularly involving.
MTV claims the show will address “race, class and looming adulthood,” but there’s no indication of that in the first episode besides arguably the last one, with a few fleeting mentions of college. A teaser for the rest of the season at the end of the episode seemingly confirms an emphasis on melodrama.
Perhaps the cast’s personalities will be expanded in the coming nine episodes, letting viewers get more engaged in their drama. The question is now whether they will care enough at the start to follow through to the end.