Can Alexa Chung Save MTV?

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June 17 2009 6:25 PM

Can Alexa Chung Save MTV?

The network's unbelievably charming new talk-show host.

Alexa Chung. Click image to expand.
Alexa Chung 

The host of It's On With Alexa Chung! (MTV, weekdays at noon, ET) claims to hail from the English countryside, "one of those places that look like they're from a Richard Curtis movie." This story of pastoral origins is almost charming enough to divert attention from its patent falsity. In fact, Alexa Chung sprang fully formed from a research lab beneath the Viacom building, where the boys did ace work synthesizing DNA recovered from the foam microphone windscreens of the MTV crushes of my adolescence. The comely Ms. Chung offers the delicate sultriness of Kari Wuhrer and the alert curiosity of Tabitha Soren, the sass of Kennedy and the stems of "Downtown" Julie Brown.

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

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

Ridiculous as it may seem, the target audience of It's On is not unaffluent male TV critics, ages 34 to 35. Rather, according to the Wall Street Journal, it is teenagers, a demographic group in imminent danger of never learning how to waste time watching television. Naively, these whippersnappers believe that the Web is the answer to all their time-wasting needs. Courageously, MTV is reaching out to these high-risk children, trying to get a lost generation back on track by speaking to it in its own language. A daytime chat show caught in a Facebook frenzy and abounding in Twitter twaddle, It's On does some hard-core Inter-pandering.

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In her Monday debut, Alexa jounced before her audience wearing a gray cotton button-down top, leggings like a contained oil slick, and a pair of studded strappy sandals suitable for a beachside bondage party. Her hairdo was a mussed boho bob. Her goofy manner set off her posh accent. Her set, with its carefully eclectic furniture, combined midcentury modernism, Martha Stewart coziness, Felicity's idea of a SoHo loft, and a sunroom from an Ian McEwan novel. "It's not Anthropologie, actually," joked Alexa. "It's my actual house." Here, she struck a rare false note. The apposite retail reference was Design Within Reach. Her laptop sat on a Saarinen tulip table.

Soon nestled in a Bertoia side chair and dying for a giggle, Alexa charged through the morning gossip with a sidekick. (Monday it was a Best Week Ever wisecracker, Tuesday a New York Post gadabout. In my mind's eye Rachel Sklar is waiting by the phone.) Miley Cyrus, Michael Phelps; snark, snipe, snicker. It was a challenge to follow the nonsense being talked as the picture kept cut-cut-cutting to different angles. The whole control room is on Dexedrine, or else I, finally and definitively, am way too old for MTV.

I was certainly too much of a geezer to withstand the next segment, "It's Complicated." Here, young women discussed why they'd selected that murky term to describe their "relationship status" on Facebook. Alexa, with an expert, helped uncomplicate matters, at one point counseling a lass about the unhappy genetic consequences of incest.

It was now time to face the celebrities. Heidi and Spencer Pratt, newlywed reality-show nitwits, dribbled in for promotional purposes. Spencer has recently dropped a hip-hop single titled "I'm a Celebrity," and homeboy favored us with lyrics proving he's got flow like a sanitary sewer: "Music is my world. Television is my life./ I'm in the limelight, and I love it like my wife." This is a patent lie. No way does Spencer prefer his spouse to, say, a swag bag from a gift suite at Sundance.

Heidi responded coyly to Alexa's inquiry about an upcoming project: "I might be posing for Playboy, but it would be very tasteful." This is the usual pre-emptive defense of a starlet preparing to show us her tits, but it must be remarked that, if Heidi spoke the truth, then this will be the first tasteful thing she accomplishes in public life.

Jack Black and Michael Cera have a movie coming out. Operating on Alexa's level of cheery irony, they brought her a dumb gift—either a Snuggie or a Slanket—which, criminally, she draped over her leggings. Failing to sink to the boys' level of silly meandering, Alexa struggled to get them to talk up Year One: "What's it about, please?"

In conclusion, Alexa was pleased to introduce Soulja Boy, the hip-hop star and noted pro-feminist activist. "How many times do you tweet a day?" Ms. Chung asked. Mr. Boy replied, "I dunno, man." She asked, "Have you ever met a lady through Twitter?" He said, "Yeah." That was no lady, son. And even if she wasn't a tramp, her charms could not compare to those of your hostess. It's On is The Tyra Banks Show for audiences that sometimes find Tyra too cheesy or sincere. Alexa Chung may well become the David Letterman of daytime talk-show hosts, arching a well-waxed eyebrow with a feisty sense of irony.

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