Snooki and her merry band of orange guidos return to Seaside Heights, N.J., on Thursday night for a new season of Jersey Shore. Last season, which saw the gang recontextualized in Italy, was among the show's least popular yet. Of the 8.8 million fans who tuned in for the season premiere, just 6.6 million stuck around for the finale — the first time a Jersey Shore premiere outdrew the finale. While some loyal viewers are excited to see the gorillas back in their natural habitat in 2012, critics are rolling their eyes anew at the reality stars' tired, drunken antics. Five seasons in, is Jersey Shore on its way out?

Yes. The party's over: Sure, there are still infrequent glimmers of the charm and outrageous humor that originally won over fans, says Richard Huff at the New York Daily News. But for the most part, the drama on Jersey Shore now seems manufactured, mean-spirited, and repetitive. Tuning in to the fifth season is like showing up to a party just as the caterer is breaking down the buffet. "The event is still going, but it's not quite the same, or [as] filling." In other words, "it's time to stick a fork in the last meatball and call it a show."
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Actually, this is a return to form: The season in Florence, Italy was a major yawn, says Lori Rackl at the Chicago Sun-Times. Most of the cast members were in boring relationships, and the dominating storyline about The Situation's supposed love for Snooki was awful. Thankfully, "season five starts better than Italy ended." The cast seems rejuvenated: They're fist-pumping, cruising, and returning to their delightfully rigid GTL (gym, tan, laundry) regimen. Jersey Shore is still "the guiltiest of guilty pleasures," but the fun of season five manages to make the guilt go down a bit easier.
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Fans will always love it. The rest of us, not so much: Jersey Shore persists only to please its superfans, says Verne Gay at Newsday. And for viewers who still religiously tune in, the return to Seaside Heights is "a genuine reprieve" after the failure in Italy, offering a comforting familiarity. For fans, "there's no place like home." But for the rest of us, familiarity has become staleness. "Same hangover. Same jokes. Same snark." Five seasons in, "this seems like the beginning of the end."
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