Miami seems so yesterday. Wrapping in late October, the second season saw the gang's alliances shift and fracture in Florida - largely over a "note" that detailed Ron's infidelities, and made girlfriend Sammi go nuts. (They broke up, but they're back together.) Also, Angelina Pivarnick got her walking papers.
Back in Seaside Heights and back in the house that made them famous, cast members straggle in; the first couple to arrive are Ron and Sammi. This is a crucial plot point because they pick the three-bed upstairs room, which means someone else has to bunk with them. Who will that lucky sucker be? JWOWW arrives next, and greets Sammi with a grunt; yes, they're still hating each other.
But Jenni instantly figures out the third-season dynamic: "They [Ron and Sammi] took the upstairs room which --- it up for everyone else in the house." Vinny and Paulie eventually wander in, pick their rooms, and same with Snooki and newcomer Deena; Mike finally arrives, and becomes the loser in this game of musical beds.
What it will be like rooming with on-again-off-again snuggle bunnies Ron and Sammi - who appears to be this season's Angelina? Torture? Massive buzz kill? And what about that newcomer, Deena, whom MTV says is a longtime Snooki pal?
MY SAY Deena Nicole Cortese is a 23-year-old dental assistant from a small central Jersey town called New Egypt - and all semblance of middle-class normalcy apparently ends right there. Deena arrives bombed; brawls with Ronnie; calls Sammi the B-word about 38 times (my unofficial count); strips bare naked for Sitch; and initiates a full-fledged fist-on-face smackdown between two housemates. It's almost like watching a full 13-episode season wrapped up in one 40-minute edition.
What's going on here? Most likely a few things. By MTV's pragmatic calculus, "Jersey Shore" has probably grown about as far as it's going to, and with 6 million viewers for its second-season finale, that's more than adequate. But this also means the show must now play to the fan base. Simply put, keep fans happy, and you've got a franchise that can last a few years. Disappoint them, and the third season will be the last.
That's where Deena comes in. She's a distillation of "Shore" - all sound and fury and booze and zero inhibitions. She has a pure "guidette" ethos that'll make Italian-American service groups (if they're still paying attention) fume.
BOTTOM LINE Two Snookies can be too much of a good (or bad) thing. Too much drama, and the show burns brighter, but it also burns out faster. All available evidence - Thursday's episode - suggests one Snooki is more than enough. But you sure won't be bored.
GRADES For Fans: B+
For everyone else: D