By Darren Franich and Derek Lawrence
November 19, 2020 at 10:00 PM EST
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Credit: Dusty Kessler/MTV
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This time of year, we'd all normally be preparing to fly home and gather around the Thanksgiving dinner table for some quality family time. For many, that is currently unrealistic and unsafe, but there is one family trip that you can take guilt-free: Jersey Shore Family Vacation, which returned Thursday night, capping off the franchise's double shot of delightful 2020 content.

Back in 2009, the world was introduced to a group of self-described guidos who only cared for the simple things in life: gym, tan, laundry, clubs, repeat. Now, 11 years later, there have been six seasons, multiple spinoffs, jail time, three seasons of a revival series, a charming dating show that seemed to actually work in finding love, and the departure of a few castmates (we miss you already, Snooki).

To celebrate the two-hour season 4 premiere of Family Vacation, wannabe Shore Store employees and actual EW writers Darren Franich and Derek Lawrence go deep on Jersey Shore delivering when we needed it most, as well as the most important question of all: will Ronnie find love?

DARREN: I have a very specific version of Jersey Shore in my head, Derek. The gang, the shore house, the duck phone, T-shirt time, cabs a’here, nights at Club Karma, Saaaam, Raaaahn, everyone single, everyone making bad liquored-up decisions, nobody visibly using social media. This is plot material from ten years ago now, but I still get a decent time-flies shock every time I tune into Jersey Shore Family Vacation. I haven’t kept up consistently with this revival series, with its babies and divorces and heavily-attended-to faces. But I did fall all the way down the Double Shot at Love rabbithole. And that spinoff ended its most recent season leading back into the mothership series — more on that in a moment — so I knew I needed to check out the two-hour premiere.

And I’m glad I did! A lot of shows, fictional and unscripted, are returning from long breaks with COVID Catch-ups, time-skipping through 2020 to show how the general horror of the past year affected the characters. It was surreal to see Sitch and Mrs. Sitch spraying sanitizer all over their packages, and extremely relatable watching Deena and JWoww live through enclosed eternal childcare. Pauly is the resident Dude Who’s Growing a Beard. Vinny is the resident Dude Who Makes Jokes About How His Life During Quarantine Is No Different From Usual. Ronnie moved to Los Angeles during the worst health crisis in a century, which is just so Ronnie. Everyone in the Shore clan seems to be taking pandemic protocols very seriously, which makes them smarter than multiple world leaders.

But that’s all hour 2. Hour 1 picks up with what was, in brighter days, the single worst thing to ever happen to anyone’s life on Jersey Shore: Angelina’s wedding. I admit that I barely understand what that whole controversy is about, Derek. Can you explain where Family Vacation has been the last couple years, and how you felt about this de-Snooki-fied premiere?

DEREK: Darren, welcome back to the world of GTL! And what an honor this is. I remember reading your OG Jersey Shore recaps, so this feels like the equivalent of being asked to talk Lost with Doc Jensen. Also, in covering MVP and RSVP, does that makes us DD (something this crew could probably still use)?

When it comes to Family Vacation, there have been less vacations than the title would suggest, as they kind of left that concept behind after season 1 in Miami. Now it’s essentially just the format of any other reality show, following the cast around in their everyday lives. Think The Real Guidos of New Jersey and Las Vegas. To catch you up, here’s my quick Family Vacation recap: Pauly is such a successful DJ that he’s the only one who doesn’t need this show; Vinny is a stripper and also legit funny (I got more joy out of him comparing B-Lashes and Derryn to the Keanu Reeves movie The Replacements than I should have); Jenni is dating a 24-year-old, known simply as “24,” who caused beef by getting a little too close to Angelina; Deena is a mom and talks constantly about being a mom; Mike underwent one of the most unexpected personality transformations in TV history and came out on the other side thinking he’s a philosopher; and we basically swapped Sammi for Angelina.

You mentioned Snooki, and it did feel weird not to have her around, but I think the show will be fine without her. There’s no denying that she’s a reality star legend. We fell in love with all of these tanned weirdos but Snooki and Mike were the true breakouts who became part of the zeitgeist. But Snooki isn’t LeBron James. She’s not still putting up triple doubles and winning championships — and that’s probably for the best. She probably shouldn’t be doing cartwheels at Karma with no underwear on anymore. She earned her retirement. As you returned to the Jersey Shore Universe, I’d guess that seeing no Snooki and a lot of Angelina was the biggest surprise. Personally, I’m torn on Angelina’s involvement. Ever since she took her trash bags and went home back in the day, I’ve never missed her, but she also provides the most drama that isn’t related to Ronnie being Ronnie. What was your take on both Angelina and World War III breaking out over [checks notes] a bridesmaids' speech? I feel like she befriended the Double Shot girls solely to get you on her side.

