Ask most people what they remember about the first season of The Real World, and, assuming they remember the show at all, their answer will most likely be “Julie.” (A distant runner-up: “That dude from The Grind.”) Julie was the first of what would become a reality TV archetype: the sweet virgin trying to remain uncorrupted in the big, bad city. As I’ve discussed in my previous recaps, what made Julie such a great subject—maybe even the greatest reality TV subject ever—is her combination of innocence and edge. As wide-eyed and naïve as she is, Julie is also wickedly funny, shrewd, and a shameless flirt. At just 19, she’s unwilling to take crap from roommates five years her senior, and she’s unimpressed by pretentious boobs at New York art openings.
Given that so many people remember Julie as “the virgin,” it’s interesting that her lack of a sex life isn’t even mentioned until halfway through the season. Nowadays, it would be the second or third thing we’d learn about her: “Hi, I’m Julie from Birmingham, I really like black people, and I’m a virgin.” Instead, the subject only comes up when Kevin, reading from a book called Do You Do It With The Lights On? (the sex books are one of the more ham-fisted strategies employed by the producers in this season), asks how long Julie could go without sex. “Nineteen years,” she answers. Get it?
Kevin has an endearingly protective attitude toward his roommate, but a rather low opinion of his gender. “Most men are dogs,” he claims as the show cuts to some B-roll of Julie nuzzling her pet dog back home in Alabama (clearly, there were some jokers in the editing room). Kevin elaborates,“I’d hate to see Julie get with a guy and lose her virginity one night and him not be there the next week or the next month or whatever.” The affection, at least for now, is mutual. “He’s like a brother, man. I adore him,” says Julie.
As far as we know, Julie isn’t “saving herself for marriage,” nor has she signed a chastity pledge; Julie’s virginity is circumstantial, not ideological. You get the impression that Julie simply hasn’t met the right guy yet, which, given that she’s barely out of high school, is not exactly a cause for concern. She doesn’t wear her virginity as a badge of honor, or as a mark of shame; it’s just a matter of fact. It may be a point of fascination for her slightly-older-and- therefore-patronizing-roommates, but it’s probably the least interesting thing about her. Which is all to say that Julie actually defies the reality-TV virgin archetype that she (unwittingly) helped create. (Now, Jon Brennan, on the other hand…)
Now, onto a related subject: as I’ve mentioned before, one of my most vivid recollections from the first season of The Real World is the story of star-crossed love between Julie and Eric. As I remember it, Julie and Eric were meant to be together, but due to a mix of pride, prejudice and insecurity (or something), they were never able to consummate their abiding passion for one another. They were, like Kevin and Winnie, Dylan and Brenda, Jordan and Angela, one of the great couples of the early ‘90s. However, viewed in retrospect, Julie and Eric’s thwarted affair has the Bunim-Murray fingerprints all over it. It’s clear the producers wanted them to like each other more than they probably did, which may, in part, explain Julie’s awkward date in this week’s episode, “Kevin... Come Back!”
Seemingly out of nowhere, Julie has a “big date”—emphasis on the “big.” He’s a freakishly tall, cartoonishly handsome and significantly older artist. There’s a conspicuous lack of details about this handsome stranger: When did he ask her out? And how does Julie know this guy, anyway? We don’t even know his first name, though Norm refers to him as “Mr. Stockwell.” (If anyone knows his full name, I swear to God I’ll send you $10). The whole thing seems like a transparent bid (by the producers) to make Eric jealous.
In any case, Eric has nothing to worry about. Julie’s date is fantastically awkward, and it’s clear that what Mr. Stockwell has in looks, he utterly lacks in social skills. Over dinner at a restaurant called Lox Around the Clock (cured salmon 24 hours a day? Now that’s sexy!) Mr. Stockwell repeatedly points out the age difference between himself and Julie, which is always a good idea on a date. He also sizes up her “muscle content” by squeezing her shoulder (she's got a "sturdy frame," he says approvingly), sarcastically proposes marriage, and suddenly leaves the table, claiming he has a "wicked cramp" in his leg. The true nadir arrives when Mr. Stockwell proposes they share a high-five, the world’s least sexy hand gesture. In short, it is an excruciatingly awkward evening. Back at the loft, Julie, apparently exhausted by the sheer force of so much discomfort, collapses to the ground in embarrassment.
