It’s the third time around for The Real World. Once again, a batch of disparate young people are brought to a rented house in a big city (New York and L.A. previously; this time, it’s San Francisco). Once again, the new roommates are videotaped constantly, and we watch as they settle in, size each other up, spend the first couple of episodes trying to be beguiling for the cameras, and then start forgetting about the filmmaking and get really cranky when, say, someone puts a filthy finger into someone else’s jar of peanut butter.
This time, the real people are:
Pedro, 22, a Cuban-American from Miami who is HIV-positive, and has a sweet disposition, eyebrows to die for, and an exceptional sense of patriotism (”I give thanks every day that I live in America”);
Puck, 25, a rough-and-tumble San Francisco bicycle messenger who fancies himself un homme naturel — he rarely bathes, and blows his nose with the same fingers he uses to eat his morning cereal-and-milk sans spoon;
Cory, 20, a painfully sensitive San Diegan; in a Real World tradition, Cory is this edition’s designated Charming Wide-Eyed Innocent;
Rachel, 23, a defensive Young Republican fated to squabble with the inarticulate but instinctive liberals all around her; tends to open her eyes much too wide in an apparent attempt to seem sincere;
Mohammed, 24, a reggae-rap musician and writer of unbelievably maudlin poetry; redeemed by his conversational directness and genial common sense;
Pam, 26, an Asian-American third-year medical student; despite the violet streaks in her hair, the most mature of this bunch, and frighteningly self-assured (”I’ve never failed at anything in my life”); and
Judd, 24, a blandly handsome aspiring cartoonist; in his complacent smugness, far more irritating than Puck at his grossest.
Right off the bat, this Real World gets a boost from the unexpected affinities that develop quickly. Wildman Puck, for example, hits it off with prissy Rachel; he enjoys challenging her conservative philosophy, she enjoys — I dunno, maybe the scabs on his elbows turn her on. Blond, moon-faced Cory finds a role model in dreadlocked Mohammed, who is sure of his destiny as a creative artist. Cory is desperately insecure and confuses Mohammed’s confidence with his African-Americanness. ”My race is so boring!” she groans. No, Cory, you are — but only when you say silly things like that.
It’s unusual to think of anything on MTV as enduring, but the Real World concept is a solid franchise, its underlying fantasy so immediately involving: You’re in your 20s, you’re whisked off to a really cool house, you meet a lot of new people, and, for a brief time anyway, you become a reasonably well-known television personality, as the show’s 20 episodes are run and rerun endlessly in the usual, beating-a-comatose-horse manner of MTV.
The first season of Real World had a lot of momentum just because of its sheer novelty. The second season began to drag because the El Lay crew proved generally to be self-absorbed bores. But the current Real World benefits enormously from two ticking time bombs: Puck’s outrageously boorish behavior, which is destined to set off explosive fights with his roommates; and, more profoundly, Pedro’s HIV-positive status, which adds another layer of self-consciousness to this TV project.
Pedro, fully aware that he is one of the few people with this affliction television permits us to see, handles himself with a grace tinged with both tragedy and self-pity. The rest of the group express a range of reactions, from Puck’s deep sympathy to Rachel’s cold revulsion. The fact that Puck’s reaction is, like so many of his gestures, an unthinking one, and Rachel’s is, given her politics, carefully reasoned — well, that’s what makes the real world a complicated place. A-