Allow Brandon, the “hot but hard to read” star of MTV’s new guilty summer pleasure Siesta Key, to give you the hard sell as to why you should tune in. “Coming of age in a place of paradise, you get the best of both worlds, and we’re extremely swanky.”
As to what we can expect on the upcoming season, let Brandon elaborate. “You can expect some love triangle drama. You can expect coming of-age-drama. Some tension in the air between boys and girls. You can also expect some trouble-in-paradise drama.”
Sounds familiar, right?
For a very specific moment in the early 2000s zeitgeist, California’s Orange County, and all the warmth it radiated, lingered prominently in all of our minds. The residents were sun-dappled and towheaded. A patina of wealth reflected brightly off of everyone in this seemingly hardship-free bubble. We first saw it fictionalized on The O.C., which premiered in 2003. One year later, MTV brought us the real story of the O.C. via the trials and tribulations of Lauren Conrad as she finished her last year at Laguna Beach High. In finding Lauren, the producers struck gold. She came with a ready-made sidekick (Lo Bosworth), a crush-slash-best friend (Stephen Colletti), a nemesis (Stephen’s on-again, off-again girlfriend Kristin Cavallari), and a group of friends guaranteed to produce drama — or at least a very specific subset of privileged teens’ woes.
The styling of the show was unique, too. The cameras remained stationary and far away from the cast members, as opposed to the in-your-face style on shows like The Real World. Laguna also did away with confessionals, letting the action speak for itself. It led to a more soap-opera feel, rather than what we'd come to expect from past reality shows.
Lauren Conrad became a conduit through which millions of teens lived out their remaining high school years, and then followed her as she navigated her early 20s in Los Angeles. She eventually said goodbye to reality TV when she left Laguna spinoff The Hills, but MTV wanted to continue the magic of the female protagonist-centric reality show, to which viewers seemed to relate. The network tried, but ultimately failed, to recapture that audience with Whitney Port’s turn on The City, and with the oft-forgotten model-based saga 8th & Ocean.
Before the network turned its attention to scripted television (which would lead to hits including Teen Wolf and Awkward), it again struck lightning in a bottle. When MTV aired the antics of a group of twenty-somethings descending upon the Jersey Shore in 2009, viewers were hooked. In casting a wider net with more than one protagonist, the network captured the bawdy interplay of six raucous personalities. Once the cast of Jersey Shore had worn out its welcome; however, Bravo took up the mantle of geographically-oriented, pot-stirring reality TV.
Now, MTV is ready to give the "is it scripted? That's a secret we'll never tell" formula another go — although Brandon insists producers didn't manipulate or get involved with the drama at all. Its newest offering, Siesta Key (the Florida-set show premieres July 31), strives to do exactly what Laguna Beach did 13 years (yes, thirteen) ago. There’s a group of gorgeous friends tailor-made to draw viewers in. They have complex relationship structures, with former girlfriends returning from college to go head-to-head with current flames. They’re rich — mega-loaded is more like it. As Brandon promised during his call with Refinery29, there are inter-group hookups and plenty of intrigue, and, if the trailer for the first season following the screener made available to press can be believed, arrests, hospital visits, and bigger parties than Gossip Girl (but with a mandatory BYOB — as in bikini — dress code).
There are differences from Laguna, though, even though the setup is the same, right down to the voiceover monologue that Juliette, a dead ringer for Margot Robbie mixed with Cameran Eubanks from Southern Charm, provides at the beginning of the show, introducing us to the dramatis personae. The Siesta Key group is of legal drinking age, with at least half of them having returned home for a “fun summer” (it is repeatedly stressed just how fun this summer will be; you’ve seriously never heard higher stakes or more emphasis placed on how summer in Siesta Key is like no other) after graduating from college.
Alex, the ringleader of the crew, is dating Juliette, but he’s still emotionally involved with his former high-school flame, Madisson. Alex’s house is Cribs-ready, and his birthday blowout in the first episode is straight out of the Entourage movie. His best friend Chloe is the “alpha female” of the group. She has a crush on Brandon, but he’s into her best friend. Kelsey, a model, has moved back to Siesta Key to care for her sick mother. She’s the outsider, and her incredibly buff boyfriend Garrett, whom she met on Tinder, went to high school with the rest of the cast, but did a total glow-up after graduating. Now, he’s got abs for days that garner special close-ups — the cameras on Siesta Key love slow-mo shots of bodies.
Still, Chloe insists the show is different from Laguna because of the gravity of the cast members’ lives portrayed. “Kelsey’s mom has M.S. I have a family member that passes away. Another person on the show’s parents are going through a divorce. It’s real-life family issues, and not just us all hanging out together,” she says.
We still get lines like, “This party every year is so much pressure to have the perfect bathing suit” from Juliette, and “Rainbows are pretty, but not as pretty as you,” from Alex. Brandon makes sure to Instagram his food during a meal with his mother. “If it’s something fancy that looks really nice, like a lobster tail with some surf and turf, maybe some green beans in there. I like to grab the camera and take a picture of it,” he says with zero shame.
In fact, social media will be a huge separation point from Laguna and Jersey Shore, which existed in a time before fans could slide into cast members’ DMs, and the shows operated in a weekly bubble. “People can watch the show and see us live-tweeting and direct message us, or catch us on Facebook Live or something like that. I feel like it’s going to be a lot more directly engaging with our fans,” Brandon promises.
Chloe can’t believe reality TV notoriety is in her immediate future, even though surely the cast must have seen what happened when Lauren Conrad went head-to-head with Speidi in the tabloids back in the day. “’I’ve seen a picture of us in InTouch magazine. I’ve seen our preview in Times Square on the big screen, and I still need someone to pinch me or wake me up, because it feels like a dream.”
Things always seem brighter on the precipice of a sudsy season. The cast of Siesta Key is ready to let people into their seemingly aspirational lives, just like Lauren Conrad did so many years ago. And MTV hopes to once again strike lightning with its beautiful cast of characters. Their bodies are, quite literally, ready.