The fourth season of MTV's reality revival Jersey Shore Family Vacation almost didn't happen. First, well, it is a thing on Earth, which is currently not an easy place to film anything. But also, the women on the cast were no longer on speaking terms, digging into opposite sides of a full-blown Twitter cold war after last year's climactic wedding.

Fortunately for the Jersey Shore cast, they didn't come this far just to come this far. Thursday's midseason finale united friends, enemies, spouses, strippers, and one uncle. A new generation is rising. And EW's Darren Franich and Derek Lawrence need a whole empty Vegas hotel just to contain all their thoughts.

DEREK LAWRENCE: Darren, our family vacation is over. Or at least the closest thing us non-rich-celebrity folk can get to one in the hellscape that has been 2020 and 2021. In just 14 episodes, Jersey Shore gifted us one wedding redo, two pregnancy reveals, and a Trouble Shot at Love. Oh, and let's not forget that Dr. Drew of all people jetted in to save our favorite dysfunctional family. Like Mike, whose confusion over somehow being recorded on a reality show he's been on for a decade might be the hardest I've laughed in a long time, I couldn't help but ask, "Do I know how grateful I am for Jersey Shore Family Vacation?"

Darren, despite being our OG Jersey Shore recap legend, you admitted in our November celebration of the season premiere to having mostly pulled a Sammi and missed the first few vacations, only to be pulled back in by Double Shot at Love, a.k.a. (to you and I) The Better Bachelor. On a scale from grenade to 10, how thankful are you be GTLing again?

DARREN FRANICH: I've always wanted to be some kind of legend, Derek, but you're being too kind. At this point with Jersey Shore I am merely the proverbial Uncle Nino, babbling nonsense with endless joy as I drink deep of the general ridiculousness. Whereas you are a one-man RSVP, sagely guiding us to a higher state of Jersey Shore enlightenment. Pass me a couple moneyguns, please, I want to spray one week's stay at Lake Las Vegas all over this half-season. (In small bills.)

Jersey Shore Family Vacation
Credit: Dusty Kessler/MTV

There are too many details that we have to get into. The Situation's lopsided nipples. Esteban, the hazmat-suited waiter. The surprise return of Ariana the contortionist. Angelina's husband — whose name is, I think, Chunk — defining the phrase "lefty cappuccino" in a bleepful monologue at his own wedding (redo) reception. But let's go macro. We just watched 14 episodes about a social media feud. The girls' speech at Angelina's wedding eight 10 months ago threatened to tear the family apart. There were multiple hours of this show that were entirely about three gigantic men and Vinny trying to convince three women not to hate each other. There is no reason why this should be compelling — but damn it, I was with them on this journey. I wanted the rift to heal. And, at least for the moment, it has! When JWoww told Angelina to put on sunscreen, I felt a renewed hope for our world. What beef can't we squash, humanity?

Were you as invested as I was in the boys' 50-point prank plan to clear up SpeechGate, Derek? And going back to something we discussed way back in the premiere: Since you know sports, can you officially confirm that the Jersey Shore bubble was better than the NBA bubble?

DEREK: I might be the wrong person to ask about the NBA bubble given that my beloved Boston Celtics lost in the Eastern Conference Finals and haven't been the same since. But I do tend to believe this was at least a more fun bubble. Like, imagine being at Walt Disney World and not allowed to actually go into the park? That had to be hell, especially for the Lopez twins. Plus, the teams that went far, chiefly the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat, were there for 90-plus days — and I guarantee you that the NBA players would have killed for a drive-up stripper bus!

When it comes to SpeechGate, I'm glad you got so much enjoyment out of it, because I pray to never hear about it again. My most passionate take of the season: The Speech is no The Note. That said, no matter how many times we were forced to relive footage of the infamous wedding, it couldn't ruin my enjoyment. I don't know if I was just that excited to be vicariously working out through RSVP, or basking in the happiness of Mike and Lauren, or appreciating how Deena's Chris (not to be confused with Angelina's Chunk Chris) seems to be the chillest, nicest dude out there, or realizing that Angelina and Vinny might be the true love story of the Jersey Shore universe (no offense, to Chunk Chris, or Pauly and Nikki).

