MTV makes 'The Real World' a very fun place to be

June 24, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

I know there are a thousand reasons I'm not supposed to like MTV's "The Real World." At the very least, I should be writing a long, responsible-sounding piece about how "troubled" I am by the way it blurs fact and fiction and sells soap opera as reality.

But I love this series. I loved it last year. And the opening segment for the second season, which airs at 10 tonight, suggests that this year is going to be even better.

The first half-hour of tonight's show is a reunion of the seven twentysomethings and one dog who spent six months together in a loft in New York last year with MTV cameras videotaping their lives.

Julie, the young woman who came from Alabama, is still in New York studying dance on scholarship. Becky, the folk singer, is tending bar and hating it. Kevin was host on a special on racial intolerance for MTV and is hoping to make it as an actor. Eric hit the big time as host of MTV's "The Grind."

Heather has a rap single record out. Andre is still singing with his band, Reign Dance. Norman is worrying about how hard it is to build a career in the visual arts. And the dog is still being captured by MTV cameras looking wistfully out the loft window as dawn breaks across the Manhattan skyline.

They bicker, hug, snipe, kiss, reminisce, psychoanalyze each other and break bread together.

Two of them -- Norman and Becky -- take a bath with each other.

It's fun to check back in with the seven a year later and see where their lives did or didn't go. But it's nothing compared to the second half when MTV says goodbye to last year's loft-mates and starts to introduce this year's group, which will live together for six months in a beach house in Venice, Calif.

It begins in New York with a 24-year-old named Dominic and a Winnebago recreational vehicle. Dominic spent the first 17 years of his life in Ireland. He still sees America with the eyes of an outsider. And that's part of what's so wonderful about his journey tonight as he sets out to pick up other members of the group and drive the Winnebago to California. Dominic, in his black leather jacket and spiked hair, is a buzzed-out, postmodern Charles Kuralt for Generation X, straight out of "The Commitments."

First stop, a New York airport to pick up Tami, 22, who works at a medical center for AIDS patients by day and sings in a hot rhythm and blues group by night. Tami and Dominic then drive to Owensboro, Ky., to pick up an amazing 18-year-old named Jon who is taking a semester off from Belmont College in Nashville, Tenn., to live in California and pursue his country-western singing career.

What a multicultural matchup in the Winnebago. Tami is an African-American woman who starts each day with a Buddhist chant asking for peace and serenity. She's never been to Kentucky and says she's feeling downright intimidated about who she and Dominic are picking up there.

Jon is a hard-core, Bible-Belt Baptist teen-ager in a cowboy hat who sings like Hank Williams and looks better than Billy Ray Cyrus. Right off, Jon cautions Dominic and Tami about the evils of premarital sex, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. Dominic chain-smokes and keeps bottles of beer in his suitcase so that he's never without.

That's as far as we get with the group tonight -- those three in the Winnebago making a detour to Graceland at Dominic's insistence.

I know these people are not representative of their generation in a strict sociological sense. I know they were selected by the producers at MTV because they sing like Hank Williams or look hot. I know producer Mary-Ellis Bunim's background is that of a producer for the soap opera "Santa Barbara" and not a members of the documentary team at, say, "Frontline" on PBS. I know some of the stuff in last year's show was even scripted.

And I know MTV's term for the show, "reality-based soap opera," might send chills up the spine of some traditional journalists.

I know, I know. But this is TV growing, bending, stretching and trying to find new forms of programming that speak to and for a new generation of viewers.

And I love it.

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