February 22, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST

”The Real World”: M.J. and Landon get closer

For the first half of this season, this column’s then writer, Brian Hiatt, often wondered about what seemed like a very very close relationship between M.J. and Landon. When I took this space over, however, I decided to take the blondsey twins at their heterosexual word. Look out, ladies of Philadelphia, as soon as these two guys get finished admiring each other’s deltoids, they are on the prowl! But after the Feb. 22nd episode of The Real World, perhaps I need to write Brian a letter of apology.

The show began with M.J.’s ”girlfriend” Ashley coming to visit from Nashville. I put ”girlfriend” in quotes because this was a brand-new label; before M.J. had the epiphany that he wanted to be with her, she was the ”if-all-my-other-options-fall-through friend.” Love was in the air as they talked about her upcoming trip: ”I can’t wait to make out with you . . . or maybe grab a boob,” said M.J., who, when he gets really romantic, paraphrases the poet Edward FitzGerald: ”A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and hopefully third base.” When you’re done swooning, Ashley, go get M.J. a beer!

M.J. was uncharacteristically gooey, pensively musing on the nature of romance. He said that he longed for a personal connection with Ashley, where he could smell and touch her, which, he explained, is better than a phone conversation. You don’t say, Cupid! Okay, let’s move onto something more difficult, M.J.: Which is more intimate, whispering sweet nothings or belching the alphabet? And no fair trying them both out first!

Ashley’s flight in was delayed seven hours, and it was at this point I wondered if, with three episodes left, the producers had run out of dramatic footage a little early. The way they tried to wring pathos out of a delayed flight was hilariously overblown: Clutching his mane, M.J. brooded: ”I hate not being in control of my environment, especially when it’s someone you care for! . . . I want to be there for her, and I can’t right now.” Was her plane late or hijacked? At this rate, I fear that next week’s episode will center around M.J. questioning the existence of God after his peanut M&Ms get caught on a snack-machine coil.

This was such a special visit that M.J. also made plans to visit with his seven-foot-tall friend David. And after Ashley finally arrived after being stuck in an airport for approximately 16 days to be with M.J., he regularly abandoned her to male-bond with his gigantopal. Now, it’s a common refrain of men (and hack comedians) that you can tell women are mad when you ask them if they’re mad and they say, ”No.” And many men use this cliché as justification, saying that when their girlfriend or wife is silently steaming, it can be easily dismissed as an oversensitive female mood swing. I’d be lying if I said I’d never done that. Well, the party’s over, because M.J. just ruined it for everybody. Now, every time you men think, ”Oh, she’s just being unreasonable — I’ll just ignore her,” you’ll then pause and say, ”Wait. . . . M.J. thought Ashley was being unreasonable, too, and in fact he was a giant ass.” And then, seized with doubt, you’ll apologize. Thanks a lot, M.J.

At the end of the night, he and David sat down with a mouth full of chaw, and the gay-overtone portion of our program began. No, I’m not referring to their talk about their deep, emotional bond. Far be it from me to declare that two men can’t share their feelings. (Although perhaps a psychiatrist might have something to say about sublimation when it comes to their tobacky-filled mouths.) No, I’m referring to the fact that while they were out, coating the Philadelphia streets with their spit, someone was jealously sitting at home — and it wasn’t Ashley.

It was Landon. ”I don’t even know what to think,” he moaned, feeling left out. And just to rub it in, David had earlier claimed to know M.J. best of all. Oh no she didn’t! This show was getting so gay I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bush administration proposed a constitutional amendment against it.

The stars continued to line up in favor of M.J. and Landon: Upon returning to Nashville, Ashley called to tell M.J. that she wasn’t 100 percent committed to him. (With his relationship sinking, he went to see a museum exhibit on the Titanic, because there’s nothing MTV likes more than a metaphor ham-handed enough to make a kosher man faint.) But we all knew how it was going to turn out. After all, how many movies have you seen where the man is dumped only to realize that his true love has been under his nose, sharing his hair products, all the while?

That night, Landon and M.J. lay in their neighboring beds, clad only in boxers. A sad Landon moped, while M.J. begged to know what the problem was. Landon finally blurted it all out: David’s words had pierced him to his core! And yet, he could not deny that M.J. only gave him half of what he was. He wanted it all, because Landon would bend over backwards for M.J. And M.J., who respected the way that Landon dove in to everything, concluded that he needed to let people get inside him.

I can’t state that Landon and M.J. are lovers, but the goings-on in this episode were begging me to do so. All it was lacking was a Titanic-like obvious metaphor, but who knows? Maybe next week Landon and M.J. will go to Medieval Times to watch a sword fight, gobbling down hot dogs all the while.

What do you think? Was romance really in the air or just in the editing?

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