The second season, which is based in Los Angeles, sits between New York’s cultural reset and San Francisco’s iconic and often-rerun San Francisco. The Real World is something of a middle child in the pantheon. No iconic focal character, like Julie, nor a Puck the timeless villain are available. The show wasn’t new anymore, but its rhythms weren’t quite set. Put simply: there was a hot tub, but the housemates weren’t fucking in it. 1993 was a transitional year.
This week will see some cast members from Los Angeles reunite for the second season. The Real World: Homecoming, and I’ll be recapping it here. But before I do, I think it’s worth revisiting Los Angeles, The Real World, which is available for streaming— with the original music!— on Paramount+. If you remember it, it’s better and more important than you remember. And that’s a Truuuu Stow-ray.
The casting of Real WorldThe Season 1 housemates took part in the social experiment first, but the Season 2 roommates did it with much more success. They arrived at the party knowing exactly what was happening. There is less awkwardness in how you look for interviews and more cunning when it comes to getting screen time. And it’s not just the cast who climbed that early reality-tv learning curve; the casting people carefully chose seven people who would get on each other’s nerves. They certainly did. This makes them the first to fire a fellow cast member. (Don’t worry, we’ll get into it.)
For a review: Our seven original housemates were:
- Jon, our 18-year-old Kentucky naïf, whom we meet onstage singing a cover of “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” through his nose. If you liked season one’s Julie, but wish she wasn’t remotely interested in broadening her horizons, Jon is your boy.
- Beth S.She wants to become an actress, and she proves her talent by making drama in every possible moment.
- DominicCharming Irishman, who regrets his participation in the show and never forgets it.
- Aaron, exactly what your mind conjures up when you read the words “Orange County fraternity bro.”
- Irene, a Los Angeles policewoman who gets married about halfway through the season and doesn’t really do much else.
- Tami, a singer/rapper/AIDS counselor who gets most of the interesting storylines, and…
- David, a comedian (in the sense of “all the way on, all of the time”) who gets on everyone’s nerves right away.
The latter two are at the center of the show’s most famous moment, in which some initially good-natured horseplay takes a serious turn. David tries to pull a comforter off an underwear-clad Tami, who gets uneasy and later concludes that the incident WASN’T! NOT! FUNNY! I remember watching this episode in 1993 and siding with David; they were all laughing, I thought, what’s the big deal? But in 2021, you can’t miss the discomfort of the un-comfortered. You can’t help but hear Christine Blasey Ford saying “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter.” Knowing what we have come to know about consent, and the ways people process discomfort, it’s a rougher watch than you remember.
Much rougher is the music of Perch, the band for which David’s replacement Glenn is the lead singer. Perch, a Philadelphia native, follows Glenn from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. Perch also spends much of his time there, since Glenn failed to fulfill his promise to provide Perch with a home. Perch thought it was a great idea The Real World was going to be their ticket to the top. Perch didn’t learn from Reigndance the lessons that were right for him.
It is clear the producers wanted Jon’s country music career to be one of the season’s main plot lines, but aside from appearing in a few talent competitions on LA’s west side, Jon doesn’t seem to have much interest in moving his country music career forward. He meets some industry people and immediately tells them he doesn’t write songs and probably never will, he gets called in to test for a movie and tells those industry people he doesn’t act and probably never will, he sleeps until noon and then lies around the house drinking Kool-Aid. He’s also extremely averse to any talk about sex, masturbation, or that humans have bodies. Throughout the season, Jon looks like he’s trying to one-up Will Smith: ”Oh, you used to have so much sex that you would vomit during it? Well, if anyone says the word tampon around me, I will pass out.” Obviously the kid wasn’t going to be on mushrooms in a drum circle by the end of the season, but there is legitimately zero personal growth on display here. (Though his assessment of Perch’s sound— “Does it have to be so different?”— is right on the money.)
