Frankie reveals she's a cutter. But don't ask ''What's wrong with her?'' says Josh Wolk. Ask ''What's wrong with the producers for casting a girl with such serious issues?''

By Josh Wolk
Updated April 06, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

It was a very special episode: Frankie’s a cutter

The second I saw Drew Pinsky’s face before the April 6 episode of ”The Real World,” I knew the show would be difficult to mock. MTV execs don’t call the Pinskeroo unless they’re about to unveil a very grave problem that they wish to seem sensitive about. No, not binge drinking or casual sex: That’s considered entertainment on MTV. No, Pinsky and other serious warnings only come out when an episode depicts something like AIDS, Lyme Disease, or, as in tonight’s episode, cutting.

Frankie is a cutter, and I’m not going to get into the play by play of this revelation, because I’m in no position to make any judgment on her: I’m no Drew Pinsky. (Although, to be fair, some have said that I have the confident swagger and shapely hips of a young Dr. Ruth.) No, instead I will dwell on just what the hell ”The Real World” was doing casting someone like Frankie in the first place.

Mind you, I don’t think that someone with Frankie’s problems should be kept off the airwaves. In the right hands, a documentary on Frankie could be very sad, touching, and enlightening. But after this show has spent the past few months fetishizing dumb people drinking, humping, and generally being irresponsible, then any random, serious Life Lesson moment seems comically discordant.

Especially when it’s such a one-shot: As the coming-attraction segment showed, next week we’re going to go right back to seeing Brad dry-hump some girl while the rest of the roommates peek into his room. It’s like splicing an afterschool special into the middle of a ”Girls Gone Wild” marathon. ”Show us your boobs! Show us your boobs! Hey, wait, that girl’s got bulimia, and she needs therapy. But hey, girl behind the girl with bulimia, show us YOUR boobs!”

On TV, if you’re trying to make an audience sympathize with and understand someone with Frankie’s extensive problems — a life-threatening disease, morbidly low self-esteem, and now cutting — you want to focus on them in their natural environment. Why does someone with a lung disease smoke? What does she experience in her daily routine that makes her feel so bad about herself?

But what you DON’T do is stick her in a house with six people she has nothing in common with and add a lot of alcohol. This isn’t documentary filmmaking, this is sadism. Tune in next season when they cast someone deathly afraid of heights and make him live in a treehouse! And if that doesn’t work, they’ll give the roomies jobs as tightrope walkers. Or put ’em on a roller coaster, make them clean the Seattle Space Needle, toss them out of a plane, whatever it takes to make sure that that kid eventually snaps on camera.

”But we’re just keeping it real!” the producers will say. ”Frankie wanted to tell her story!” And she clearly does. There was something creepily straightforward about the way she explained to everyone exactly why she cuts herself, not to mention her apparent weird satisfaction from having her therapy session taped. (And then, of course, there’s the fact that she practically dropped the knife on Jamie’s foot after her cutting session. This couldn’t have been a more public cry for help if she had cut herself with Jamie’s steak knife while Jamie was eating a ribeye.)

Again, I’m hardly Pinskamatic, but I don’t think her exhibitionistic tendencies should be rewarded by being put on television. Yes, she wanted to tell her story, but at a certain point the producers have to squeegee away the saliva they’ve dribbled onto her submission form, and politely decline her application.

Here’s a thought: Why not cast one of the other 400,000 kids lined up at the door with a slightly less serious problem. Like, say, just being an ordinary idiot? I assume that when Brad showed up for an audition, he brought a friend who wanted to see how the producers could shrink Brad to fit him in a TV: Why not cast that friend?

I’m not saying ”The Real World” can’t be a force for good. How about this? Before every episode, have Drew Pinsky appear and gravely warn: ”Lazy-ass kids who lack any kind of work ethic are a serious problem. Hopefully tonight’s episode will raise awareness of the terrible epidemic of tragic self-absorption.” Then again, MTV can’t risk possibly solving that epidemic: it would mean the end of ”The Real World” forever.