The Tracy Flick of journalism.

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April 16 2008 5:38 PM

The Tracy Flick of Journalism

A wonderful new villain adorns MTV's The Paper.

The Paper. Click image to expand.
The cast of MTV's The Paper

Rarely does reality television produce a character so rich as Amanda, the lead on The Paper (Mondays at 10:30 p.m. ET), MTV's new high-school journalism soap. She's all about being both the Eve Harrington and the Margo Channing, or, should The Devil Wear Prada be more your thing, the Miranda Priestley and the Andy Sachs. She's brassy—not just a prissy word maven rising from copy editor to editor-in-chief but also a musical-theater geek who won't shut her trap. She's driven—on Monday's debut, while her competitors for the top spot on the masthead were out for the weekend getting wasted like normal kids, she sat in her Hello Kitty-festooned bedroom and polished her application essay. Most importantly, her behavior is so unyieldingly superior that she's an absolute delight to hate. "Procrastination is a foe that I have not met yet," she gloated to the camera. "You wench," I yelled at the screen. For a fuller idea of the range of inexcusably vile names I pelted at the young lady, please see George Carlin's seven dirty words routine and Page 80 of Ian McEwan's Atonement.

"Journalists are the most important part of world. They really are," goes another Amandaism, a statement that all the reporters on this show and in the real world agree with. Every journalist who is not too stupid to notice what's going on knows that he's full of himself, and that is why we make such delectable reality-show figures—as I mentioned in my essential piece about Bravo's Tabloid Wars, still the journalist-reality-TV subgenre's most worthy endeavor. The self-importance of reporters is also, unquestionably, why MTV has not only launched The Paper (even after the failure of its second intern competition, I'm From Rolling Stone) but also given it a plum time slot behind The Hills (whose mute and gilded sylphs provide vivid contrast to this show's chattering neurotics): Buzz is business, and there is no surer way to get an undue volume of coverage for a reality show than to center it on people who cover the things.

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Exactly what it is that the news hounds and camera hogs of The Paper—most of whom are off-puttingly over-prepared—will be covering is not yet clear. The debut told us less about their newspaper than it did about the eternal rites of secondary schools (the cliquishness, the hustling, the crowding into restaurant booths), and the montage of the coming season's highlights was mostly concerned with the high-school drama of freak-outs and hissy fits. It was rousing, in its modest way. There's no shortage of juvenile behavior to be seen on the many reality shows devoted to celebrities and aspiring performers; Hollywood, as everyone says, is like high school with money. But high school is like high school with high schoolers, and that's good for something.

Amanda shares her career ambitions, in rough outline at least, with two of the characters on The Real World XX: Hollywood (MTV, Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET). (Get a load of those Roman numerals, by the way—The Real World both aspiring to the iconicity and institutional force of the Super Bowl and hinting at an unrepentantly sleazy pornographic quality it will indeed deliver.) "I want to be a journalist," says Kimberly, a bartender who imagines herself working the Lohan beat for E! "I'm soooooo passionate," says Sarah, who majored in broadcasting at Arizona State and just wants to be on TV. I don't know anything about their credentials or the networks of sources they've cultivated, but both of the girls take their clothes off in tonight's episode, and I can say confidently that each would be a welcome addition to Fox News, where the producers seem always in want of something pert and tender.

That said, neither is quite so hot as honey-skinned Brianna, the aspiring singer with a background in stripping and a warrant out for her arrest. Tonight, she calls up her boyfriend to sweet talk him into dropping the assault charges. "What'd you do last night?" he asks. "We sat in the hot tub," says she, stating the obvious. Bleeping ensues, and The Real World XX begins to set the stage for its explosive fourth episode, which will find Bri returning to her old place of employ and where the producers discuss, on camera, how to address a castmate's alcoholism, having already exploited it with much exuberance. The show is tawdrier than ever. Stop the presses.

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

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