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The British Invasion

The ''Real World'' returns for fourth season -- The MTV hit invades London

Among the World War II fighter planes and fish-and-chips kiosks in London's Hyde Park at the 50th-anniversary celebration of V-E Day, a trio of flatmates from the latest Real World docu-show — Neil (The British Punk), Jacinda (The Aussie Model), and Kat (The American Fencer) — amble aimlessly. As an MTV camera crew trails, Jacinda spies a familiar face in the teeming masses.

''That's my dog!'' she squeals, spotting her Shih Tzu, Legend. ''That really is my dog!''

Two other Real Worlders, Sharon (The British Funk Singer) and Lars (The German DJ), are taking the pooch for a stroll and now have just happened to run into their roomies in this sea of humanity. What are the odds of such a coincidence in the real world?

Well, on MTV, reality is relative. As the super-cynical Neil points out six weeks later, after the gang has moved out and been allowed to meet the press, ''When you've got a big mike sticking out of a crowd, people generally find you.''

Okay, so this bit of happenstance isn't quite as random as it might appear. Yet The Real World (which kicked off its 22-week season last month on Wednesdays at 10 p.m.) is once again showing that when you film the lives of seven strangers thrown together in an apartment, the results can prove wilder than anything a team of Melrose Place writers could ever concoct. To wit:
—While wailing with his techno-noise band, Unilever, at a Camden dive, Neil attempts to shut up a heckler by French-kissing him. ''He seemed good-natured enough, so I thought I'd give him a surprise by snogging him,'' Neil recalls. ''He reacted in a less-than-favorable manner.'' Translation: It took more than 20 stitches to sew up Neil's partially severed tongue.
—Sharon develops a growth on her tonsils that threatens to silence her singing. It swells with pus and blood until a doctor lances it. ''Blood gushed out — I was vomiting up all this stuff,'' Sharon says. ''It was just hell. Childbirth is going to be a cinch now.''
—Jacinda gets her jollies by tweaking strange men's bums on the London Underground. ''I take the piss out of people — tease them and get a reaction,'' she says. ''I've done it to old people, too, which is the funniest, because they don't expect to get it.''

It's just this range of everyday events — from flirtatious frivolity to dead-serious medical crises — that has made The Real World MTV's top-rated series (it recently passed Beavis and Butt-head). Viewership has steadily increased each year (2.7 million viewers tuned in to this season's premiere), and the show hit an emotional high point last season in San Francisco, when hygienically challenged bike messenger Puck got bounced out of the house and charismatic activist Pedro waged a valiant, doomed battle against AIDS. ''In terms of big dramatic issues, there's no way we could match that,'' says Jon Murray, who created The Real World with Mary-Ellis Bunim. ''So this year plays on more of a Moonlighting, romantic-comedy kind of feel.''

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