In a post-survivor, fear Factor world, thank goodness for the blithe unreality of The Real World. MTV’s now-venerable annual wallow in docu-decadence celebrates its 10th edition by returning to New York City — the site of the very first World — with a fresh cast of connivers, jivers, and rural innocents who just fell off the turnip truck. How to pick the high point of the July 3 one-hour premiere? Is it when Coral, an African American, says of Mike, who comes from an ”all-white” small town in Ohio and who makes what she feels are racist remarks, ”Next time something like that happens, he will hear my mouth…he’s going down”? Is it when raven-haired Lori says of her instant attraction to blond Kevin, ”The fact that I can actually lie on Kevin’s stomach and…have some sort of intimate conversation was moving for me”?
Me, I’m a pushover: The show had me even before those bon mots; I blissed out when the first arriving members of the group tumbled into the 5,700-square-foot Greenwich Village brownstone, looked around at the fab decor, and someone yelled, ”The fish tank’s off the hook!”
You know the premise — seven strangers mix-mastered by co-creator-producers Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jon Murray for maximum conflict. Now let’s do the time-honored roll call. Meet the new World meat:
— Mike, 19, Parma, Ohio: ”People are, like, Mike’s the horny one,” he says cheerily. Actually, he’s the jerky one, who goes out to lunch with two of the three black inhabitants of the house and tells an instructive tale of how his uncle has ”tried” to hire black people at his place of work, but it’s never worked out because ”black people don’t necessarily get as good an education.” He’s also a potential predator, telling Kevin, ”I like the innocent one.” ”Rachel?” asks Kevin, referring to the house’s 18-year-old, self-described virgin. ”Oh, yeah!” says Kevin throatily. Speaking of throats: Gag.
— Coral, 21, San Francisco: Sporting severe eyeglasses to signify her severe demeanor, Coral was clearly chosen in part because she’s a neatnik who lectures her slobbo roommates about keeping the shower curtain inside the bathtub, but also because she’s both blunt on race issues and New Agey in her hobbies (she reads tarot cards), a combination that makes her personality intriguingly unreadable.
— Lori, 21, Boston: Way too into Kevin way too early in the show (”I have a crush”); destined for heartbreak or a psychotic break. Either way, good for drama.
— Malik, 23, Berkeley, Calif.: Sports a huge, dandelion-soft Afro to signify his roots as a Berkeley-based neo-hippie (my guess for last CD bought: the new Shuggie Otis reissue); speaks with a soft voice and tries to chill out the tension between Mike and Coral. Could prove subversively intelligent; could also prove a sweet bore.
— Nicole, 22, Atlanta: So far, has not revealed much, except that in Atlanta she lived in a ”trashy little apartment with roaches.” Although lushly attractive, may have poor self-image; she’s dubbed her digs ”The Celibacy Room, ’cause Rachel’s a virgin and I’m not gonna get any action.”
— Kevin, 22, Austin: Says he is a broadcast major in college, which may account for his studied grin and reticence to appear anything other than blandly supportive. (”I don’t want Mike to become the outcast of the house,” he says demurely. Kevin, Kevin, Kevin: A Real World without an outcast is…London Real World!)
— Rachel, 18, Orland Park, Ill.: A platinum blond with a round face and a voice that makes Betty Boop sound like a baritone, Rachel is the World’s designated naif; not only a virgin but, ”I’ve never taken public transportation alone before and I’m scared to death!” She shocks her roomies by telling them she was grounded for three weeks after she got her navel pierced — hey, that sounds like the real world to me.
Punctuated with shots of the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, and the blinking night lights of Times Square (”Phat!” says Mike, who really does need to hang out with purveyors of more up-to-date slang), The Real World is now — for all its discussions of race and sex — the most dependably comforting thing on MTV, which has recently been giving me nightmares with its nonstop playing of that ”Lady Marmalade” video that has Christina Aguilera looking like a cross between Kate Bush and Vince Neil. After a decade, it still ain’t anyone’s idea of a real world, it’s MTV as benevolent Big Daddy: How cool it is to extend your adolescence with a network parent providing your food and shelter.