Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Real World: “Ex-Plosion, Episode One”

Illustration for article titled The Real World: “Ex-Plosion, Episode One”

Any big format change, especially one that happens during the 29th season of a show, is guaranteed to be divisive. Sure, if there’s any show that could use a change, it’s definitely The Real World. The show’s simplistic premise—seven strangers picked to live in a house!—was once groundbreaking and interesting but now seems stale and boring. But The Real World was so important for a time and is still such a staple in reality television that, to longtime fans, a format change is off-putting. This particular change—seven strangers pick to live in a house with their exes!—reeks of pure desperation by MTV.

But this premiere isn’t about the exes, it’s about us getting to know everyone in the house. This cast is full of the usual suspects who are interchangeable with each other and interchangeable with just about anyone in any Real World cast from the last decade or so. They are blandly attractive frat boys, party girls, and towering models (apparently, four of the seven cast members have modeled—I’m on to you, MTV). There is no need to learn names because they will probably never become more interesting than “Guy who wears hat indoors” or “Girl who had sex in a bear suit” (the episode got weird). It is a house full of people who are “single and ready to mingle” and who believe the Real World is “where I’m supposed to be.” They are beautifully boring and I love them.

The worst (and therefore best) cast member is Ashley, a 24-year-old West Virginia native who moved to San Francisco. Ashley does not seem like a real person. Ashley seems like she was created in MTV’s laboratory as The Perfect Real World Cast Member. She wants to fight someone by minute 22, she is crying by minute 27, she has made two enemies by the episode’s halfway point. On the first night Ashley manages to get what I can only refer to as Real World Drunk. She has been caught in a lie about her boyfriend (this is all confusing—she may be dating a personal trainer, she may be dating a yacht designer (what?), she may have just picked up this guy in a bar, she may be dating no one) and gets called out by Jamie, the self-proclaimed “cheat police.” Ashley goes into attack mode. Ashley starts screaming, she has to be held back by her maybe-boyfriend, she calls Jamie a “bitch” approximately 3,000 times, she wanders the sidewalk in her bathing suit repeatedly yelling that San Francisco is her city and politely tells everyone to get the fuck out of it, she weirdly makes the declaration “My family will buy and sell her family.” Ashley is abhorrent and I love her the most.

Aside from that, the premiere was pretty basic. For all this talk about changing the Real World game, there wasn’t anything interesting happening. You can tell that MTV is having fun teasing this out—the cast repeatedly quizzes each other on their exes and, most notably, there is a jarringly bright countdown to the exes’ arrivals: 25 days at the end of the episode—and even I’m sort of enjoying this buildup (which feels like the closest to a narrative this show could have at this point).  Regardless of how you feel about the format change (personally, I’m leaning toward acceptance but I am a sucker for stupid theatrics), you have to admit that MTV is playing it out in a smart way. The producers gave the cast 30 days in the house with just the seven of them. It’s a perfect amount of time for young and drunk twenty-somethings living in close quarters to fall in love/like/lust with each other (of note: two roommates have already had sex; their exes are due to arrive in a few weeks). It’s short enough that they’re not 100 percent comfortable and are all still in rocky stages of their relationships (both romantic and friendly, as I’m sure the exes will cause rifts between newfound friends) but long enough that they do form real feelings and attachments to each other. It’s also long enough that they’ve somewhat settled into their new digs and aren’t expecting their pasts to show up and make everything go to hell.

That’s the whole point: to make everything go to hell. It’s lightly sadistic, perfect MTV thinking. Sometimes the Real World producers appear to be just playing The Sims—if they could delete the front door and the toilet just to watch these strangers run in circles while soiling themselves, they would. Instead, they rely on cheap tricks. Ex-Plosion is the cheapest of all. It’s nothing more than a last-ditch attempt to revive a series that has been going steadily downhill with every shot of tequila the roommates down at the bar. The question is: Does it work? Who knows! This episode hasn’t gotten there yet, which is why it’s hard to grade. It was more entertaining than the last season, for sure, but it’s going to be a while before we see how this new format plays out.

Stray observations:

  • But that preview! Say what you want about MTV but they know how to tease their upcoming episodes. Someone is pregnant! Can you imagine if there is a Real World baby? I have never wanted and feared anything more than a Real World baby.
  • My favorite thing uttered tonight is a tie between “I actually hate that I’m a model” or “I can go to a club and get any girl to do anything I want. Oh and there was also a girl who said she wants to do something CRAZY like “adopt an Ethiopian child.”
  • There are always going to be people who think The Real World should have ended 15 or so years ago and I understand that. There are also always going to be people who will secretly tune in every Wednesday and gleefully watch mind-numbing nonsense and oh, I wish I weren’t one of those people.
  • That said, let’s cap it after next season. Thirty seasons is a nice number to go out on.