When it began in 1992, The Real World was a lark, a fresh, quirky TV idea, a grabber: Throw a bunch of people together who'd never met before, let them cohabit, and tape the results for a programming respite from what were, a half decade ago, the increasingly exhausted notions of MTV's reason for being rock videos.
Five years on, and oh my, how things have changed. Rock vids now seem like an afterthought on MTV's schedule, which is stuffed with cartoons both animated and human (Beavis and Butt-head and Kennedy, respectively) as well as Real World's pointless rip-off show, Road Rules, beginning its second season.
The summer '96 Real World yanks the series back to America after a misbegotten year in England. (Oasis' Liam and Noel Gallagher have had better squabbles than anything the last bunch of Worlders coughed up.) This time, our fabricated family finds itself in a gaudily decorated Miami house, and the grinning-and-bearing types are:
Joe, a Brooklyn-bred computer ace who likes going to church and prefers girlfriends about a foot and a half taller than he is; in the season premiere, Joe has already been told he grins too much;
Melissa, a Miami native whose Cuban family is worried about her associating with the network that gave us House of Style even though Melissa has worked as a phone-sex operator (the real-world version of an MTV veejay, if you think about it); she describes herself in the show's context as ''the little ethnic girl'';
Cynthia, who is, to borrow Melissa's terminology, ''the little African-American girl''; it looks as if she'll have to uphold the Real World tradition of designated scold, pushing maturity and responsibility;
Mike, a handsome cipher in the manner of the San Francisco group's Judd Winick, the tediously amiable cartoonist; instead of drawing, Mike plays golf;
Flora, a Russian-born bartender whose frankness why, she's already admitted that she has flirted with men to get ahead! would be refreshing were she not so lacking in charm and humor;
Sarah, undoubtedly chosen because she's energetic and perky (pigtails at age 25, fer Pete's sake!), but who actually comes across on the small screen as deeply annoying; and finally,
Dan, loud, hammy, and already tiresome, whom the MTV press release, throwing up its metaphorical hands, describes as ''incredibly gregarious'' (translation: ''may prove to be as obnoxious as the San Francisco season's shudder-inducing but popular Puck, we-hope-we-hope-we-hope'').
In an effort to perk up the show, Real executive producers Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jon Murray have decreed that this year's crew will have to start up their own business. Big mistake. Whatever remaining allure The Real World possesses derives from its fantasy aspect free house, free-floating surrogate family. C+