The producers of television series ”Jersey Shore" have a Southern-fried version of that hot mess called "Party Down South" on CMT, just with poorer and less attractive people with weird accents, and everyone in town pretty much knows that they filmed season 2 here in Athens.
Most film crews only stick around for a couple of weeks, but the PDS crew was here for a month, presumably doing something similar to what happened in season 1: filming eight rednecks giving themselves alcohol poisoning. I did what any good reporter does and researched the show, but the initial findings were so depressing that I couldn't watch more than three-and-a-half episodes before wondering if I was being punished for something. Seriously, was my editor mad at me? [Editor's note: The sacrifices we make for journalism…]
The cast consists of Lil Bit, Daddy, Lauren, Mattie, Lyle, Tiffany, Murray and Walt. I actually found their personalities to be remarkably distinct, but, still, they were tired Southern tropes. Lil Bit is every bit of a tiny ex-cheerleader and Bible-beater. Daddy is a tanned, visor-wearing and overly flirtatious meathead. Lauren is the resident big-haired greenhorn—the youngest at 21 years old (as of season 1). Mattie is a leggy Louisiana self-described “coonass,” who won't hesitate to put her hands on a bitch. Lyle comes across as deeply Southern and steeped in Louisiana tradition, the type of guy who still knows how to dress down a deer. Tiffany is an outspoken girl with a deep Louisiana accent, and she refers to female genitalia as “dat monkey.” Murray is from Mississippi (my home state) and reminds me of my favorite big ol' country boys, the type who will leave fresh venison for you at your parents' house when you're out of town. Walt's signature look is a dip in his mouth and a worn-out hat, and he's not afraid to show off the farmer's tan on his thick arms.
The episodes I watched consisted of a shocking amount of drinking and an even-more-shocking amount of overblown conflicts and resolutions, with Lyle boning two of his female roommates and one of the girls breaking up with her totally scary boyfriend during a remarkably short but tearful phone call. They got into fights and said the Pledge of Allegiance in French. They worked at a marina and embarrassed themselves at local restaurants, so I figured they'd do similar stuff while here in Athens.
I watched as much as I could of that show while wondering what I had done to deserve this, and then I put on my shoes and hopped on my bike. I'd never been so bummed to go out before in this town, but I had a job to do.
The townies of Athens ultimately seemed unimpressed with PDS and all that it brought to town. “Why would you write about the decline of Western civilization?” asked a buddy of mine who works at various places downtown but can’t be named. He'd seen them around town filming and had what he described as an unremarkable experience in their presence. He'd mainly gone to Max that day to watch the Braves game, but he was made to sign a waiver and not “post spoilers” on the Internet, whatever the hell that means. Does anything that interesting actually happen on that show?
A female local who also signed a waiver there that night described it as a “really dead Monday night” and apparently a guy “with weird spiky hair wearing a visor, and he had really bad tattoos” (that's Daddy!) brought a goddamned beer bong to Max. But he didn't, er, bong any beers. (Is that what's it's called? I'm in my 30s.) He mostly just played foosball with Lil Bit while being filmed by what my lady friend described as the sweetest and saddest interns they'd ever met. Since the cast are all uniquely Southern stereotypes, perhaps the crew are as well, because all the people I spoke to described them as grad students in their early 20s who were primarily interns for the PDS production company. They sat on the patio at Max taking turns looking sad while eating sandwiches alone, and they were polite and talkative to the locals while the cast used funnels in public and touched each other in gross ways.
“I've been watching reality television for years, but I never knew how it worked,” my anonymous lady friend said. “It's mostly just terrible and depressing.” She described the cast as horribly average-looking, not hot at all, the girls all orange-tanned and the men with loud voices and trashy tattoos, and they were boring to boot. They were just sitting at the bar and buying round after round of shots, not speaking to anyone, and she was honestly curious to know if they came away with any usable footage at all.
My townie friends said the bar staff were annoyed by the camera behind the bar all night, and it was just too dead in there for any of it to be interesting. Daddy and Lil Bit were flirting over the foosball while their grad student minions filmed them and hated themselves nearby, and eventually they all headed to Boar's Head, one of very few bars in town that allowed them to film inside. My source said there was a collective sigh of relief once the PDS crowd left, and she hoped they'd been really bored and that they would stay away, and that our townie spaces would remain sacred.
In the end, I was only able to confirm that four bars in town consented to letting the show film there—fitting, considering the generally unimpressed reception "Party Down South" received from the locals. I was surprised that I'd completely missed the fact that a nationally televised reality show was filming in town, but once I watched it, I understood perfectly. “Those kids just were not interesting,” said my lady friend, echoing my own thoughts. “Following townies around for a week would be way more interesting than an entire season of that shit. We're actually good-looking, and we do crazy shit constantly.”
Since I had watched a little of last season, I knew what kind of crap the cast liked to get up to, and apparently they didn't disappoint certain Athens businesses. They brunched at Heirloom, a small and cozy spot on Boulevard that specializes in locally-sourced and organic food, only for Daddy to beer-bong a mimosa at the table. They also managed to piss off more than one restaurateur here in town by ordering upwards of 18 orders at a time, only to complain about delivery times and availability.
Apparently the cast are given an allowance for things like alcohol and food. This seems true, judging by a comment from Tiffany in episode 4 where Lauren loses their food money, and she comments that they might have to spend their own money on Lyle's birthday cake—but they also worked at Crazy Sisters Marina in Murrell's Inlet, SC, where they filmed last season. I didn't find out if they were working anywhere locally, and maybe that's for the best, seeing as how cast members got into fistfights in their employer's parking lot not even halfway through the season. Their behavior led to Pensacola, FL, refusing to host the second season, and a petition drive in Ocean Springs, MS, is underway to keep PDS out for season 3.
But Athens is still standing. I spoke to plenty of people who'd been present at filming, but most of them had very little to say, like my male friend who could only shrug and laugh at me when I told him I was writing this article. It wasn't the confidentiality clause, but the fact that Party Down South is just not that interesting. I don't know much about Murrell's Inlet, but Athens has a large and visible townie community, singles between the ages of 23–40 who love this town and call it home. It's not surprising that so few bars consented to filming when you think of how vibrant our townie culture is, how we treasure and support our local businesses and protect them from things that might bring a horde of of funnel-toting bleach-blonds busting through our doors.
Stories of the cast were rather sparse, but it seems the technical crew made a good impression on our town. They frequented many of our local establishments and endeared themselves to the employees. Apparently, they were fans of Porterhouse Grill, a place that had actually refused to let them film there, but crew members ate there regularly and were known to be fine tippers and gracious guests. Pretty much the same can be said for Little Kings, where a friend of mine watched crew members roll around on the ground with her Labrador mix. One of the cameramen special-ordered a book from Avid Bookshop on Prince Avenue instead of going to a corporate spot or buying online. The production company also hired people locally to work on the show, which surprised me. “They were such sweet kids,” said my lady friend. “We apologized to them so much.”
The crew was way nicer than the cast, who didn't seem interested in talking to locals much at all, but then again, I can say that the lack of interest was definitely returned.
The cast is gone, but last week I heard that the crew was still in town fixing up damage done to the house that the cast had lived in, and no one in town is bitter about having the crew members around for a few extra weeks. They seem to have made the best of it, and, unlike the cast, they acquitted themselves well. It will be interesting to see, though, if the crew is good enough to produce an entire season of footage out of a bunch of boring Southern stereotypes in our town.