'The Real World': Is It Getting Good Again?
by Kim Potts, posted Jun 29th 2010 6:00PM
Short answer: Yes. Maybe even, Yes!
Confession: Not bragging, but I have seen every episode of every season of 'The Real World.' OK, I'm not ashamed of it, either, so peddle your wisenheimer remarks elsewhere, mister.
Point is, for a lot of viewers, 'The Real World' was the first reality show we really plugged into. And though, admittedly, the last few seasons have been forgettable, it's the chance of a return to past glory -- the Los Angeles season with 'Boot Scoot Boogie'-in Jon and the infamous Tammy/David blanket fight, 'San Francisco' with grimy peanut butter pilferer Puck and the unforgettable Pedro, 'Miami' with the sex-in-the-shower eavesdropping and the Dan/Melissa photo fight, 'Seattle' and the Stephen slap and 'Hawaii' and pretty much every moment involving Ruthie -- that has kept me tuning in.
Again, for the last few seasons, that has been in vain; I can't even remember the name of a single cast member from 'Real World' Cancun or D.C. (the series' worst season ever ratings-wise), and only singer/songwriter/aspiring filmmaker/Army soldier Ryan Conklin made an impression from amongst the 'RW: Brooklyn' cast.
But as the show heads to New Orleans for its 24th season -- back to New Orleans, actually; the ninth 'RW' also unfolded in the Big Easy, with cast members like Julie the Mormon, Melissa the comedian and David with his infamous 'Come On, Be My Baby Tonight' tune (see, lots of things to remember about the old school seasons) -- I'm optimistic that the venerable reality series is making a comeback.
And I say this because I've watched the season premiere (which airs June 30 at 10PM ET), and it's gooood. Here's why season 24 might be the best season since 'Las Vegas,' or even since the last time the show revisited a city, with season 10's 'Back to New York' crew:
The Cast Members
Obviously, that's the key to any good 'RW' season, and the 'Back to New Orleans' gang has some big personalities, with drama that spills out in the first episode.
First, there's male hairdresser Ryan, who says he's amused by the fact that people often assume he's gay because he's a male hairdresser. Guess what? He's so not okay with it, which his roommates find out during the first night of partying, when Ryan is hit on at a gay bar. He freaks, which not only adds to the roommates' impression that Ryan is super emotional, but seriously offends one of them ...
Preston. Preston is gay, and he and Ryan are getting along fine, right up to the point where Ryan says "You guys touch me, and I feel like killing myself" in response to being kissed on the neck by a gay man in a bar. A Ryan/Preston squabble breaks out right in the street, and it continues, and gets more heated, back at the mansion (more on that in a sec). And though they appear to kinda sorta squash it before the lights go out that night, we know they didn't, since, flash forward, later in the season the cops are called to the house when Ryan accuses Preston of having urinated on and scrubbed a toilet with his toothbrush (and of having let him continue to use it).
There's also Division I college basketball player Ashlee, whose "Angelina Jolie" lips immediately get the attention of the male cast members; Eric, a stand-up comedian and State Department employee who regularly travels all over the world; Jemmye, who supposedly scandalizes her Southern Baptist hometown with her love of casual sex and support of legalized pot; McKenzie, an alleged goody-two-shoes and Florida native who likes to play mind games; Sahar, a Lebanese-American aspiring singer whose conservative Muslim community in Michigan might not approve of the profession she's pursuing or the New Orleans housemate she may be pursuing; and, another Ryan, Ryan Knight (who's called "Knight," which thankfully makes it easier to avoid that confusion), a Wisconsin hockey player whose career was halted because of a severe injury and subsequent painkiller addiction.
These always factor into the dramas of the season, from fights to hook-ups, and this season has some interesting ones:
- Knight: Has been off drugs for a very short time, is "known for his promiscuity," but might be crushin' (and vice versa) on Jemmye. Oh, and he teaches hockey to kids.
- Ryan: Tells roomies he was recently in a volatile relationship and is very emotional; in the opener, he not only offends Preston, but also Knight (he refuses to share a room with Knight, who he writes off as an obnoxious jock) and Jemmye, who's told by Ryan that she's "asking to be raped" when she wears a skimpy dress.
- Preston: His first childhood memory "is of crying in the back seat of the car while his mother went to score crack," and he's been on his own since he was 17. Seems to be very opinionated, but, at least in the premiere, gets along with everyone except Ryan.
- Ashlee: She says her much-discussed lips are natural, and she arrives at the 'RW' house after a bad breakup. Roommate Eric guesses, and she confirms, that she likes to date black men, and though we don't get to see it in the premiere, MTV hints that she "is no stranger to stirring the pot" as the resident instigator.
- Eric: He's travelled all over the world, works for the government, says he pursues stand-up comedy almost as a hobby and is adept at juggling several women at the same time. My first reaction is to wonder why he'd want to go on a reality show, which prompts my second reaction: He's hoping the stand-up becomes less of a hobby ...
- Jemmye: Her mom is her BFF (and the person she discusses her many, many hook-ups with), though even her mom doesn't know about the very destructive, abusive relationship she was in.
- McKenzie: She's a Florida sorority girl and practicing Catholic "who experiences her beliefs on a deep and emotional level," but in the premiere, she warns her roomies that when she drinks, she blacks out easily. And she drinks a lot ...
- Sahar: She comes from a conservative Muslim background, but is more liberal herself ... honestly, that's the most interesting thing we find out about Sahar in the premiere, as she gets precious little screen time, which leads me to think she and Eric may be the least dramatic -- i.e. get the least amount of screen time -- for the whole season.
We know the Ryan vs. Preston situation only continues to heat up, but a few other predictions: Knight vs. Ryan; Ryan vs. Jemmye (they have a brief dust-up as an offshoot of the Ryan/Preston tiff in the opener); McKenzie vs. Jemmye; and, eventually, Ryan vs. the whole cast.
MTV's hinting pretty strongly that a Knight/Jemmye pairing is going to happen: "she has a preference for black men (until she meets fellow roommate, Knight)," and Eric's head is turned by both Ashlee and Sahar in the premiere.
Any chance to shine a light on, and steer production dollars into, post-Katrina New Orleans is cause for celebration, and in the premiere, there are great shots of the city, its citizens and its nightlife, while lots of touches throughout the 'Real World: New Orleans' house pay homage to the great city that's once again hosting the show.
Ridiculously cool, maybe my favorite 'RW' house ever. The almost-10,000 square foot joint is owned by NBA-er Baron Davis (and was featured in an episode of 'MTV Cribs'), but the 'Real World' crew has tricked it out from top to bottom, with Mardi Gras beads covering the railing of the staircase, tons of books and Nook e-readers in a library with cushy reading areas, an amazing chandelier made of saxophones (such a great nod to New Orleans jazz), a trolley car (!) in the middle of the house, a pool, seven bedrooms and eight bathrooms (that should always be the ratio of bedrooms to bathrooms, no?), a player piano, a fortune teller machine, the obligatory aquarium, a beautifully landscaped yard with a fountain and huge closets.
'RW' creator and executive producer Jon Murray said in an interview with The Washington Post, "What our audience wants is ... stories that relate to them. They don't want esoteric discussions. What we decided to do with 'New Orleans' was, essentially, do what we always do: find great cast members who are relatable to the audience and bring interesting stories with them."
If the premiere is a true indicator of what we'll see across the rest of the season, done and done.
Are you excited for 'The Real World: Back to New Orleans'?