Less than a month ago, The Real World premiered its 28th season. That in and of itself is a feat for MTV. Most MTV shows alone cannot nary make it past their first or second season, much less a 28th. For 21 years, we’ve been watching what happens when people stop being polite and start acting real, and while some seasons are better than others, the current season is the worst. Real World: Portland is the first season that has made me openly question why I even watch the show. Like The Simpsons, The Real World hasn’t been good in well over a decade, but I watch out of habit. The idea of 7-8 young people being forced to live with each other and learn about cultural differences, whilst drinking is something of a
guilty pleasure. We all know their will be one alpha male and female (usually villains), one couple, one black, one gay, and one token-to-be-named later.
Where the Real World: Portland is failing however, is endemic of the reality tv problem – Everyone is in on the joke, and it’s not funny. When you think about reality television there are really three types of shows:
1) Reality-based Job: Pawn Ice Road Ax Ducks
2) Reality-based Competition: Dancing with the American Top Voice
3) Drunk/Morally Vacant People: The Real Bad Girls of the Jersey Shore
This final category makes for the best television. Its the easiest to script and it inherently has the most conflict because anyone willing to be on a reality show with alcohol is almost certainly morally vacant. So these three categories exist now and that is that. The Real World still might be the first show to plummet to the depths of watching young drunk people be horrible, but it has never plummeted far enough. Jersey Shore, an MTV product, and The Bad Girls Club, a production of Bunim-Murray (which also produces Real World), both show you week in and week out just how close to the Idiocracy we’ve gotten. I personally think it’s utterly reprehensible to just show drunk people fighting all day and package it for teens, but that’s life. And that’s the problem with The Real World. It started out as a show with legitimate purpose and goal. It was Generation X on display. However MTV tweaked the formula in 2000 during the Las Vegas season, and the show became more sex/alcohol focused. Which is fine, as long as you know you are watching a show with no value. Watching people argue, cry, drink, and hookup is what all the kids love right? Right. The last 13 years of The Real World has been hit and miss, but when it hits it is usually because it gave us a real villain. A real scumbag, who knew that no one remembers the good guys. The only way to gain notoriety, and a spot on the far-superior Real World/Road Rules Challenge series is to cause fights, be awesome at drinking, or both.
So fast-forward to this season of The Real World and the problems itself are too glaring to ignore. For starters, the Portland location is not even being used. Portland is known for being a weird place, yet the only place the cast goes is the same 3 bars. This problem has reared itself quite a bit in recent years. The Brooklyn season spent all it’s time in Manhattan and the New Orleans (round 2) season spent all its time on a one block stretch of Bourbon St. Why? Because any reputable establishment would not want to have it’s good named sullied by drunken alpha bros and girl bros on a nightly basis. So already Portland is behind the ball. The cast is obviously the next problem. I’ve seen each of the 3 aired episodes and I can’t remember anyone’s name. I usually have it down after the first episode, but the only remotely interesting person is Jordan, and he merely looks like a poor man’s Trey from St. Thomas.* Everyone else is boring and the first-episode coupling situation has already happened, so this season is already very well-worn territory. It’s like everyone on The Real World knows the role they are supposed to fulfill, but none of them will fully commit to the role completely.** The largest problem with The Real World is it does not fully embrace itself as garbage. Yes, it used to be something sociologically valuable, but now it isn’t, and it hasn’t ever fully embraced the Drunk/Morally Vacant category either. They still get jobs on The Real World and they still act as though getting to know each other is important. Jersey Shore or Bad Girls Club, while they still might work, it’s just something to keep them from drinking 24/7. They still fight and argue and act like the lowest forms of life. People seem to love that as those shows ratings were or are usually better than the elder-statesmen Real World.
The title has remained the same, but the show is anything but Real. It either needs to stem the tide and just like it helped create the reality boom, it needs to go back to being important (or self-important) television, or completely devolve into something sub-human. It needs to either be genuine, or overly-scripted and full of product placement. Give us heroes or villains, but for God’s sake, please don’t give us boring. Washington Heights gave us our fill of boring for the year.
* Trey is the single most objectionable male character on any season of The Real World ever. He was worse than Puck. Puck tried to be an asshole. Trey just couldn’t find it in his heart not to be one. Big difference.
** It’s like watching James Franco in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but there’s no Apes.