DARREN: I am equally torn on Angelina's presence. It makes bad reality sense, but good reality TV sense. The whole Jersey Shore experience depends to some extent on the feeling that these people actually LIKE each other, or anyhow that a few genuine friendships (Vinny and Pauly, JWoww and Deena, The Situation and the camera) can Megazord into a larger friend-family. As Vinny hilariously pointed out, Angelina "ordered new Jenni and Deenas from Amazon Prime," importing a couple (admittedly legendary) Double Shot castmates into her fragile-looking squad. But I respect Angelina as a necessary pot-stirrer, someone left behind by Shore's golden age ratings glory who isn't afraid to shake up the status quo. If this season were JUST about the social media hurricane that erupted after the [checks notes] bridesmaids' speech, I'd be bored pretty quickly. As a scene-setting prologue — the family is in trouble! — I was invested.

Your point about Sitch deserve close attention. I still remember the dark days of Shore seasons 4 and 5, when no one could stand him (and when, admittedly, he seems to have been struggling with all sorts of things.) I like Mike the Happily Married Socrates, wearing his own words of wisdom on his t-shirts. (His butchered version of the Scorpion and the Frog fable was hilarious.) And speaking of personality changes! The upside-down world of 2020 has also given us a new DJ Pauly D, settled into quarantined domesticity with his Double Shot on-off love Nikki. "That show worked!" Vinny exclaimed, as surprised as anyone. I'll be honest, Derek. This premiere is probably the most I've enjoyed a non-Double Shot version of Jersey Shore since the glory days of the Shore Store. Call it COVID goggles, or my weird fascination with social media aristocratic feuding. Still, the thing that intrigued me the most was the preview of what's to come: The whole cast reuniting in a resort. Is this, like, Jersey Shore's version of the NBA Bubble? And what else jumped out at you about this premiere?

Credit: Dusty Kessler/MTV

DEREK: As evidenced by our Slack conversations this summer, Double Shot season 2 was just what the doctor ordered for us, and I think that momentum swung right into the rest of the Jersey Shore Universe. In regards to the comparison between this upcoming bubble and the NBA Bubble, I love basketball as much as Mike loves quoting himself, but this crew having an entire swanky hotel to themselves has way more potential than LeBron and company being stuck at Disney and not even having access to the actual park.

To that point, I was so excited about seeing them all quarantined together that I was initially disappointed when I realized we weren’t going to get that yet. But I was pleasantly surprised by how much I found myself enjoying Mike’s futile attempts at living up to his latest self-given nickname, The Mediation, or Vinny continuing his audition to transition from stripper to standup comic (our country right now could use more RePaulblicans and Vinnycrats), or even Pauly suggesting that maybe Ronnie should take a shot at love, only for Ronnie to then immediately clank an actual jump shot, which seems like a fitting metaphor for how a Ronnie dating show would go.

And that leads me right into that teaser. That teaser! Dr. Drew! Triple Shot at Love with Ronnie! Tears! Ronnie’s life apparently being destroyed by someone other than Ronnie! An Angelina wedding redo! A Snooki doll! RSVP trying to make “Brovid” a thing! DID I SAY TRIPLE SHOT AT LOVE WITH RONNIE!!!! Do you share my enthusiasm, and is there something you’re especially looking forward to?

DARREN: That teaser made the upcoming season look like a combination of Camp Nowhere, The Shining, and the episode of The Simpsons where Itchy and Scratchy Land glitches into robot Armageddon. So: Enthusiasm, Shared! I'm inspired by the Mediation's brightsiding, and although 2020 has been bad for so many things, I do wonder if one silver lining is that the pandemic is forcing Family Vacation to be about, well, a Vacation. As ludicrous as the Angelina drama is, maybe what America needs right now is a show about two angry groups of people slowly learning to get along. Prediction time, Derek: Will Ronnie find love?

DEREK: I'm not sure a Jersey Shore bubble in the middle of a pandemic is the best place to find love, but we're also talking about the guy who before arriving in the very first episode said that his only rule was to "never fall in love at the Jersey Shore," only to immediately fall in love at the Jersey Shore. And I would never judge him for that since it gave us maybe the greatest romance in reality TV history (sorry not sorry The Bachelor). In all seriousness, I think Ronnie should probably just focus on his own health and being the best parent he can be to his young daughter. He's been in enough toxic high-profile relationships for a lifetime, so I'm not sure Triple Shot at Love with Ronnie is the best idea. That being said, I would totally be in favor of the franchise continuing to expand with Four Guidos and a Little Lady, starring RSVP. I mean, we all know Vinny has big Guttenberg energy.

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Jersey Shore Family Vacation

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