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‘TRL’ Is Back on MTV, but Undone by the Internet

Over the first three weeks, you could slowly sense Ms. Dhia wresting some semblance of control. She is the most convincing as a host, even though she often appears drained by the spectacle around her, as if she were an elementary schoolteacher watching the class descend into chaos.

And there is plenty of that. Each episode is crammed tight: appearances from actors and actresses from teen-friendly TV shows; dull skits featuring upstreamed social media personalities like the Dolan Twins, Gabbie Hanna and Liza Koshy (whose loud shenanigans make more sense in the tight confines of online video); games in which audience members compete for cash, including one where a young woman took a pie to the face. (Cue Mr. Rife: “There’s way grosser ways to earn money for college, trust me.”)

Photo

“TRL” has been heavily featuring social media personalities like the Dolan Twins.

Credit
Bennett Raglin/Getty Images, via MTV

Unforced errors abound, including oodles of technical hiccups: sloppy camerawork, dead air, missed cues. Often, guests seem caught off guard by what they’re asked, and sometimes the hosts seem unprepared, like when DC Young Fly thought meme was pronounced “me me.” There are also moments of poor judgment, as when a schoolteacher was brought on to judge a sketch, and after DC Young Fly lost, he pointed out that the teacher — who probably doesn’t have the wardrobe budget of a TV host — still had the tag on her jacket.

At times, “TRL” evinces a political and social consciousness. The hosts freely insult President Trump, perhaps a response to a backlash-generating interview given by the showrunner, Albert Lewitinn, in which he said “we would welcome” Mr. Trump on the show.

And there is music: a meaningless weekly countdown drawn from songs — nepotistic or crassly promotional or just plain random — picked by the week’s guests; absurdly softball interviews that make Damien Fahey look like Mike Wallace; and performances that are often overlaid with visual effects to distract from their plainness. At least Lil Uzi Vert jumped on stuff.

Lil Uzi Vert Performing “XO Tour Llif3” Video by TRL

But the musical guests have been inconsistent, a mélange of once-weres and not-quite-yets, a reflection of how little sway MTV currently has with the music industry. Cardi B recently topped the Billboard Hot 100 with “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)” for three weeks. But while she’s been mentioned on about half of the show’s episodes thus far — including a sketch featuring a birthday cake with her image on it — she has not appeared yet. (Yet a 6-year-old girl who went viral online for rapping the song has.)

Cardi B’s Youngest Fan, Ahnari, Rapping “Bodak Yellow” Video by TRL

On the plus side, that means more opportunity for young artists like the impressive and almost impossibly professional new boy band PrettyMuch, which looks and sounds like a holdover from the peak “TRL” era, and Billie Eilish, who appeared in her interview to be a promising pop dissident, at least up until she began singing, or lip syncing.

Still, the show looks slick, even if the gap between the gloss of the set and the people occupying it is vast. But waiting for everyone to become polished enough to look at home there is likely a waste of time. Maybe the solution is to go the other direction and turn “TRL” into something more anarchic and less predictable. Forget trying to clean up the internet for television — let the internet run wild, and pray that the cameras can keep up.

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