In the first episode of MTV’s “The Vice Guide To Everything,” the downtown magazine’s new TV program that had its premiere last night at the Lower East Side’s Landmark Sunshine Cinema, Vice founder Shane Smith takes acclaimed director, skate video god, and all around hero Spike Jonze to Yemen. They went to find Al-Qaeda, naturally.
“When Vice magazine first started, all we cared about was sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll,” Smith said in a voice over that opened each episode. Images of strippers and alcohol flashed on screen, and the theme song, Sham 69′s classic “If The Kids Are United,” was turned to 11. Then the hookers and booze segued to more sobering images: the North Korean army, missiles launched in the middle east, impoverished U.S. towns. “But as we started traveling around the world,” Shane Smith continued, “we got more into politics, culture, fashion, are, and the environment—basically everything.”
That does a good job of summing up the show’s anarchic, freewheeling, blissfully funny and often bitingly serious approach to investigative journalism. It’s gonna be a nice little shit-kicking addition to the fare usually on MTV. (“This is not Jersey Shore,” we overheard someone say early into the first episode.)
To mentally prepare the audience for the bombast, an open bar ran through bottles and bottles of Sailor Jerry rum, which could be mixed with either Coke or, in a twist, Reed’s Ginger Beer. “Poor man’s dark and stormy,” a friend scoffed. Regardless, the crowd picked a preference and ran with it. Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner was milling about, but at times he was hard to pick out because so many others looked just like him.
Smith and Spike Jonze’s adventures in Yemen took place in the pilot. In one memorable scene, the duo have an extended chat with a group of extremely dissident radical Yemenis, some of whom believe the U.S. is in cahoots with Al Qaeda. During this conversation, everyone in the room is chewing immense amounts of Gat, a drug with an opiate-esque effect that has driven most of Yemen to addiction.
Jonze seemed to not have the tolerance for gat that the Yemeni—and, apparently, Shane Smith—have built up, because he was visibly woozy. “I think I’m really high,” Jonze whispered to the man sitting next to him. “No English!” the man responded.
Spike, sitting in the back left of the theater, laughed along with the rest of the audience. Making things potentially awkward, however, was the fact that sitting right next to Jonze was his mother.
“I think everything in VBS is telling a story, and they’re only as good as their ability to tell a story,” Spike told The Observer before the screening. He was talking about VBS.TV, Vice’s online broadcasting arm, where he’s the creative director. “They’ve been doing VBS now for four years, and they’ve gotten very good at telling stories.”
Before stepping into the theater, Sailor Jerry-and-coke in hand, we informed Spike that we had both gone to the same high school (albeit several years apart).
“Cool!” Spike Jonze said. And then, bonded by a hometown, he insisted we meet his mom, who—like all moms—was very, very nice. Nice enough, it seems, to forgive his son for getting high on Yemeni gat.