While Julie’s having her musculature inspected by strange older men, Kevin’s out doing his own thing. He meets up with his girlfriend, who, unlike the legendary Missy, barely gets a blip of screen time (up to this point, we didn’t even know she existed), but hey, she seems nice. Kevin also goes to visit his mom, which provides another opportunity for the show to flesh out Kevin’s backstory. It’s clear that the he still feels the pain of his father’s abandonment (who wouldn’t?). “That’s the ultimate level of irresponsibility,” Kevin says. Though he’s remembered as the villain of The Real World: New York, I think Kevin’s far more interesting than that.
Kevin’s absence from the loft has become a source of contention with his roommates, who hold a house meeting to discuss how they might get to know each other better. They clearly think of themselves as more than just roommates; they’re fellow participants in a valuable social experiment. “I feel like we need to lock the doors and unplug the phones,” Julie says, sounding more naïve than usual. The other roommates share the same feeling, but also have things like, you know, jobs to worry about. They decide to schedule a regular loft dinner on Sunday nights, and Kevin even offers to cook the first meal, a Mexican fiesta (¡Olé!). But when Sunday night rolls around, he is nowhere to be found; we later learn he was at a poetry reading which he had forgotten about (hey Kev, that’s what Post-It notes are for!).
Irritated, the roomies decided to play a joke on Kevin. They pick personalities out of a fishbowl and get into costume—Julie’s a whore, Eric’s gay (you can tell from the hair gel), Andre’s a country bumpkin, and Norm’s a kleptomaniac hippie (though, wearing a top hat, sunglasses, and some giant beads, he looks more like an acid raver) who tries to hop in the shower with Eric. The joke is pretty barbed: Kevin barely knows his roommates, so he won’t notice if they completely change their personalities. When he gets back to the loft, Kevin does sense something amiss, but he doesn’t realize that he’s the butt of an elaborate joke. Instead, he’s completely spooked: at one point, he even thinks he hears the cat barking, so thoroughly has his world been turned upside down.
It’s all very funny, but I also feel bad for Kevin, especially when “hippie” Norm asks him where he got his puka-shell necklace. It’s also touching to see how upset Kevin is by Julie’s apparent metamorphosis. With scarlet red lipstick and big hair, she looks, as Eric puts it, “Straight out of Jersey City.” She sits at the dinner table, sensuously eating a plate of Chinese food (look out, Padma!). Kevin asks Julie if she lost her virginity, mouthing the words to her across the dinner table. She nods “yes,” and offers up a cynical explanation: “You know, sex sells.” At this news, Kevin has a meltdown and flees the loft in a state of panic. It’s hard not to feel a little bad for the guy, though it’s also hard to imagine how he didn’t get the joke.
Tune in next week for the radioactive fallout.
- With Becky largely a non-entity in this episode, the fashion contest is once again wide open. I love Norm’s orange camo jacket, but I’m going to give this week’s best-dressed honor to Julie, mostly for the floppy hat and leather jacket outfit she wears to the grocery store. It’s a pretty chic look for the middle of a blizzard. Apologies for the less-than-ideal screen grab:
- I’m sorry to report that Lox Around the Clock closed a long, long time ago. It’s now a Belgian restaurant, which is only slightly sexier.
- The timing of the practical joke on Kevin is a little unclear. We’re made to believe it all took place the night of the blizzard/Mexican fiesta, but when Kevin finally gets home, everyone’s eating takeout Chinese food.
- I love that Heather describes Julie’s date as being “older than 31 and younger than 41” (also: bigger than a breadbox).
- The grocery shopping scene is an inconsequential but pleasant slice of roommate life. It also provides a chance to see more of Norm and Andre, both of whom are pretty funny but who get short shrift so far on the series.
- When Norm gets back to the loft after grocery shopping, he’s infuriated that no one taped Star Trek for him. VCRs! Hilarious!
- We briefly see Kevin performing his poetry at Nuyorican Poets Café, and I’m reminded of how big spoken-word was back in the early ‘90s. That may be one trend I’m happy to have stay in the past. (There, I said it. )
- As a reminder, you can watch all of The Real World: New York on Hulu Plus.