It makes me wonder if I would have acted as cruelly as Aaron or Dominic all season. I don’t think so. They’re brutal, just openly laughing in the poor guy’s face as he sips a Hawaiian Punch and tries to find something wholesome on the TV. As the tapes are being recorded, Aaron finishes his senior year at UCLA. Dominic begins a long and successful career. Hits MagazineThe two become an impenetrable and aloof unit. It’s hard not to feel the rest of the housemates’ frustration at their cliquishness, even if you do agree that this would be a miserable house to live in. Also, Aaron carries himself like one of those alt-right “change my mind” guys, and I don’t want him to be a Trump voter, but I’d bet my last dollar he is. You’ll see why later. Real World casts had to work jobs together so that they wouldn’t be running off in all directions. (To no one’s surprise, Aaron and Dominic will not be back for Homecoming.)
Tami will be, and I’m glad she will, because she’s one of The Real World’s true pioneers: she’s the first cast member to go on to make a real long-term career out of reality television. It was her regular appearance on the show. Basketball wivesThen she was joined by her husband, a non-baller, in the cast Marriage Boot Camp. She’s kept the shit up. (I know Eric Nies of Season 1 was a host. The Grind. THAT ISN’T! NOT! ALSO NOT! Tami was also there The Real World’s first abortion, she is to my knowledge the only cast member ever to spend part of the season with her jaw wired shut in order to lose weight, and lest we forget, she’s a slave she’s a slave she’s a slave to your lovin’, she can’t control the fever of your kissin’ and your huggin’.
Irene’s replacement Beth A. will be back for this reunion, which is great news because she is one of reality television’s first lesbians, and also the best-adjusted person in the house by a wide margin.
The fact that Beth S. has a cat and Dominic has a dog in the home is almost too close to perfect. The whole family is happy. Los Angeles, The Real World swings too far in the direction of conflict. Although there is much yelling and a lot of it, not all of it feels very important. It’s just argument for argument’s sake. Even when they go on an Outward Bound trip and their guides get them lost, even when they’re on a group vacation to Cozumel, even when they’re putting on a talent show, it’s near-constant bickering.
Throughout the season, though, the needle drops are perfect: “Pretend We’re Dead” for a scene in which Beth S. milks a headache for pity. “Carly’s Song” by Enigma (from the Sliver soundtrack!) Aaron and Erin are having sex in the hot tub. “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful” when Jon almost gets that movie role, then “Mama I’m Coming Home” when he goes home to his mama. Sure, it’s all a little on the nose, but it’s a good reminder of the delicious gumbo that was MTV’s playlist in 1993.
Season 2 The Real WorldIt also features some incredible 1993 fashion: Malcolm X baseball caps. Formal spandex, tees two sizes too big, and tucking into shorts that are knee-length. It’s got historical value, as we watch our friends get lost on the streets of Los Angeles without a nav system or a smartphone to right them. It’s got genuine emotion, as Dominic and Beth S. both deal with distant but loving parents. It’s got a dollar-drinks place called Moose McGillicuddy’s, which I would really like to find and/or revive.
I am left with this question: Did Tami meet Kenya in the Fox classic Fox late-night date show? StudsKenya Barris will be your mother when you are a teenager. Was Reality, her other singing group, still alive? Perch was it the result of hearing their own songs? Jon has Jon finally settled down, and is he starting a family? Is it weird that one of my notes for Aaron is “very 1993 calves,” and am I correct that you can picture that right now? Does Dominic live in the United States today? David is still able to stand up? Did Beth S. ever get a good headshot? All of these and many more issues will be dealt with. The Real World Los Angeles: Your Homecoming, and I expect “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” to benefit from the attention and ascend the charts anew.
Dave Holmes is editor-at–large at Esquire.com. He also hosts the Earwolf podcast Homophilia and his memoir. Party of OneAvailable in shops now. He is also the host of Real World Podcast Truu Stewray. It’s available everywhere you listen to podcasts.
You can watch Los Angeles, The Real WorldParamount+