November 16, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

”The Real World”: More playground battles

The main reason I couldn’t cover the first bunch of Real World: Philadelphia episodes is that my wife gave birth to a beautiful daughter just as the season was beginning, and I didn’t have time. But now I’m back on the Bunim/Murray beat, and I find watching the show oddly reassuring. Because, after a night of changing soiled diapers and a Herculean effort to get my crying infant to sleep, it’s nice to turn on the TV and be reminded that there are much bigger babies out there. At least my daughter doesn’t yell, ”F— you!” when I clean up her crap.

What the hell was the November 16 episode about, anyway? A little carping about a dirty house, a bit of complaining about a project that was basically a glorified game of Sim Playground, and a lot of moaning about who hates who. It was just a grab bag of insipid whining. All it was missing was footage of Karamo petulantly kicking the ground and whimpering after a scoop of rocky-road ice cream fell off his cone.

So the roomies live in filth: Anything less would be metaphorically inaccurate. But this blossomed into a battle of curses between Sarah and Landon. The best part of drunken arguments like these is watching the roomies have to straight-facedly defend them in later testimonials when they’re deadly sober. For example, the real explanation for Landon’s angry retorts should be ”Landon was really drunk, and so he was acting like a dick.” But instead M.J. was forced to postulate, ”Landon has issues surrounding what people do in the house. But he’s very internal about it, and it’s obvious it’s not the best way to handle it.” And, hilariously, in this testimonial, M.J. had far shorter hair, which made it seem like it had taken him a couple of months to come up with a respectable explanation for his buddy’s boorish behavior.

For the rest of the episode, the producers struggled to back up M.J.’s theories to make his frizzy doppelgänger appear sensitive and brooding. First, we were given the establishing scene of him talking about his strong work ethic… a self-analysis that appeared suspect as we saw the poo-smeared house that he was apparently unmotivated to clean. It’s a little hard to buy someone’s declaration of intensity when they have to step over a pile of dirty soup cans to get to their high horse.

Then came their playground project, which Landon commandeered. This was interesting: By instigating completion of their homework, Landon could claim bragging rights to being the most motivated team member. But he got to work a mere 14 hours before the project was due, which qualifies as the Last Minute. So yes, technically he’s the top go-getter, but being the least lazy member of a Real World is like being the smartest contestant on America’s Next Top Model. The bar just ain’t set that high.

(Quick interjection: what is with the retro video effects that MTV is using this season? Isn’t this network supposed to be cutting edge? First there was last week’s hallucinogenic superimposing of fireworks over any romance talk, and the odd Warholian video collages over M.J.’s Muja Star. And tonight their roller-skating excursion was shot in grainy, stuttering footage that looked like an old Iron Butterfly video. In-a-gadda-da-boneheads, baby. By the end of the season, will the episodes be shown drawn on a flip book, held toward the camera and thumbed through by Kurt Loder?)

After being chastised for a lack of teamwork by the project’s rigid director, Anthony (who, when he gets his hair cut, apparently says to his barber, ”Give me the Santorum, my good man!”), Landon was defensive, but then, just in time for episode’s end, he slipped into one of The Real World‘s patented epiphanies, announcing that he learned that he needs to speak up for himself or he’ll be misinterpreted. And then hugs were exchanged and a brand new wonderful day dawned, the kind where the sun shines, rainbows glimmer, and no angry local throws a half-filled can of Pabst out of a pickup-truck window at the Real Worlders’ heads. It’s good to be back with The Real World, especially now that I’m a parent: I may worry about my daughter growing up, but it’s reassuring to know that nobody on this show ever will.

What did you think? Is this the whiniest cast ever? And who’s the biggest baby of them all?

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