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Christa Lawler column: Still very much alone on the Internet

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With the Internet came the promise that you would always, always be able to find a pack of like-minded people — whether you were collecting your own fingernail clippings in a Cool Whip container or you were invested in upcoming mall appearances of Lauralee Bell, who plays Cricket on “The Young and the Restless.”

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In the right nook of Internet space, we’d never be freaks. We’d never be alone.

So how come I can’t find anyone else who is streaming “The Only Way is Essex” on Hulu? Well, anyone besides my cousin’s best friend Jenny.

To the uninitiated, and apparently that’s everyone, this English reality series is a bit like “The Hills” with a “Jersey Shore” orange tint.

Episodes have the aesthetic of a scripted program. A disclaimer at the beginning bills the cast as real people, though some of what they do has been “set up purely for your entertainment.” There is no confusing “Hey, wait a tick. Why are all those people who hate each other at the same restaurant?”

And, like most reality TV, it’s a chance to watch the elaborate dance of humans forging unions, then severing those unions with some ill-advised, albeit sexy, text messages to third parties.

There are 11 seasons of this powerful, raw programing available to anyone who has the Internet, an anthropological curiosity and the ability to understand, although not necessarily speak, a few words of Essex-ian English.

A TV marathon is a bittersweet concept. A season becomes a single super-episode interrupted by a pop theme song — in this case 1980s chart-topper “The Only Way is Up” by Yazz and the Plastic Population. And that song becomes like a loose thread winding its way around your brain until you’re dizzy and cross-eyed and probably singing along.

It’s a private pursuit — a bit of gluttony between you and your tube. And so what if you start to think of these people as your friends.

But at some point — I believe it was Season 4 — I needed to talk about the characters: the longtime couple bent on mentally torturing each other, the broken-hearted lounge singer, the cosmetologist dabbling in down-low decoratives.

I went to my personal portal to the universe and asked:

“Does anyone want to talk about ‘The Only Way is Essex’?”

And … nothing.

Not one of my however-many friends — a cast of people whose interests range from politics to bodily functions to Jesus to cat art — had anything to say.

This show is big biz in other parts of the world. The New York Times has written about it. So has the Huffington Post. The characters’ breakups, makeups and weight fluctuations are tabloid fodder in the U.K.

It took hours for my cousin’s friend Jenny to reply: “YES!”

But every hour is a month in Internet time, and so I was over it already.

Now, occasionally, I’ll go back to that thread and say: “Just got teary about Arg running that marathon” and tag her in the comment and she will reply a few months later.

And so it is, I’ve learned, in 2014 you can still be very much alone with your proclivities.

Christa Lawler is the News Tribune’s arts and entertainment reporter.

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Christa Lawler
(218) 279-5536
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