After having located The Real World in Manhattan, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, the producers have updated their passports and taken the franchise to London. You know the premise by now: A group of seven strangers is brought together to live in a totally awesome pad, while every detail of their lives is filmed by a documentary crew. The results are chopped up in the patented MTV editing style to make the pace seem helter-skelter and terribly exciting, even when all the roommates are doing is unpacking the groceries. Then, the likes of Soul Asylum and R.E.M. are larded onto the soundtrack whether they fit the mood of a scene or not. And presto, you've got another cheeky true-life soap opera that's irresistible for summer viewing.
This season's crew of semi-innocent personal-space masochists are:
Kat, 19, an apple-cheeked American so wholesome and earnest, her only quirk is that she's into fencing;
Neil, 24, this edition's designated pain in the butt, a spiky-haired, dyed-blond Englishman so pretentious, he makes Sting look like Elmer Fudd;
Mike, 21, an apple-cheeked American so wholesome and earnest, his only quirks are that he's into race-car driving, and so poorly educated, his father has to tell him that Big Ben is a clock;
Jacinda, 22, a pudgy-cheeked Australian model so insufferably smug, her smile is a smirk;
Jay, 19, a pale-cheeked American so wholesome and earnest, his only quirk is that he adores musicals;
Lars, 24, a hollow-cheeked German who, after three episodes, has yet to exhibit any personality; and Sharon, 20, a chocolate-cheeked Briton who sings R&B with cool aplomb and chatters nonstop (the coming attractions have revealed that she's going to lose her voice, for a while at least).
In the first episode, Mike proves that America is going to hell in a handbasket by commenting casually, ''I don't have a clue about the [British] culture.'' When Mike flips out because he can't find ranch dressing in London, you can completely understand why the people behind The Real World couldn't wait to sign up such a sweetly ignorant pigeon. Then too, the new batch of Worlders has barely uncorked a bottle of wine before Kat and Neil are making goo-goo eyes at each other. This is much to the annoyance of Neil's longtime girlfriend, Chrys, who on Valentine's Day sends her lover a pig's heart with a nail in it. (Boy, the English know how to do things right, don't they?)
So far, Neil is proving to be as big a creep as Puck, last season's mucus-loving bike messenger. Neil performs in a rock band, caterwauling pitifully and doing bad Trent Reznor impersonations. He's rapidly making himself hated among the Worlders for spouting pronouncements like ''I need some sort of intellectual stimulation, and I ain't gettin' it in this house.'' Maybe he could explain to Mike how a clock works.
The problem with this Real World has less to do with the assembled folks than with the format itself. Rooming with strangers is always new to the participants, but by now, the roommates' progression from wariness to chumminess to stark-raving hostility has become familiar stuff to us. Yet so far, the filmmakers haven't done anything to enliven their formula. The time was right to get a little more self-conscious about the making-of-a-show side of The Real World. Will we ever see one of the roommates get peeved at the cameraperson for intruding on a private moment? At this point in the game, revealing this series as The Artificial World would seem more realistic. B