Jersey Shore Family Vacation
Credit: Dusty Kessler/MTV

Speaking of the NBA, with so many LeBron-level performances by our family this season, and with the show featuring a big three that literally calls themselves MVP, I have to ask, who is your quarantine MVP? Mine might be unexpected: Lauren. She was the voice of reason we all needed, and I'm not afraid to admit that it got misty in my apartment as I watched Mr. and Mrs. Sitch learn that, after previous struggles, they're having a baby. Oh, and my least valuable player has to be a tie between the producer who didn't give Nikki the chance to fully shine and the producer who was unable to secure a Maria drop-in.

DARREN: Lauren's role this season was crucial, no question. The original double-booking plan called for Angelina to get parent-trapped with JWoww and Deena. Jenni did an about-face and couldn't arrive until later, which meant Lauren joined Deena as a designated non-dude traveling partner. That seemed to open the floodgates to all the significant others — a true family vacation! Vinny and Ronnie didn't like all the couples, and looked like they were ready for another Double Shot season to start already. I have no idea how a show full of mostly settled-down parents works with the usual MTV demographic. It works on my demographic, your honor!

Which is why my MVP of the season — the person who made me laugh, made me cry, made me constantly turn to my wife and say, "I think we could be friends with her!" — is Deena. She didn't concoct the most schemes, or create the most catchphrases. (Which: Can we talk about how these people turned "Threesome!" into a catchphrase?) But I could relate to her over-it pandemic childcare stress, and genuinely worried for her health as she juggled early pregnancy with generalized Angelina Anxiety. I very much enjoyed how later episodes would cut from Something Bad Happening in one corner of the resort to Deena, Chris, and CJ hanging out poolside or lounging in their room. Did they have room service the whole trip? This is the escapist entertainment we parents have been demanding!

Eleven years after they first achieved reality TV fame, the Jersey Shore stars live very strange lives. So trapping them in an empty resort full of cameras and raccoons felt… almost normal? Or anyhow, about as normal as anything else that happened in 2020. When JWoww walked through a door and saw Dr. Drew staring at her, her shrug said it all. Like: Sure, okay, the world has shut down, a silly speech I gave last year caused a tidal wave of online hatred, and now Dr. Drew is here.

How did you feel about his appearance, Derek? And what do you want to see when this season returns? Don't say Pauly's bleached hair. I refuse to see that.

DEREK: I was honestly prepared for you go with Esteban as the MVP, but I'm equally intrigued by your Deena pick. Who would have expected when she showed up guns blazing back in season 3, at the peak of Jersey Shore fame, that she'd become the most normal and relatable of the bunch? Like, turn off the cameras and Pauly is still DJing for thousands at raucous pool parties (events I once loathed but now would kill to be at), Vinny is still stripping at Chippendales, and Ronnie is still on TMZ. Deena, she's just having a nice night in at home in Jersey with Chris and CJ.

Jersey Shore Family Vacation
Credit: Dusty Kessler/MTV

But I'm glad you brought up Dr. Drew. I still kind of can't believe it happened, while at the same time totally believing that it happened. And the full-circle moment of Ronnie, not Mike, being the one with him on speed dial just really reminded us how far we've come. And I guess my wish list for the rest of season 4 starts there. Give me Ronnie still in control of his life. Give me another Trouble Shot at Love, even though I do believe we got a quick shot teasing a new relationship for him. Give me a setup of a Ronnie and Uncle Nino spin-off called The Old Pope. Give me more tears when Mike and Lauren welcome their baby. Give me appearances from other Double Shot at Love girls (hell, even let Pool Party Papi show up). And lastly, give me Snooki back. She's not the same wild Snooki who became a reality show icon in the show's heyday, but she's still our Snooki. Other than all the above, what do you hope the rest of your Jersey Shore pandemic looks like?

DARREN: I'm with you on wanting to get the full band back together. I have to believe that Snooki is watching this season (hopefully while recovering quickly from COVID!) and thinking, "Well, that doesn't look too bad." More Double Shot is always good Double Shot, though I remain haunted by that time our near-namesake Derryn and ever-wonderful B-Lashes showed up as Angelina's replacement friends. It's probably too much to ask for a full-fledged return from Sammi, and I definitely don't begrudge her not wanting her life to become a very entertaining train wreck.

Which kind of gets back to the central tension of this Family Vacation season. The Jersey Shore crew will keep doing this show as long as there's an audience. But, like: They would prefer that doing the show not be complete social torture, requiring lots of tense dinners and up-close contact between people who despise each other. All it took to get the family back together was locking everyone up in a vacant vacation getaway. Maybe for the next feud they can take over a whole island?

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