I Just Want My Pants Back protagonist Jason Strider—a receptionist and aspiring music journalist who appears to live alone in a one-bedroom apartment despite claiming to have just $100 to his name—doesn’t remember what sex tastes like because it’s been six whole weeks since his last encounter. “This little dry spell could easily turn into the drought of the decade,” he says through a smoky exhale in the bathroom stall of a Brooklyn bar, where he and his impossibly caustic friend Tina drink “to freedom” and only ever say the opposite of what they actually mean. With this new series, MTV has finally made the full transition from producing music programming to producing music blog programming, paying homage to the concept of music with a show about people who claim to listen to it.
Like the network’s other recent scripted series, Awkward, IJWMPB is heavy on dialogue that sags beneath the weight of its copious pop-culture references, but nevertheless manages to get across a few true gems (“Funny to girls is like boobs to boys”) and can’t completely be described as poorly written. Writer David Rosen, who penned the novel of the same title, takes great pains to strike just the right tone. The pilot episode has Jason’s goofy, slightly out-of-touch grad student friends Stacey and Eric wanting to get tickets to a “super-secret” show by the still-buzzed-about Wavves. To be genuinely excited would convey an unsavory eagerness; to out-and-out dismiss the idea would be too snobby. Instead Jason and Tina go for the sweet spot: a playful jab about the obviousness of Wavves (“They’re hip, they’re new, they’re loud”) and an easygoing promise to pick up the coveted tickets from a Craigslist vendor.
A problem arises that when aspiring professional music appreciator Jason is supposed to be at the handoff; he’s busy lodging his thumb in the (vice-like, he later informs us) sphincter of a “pervy lawyer” lady that he picked up at a launch party for a magazine about “environmental sustainability… and hot chicks.” (That’s one of the episode’s best jokes by far.) In the Brooklyn of Pants, every night is a kinky escapade acted out by people wearing identical pairs of jeans.
Eventually Jason will begin to “mature” away from sphincter-centric hookups and toward a meaningful relationship. (That’s how it works in the book, anyway.) Much more interesting than the protagonist’s personal-growth trajectory is the way Pants sums up many long-stewing trends in the 21st-century music universe. Whereas MTV used to use music and the image of its makers to sell a lifestyle (and, by extension, ad space), it now uses a lifestyle to sell music (in addition to the ad space). Songs are now just an add-on to crisply filmed images of young, attractive, sarcastic people who live in Brooklyn and do Brooklyn Things (showing up to a media job late every day, hanging out in bodegas). I had intended to make note of the second episode’s soundtrack, but the only songs I managed to even notice were “Kam Sign Knights” by Xray Eyeballs and “Wild Leaves” by Custom Kings, each of which made 15-second, low-volume appearances in the background.
MTV’s shift from playing full-song videos to having background-music snippets accompanied by “Now Playing” crawls began several years ago, but it seems to have reached its obvious height on Pants, where a “music blogger type” has wild sex with a hot quirky girl “in [his] fucking refrigerator!” as someone who the protagonist might describe as “a less abrasive Cat Power” plays in the background. This emphasis on performing the role of “someone who’s into music” as opposed to actually listening to music (or watching a music video) is at the core of not only Pants and MTV’s 21st-century programming strategy, but of “music appreciation culture” (blogs, social media, party photographers’ galleries from secret shows like the aforementioned Wavves gig) as well. When Jason exclaims, “What a fantastic email this is going to make tomorrow!” as he heads toward home with a girl who’s got her backside in the air and her frontside in the fridge, he might as well be live-tweeting a concert—he’s simultaneously in the moment and removed from it, wondering how his descriptions of it after the fact will reflect on his profile, unconsciously keeping himself from being completely immersed in the fun he’s having.