On a very special episode of ''The Real World'' that actually was very special, the housemates confronted drug abuse, disability, and death with surprising maturity
The Real World: Austin (Season 16)

”The Real World”: The kids face real problems

I dreaded having to watch this episode. Last week’s made me cry really hard, and I hated the producers for showing footage that probably made Danny feel more guilty than he already did. I thought this one would be similarly invasive, and maybe it was, but I ended up really enjoying the whole episode for the first time all season. Don’t get me wrong — I turned on the tears as soon as Danny’s sister Kristen made the about-to-cry face three seconds into the show. But in general, the whole thing was kind of cathartic.

Obviously, I’m not just talking about Danny. We finally got to know more about Lacey and Nehemiah tonight, and even though it may have seemed like the spotlight should have been focused on the griever, I think the three different story lines provided a great balance and took some pressure off the poor guy. It was a pretty neat idea to withhold the fact that Lacey’s boyfriend, Ryan, is in a wheelchair and will never have use of his lower body. It’s something they easily could have alluded to sooner (although I guess that would have required showing Lacey for more than five seconds). Lacey clearly doesn’t have any hang-ups about Ryan’s condition, and I’m glad we got to see that in action right away instead of a having to sit through a long-winded interview-type thing where we’d get all wary of and nervous about the guy before even laying eyes on him.

Speaking of laying eyes on him, I feel the need to point out that I was focusing on trying to get my computer to turn on when the whole concept of ”Lacey’s boyfriend” came up, and when I happened to glance at the screen to see Ryan, I thought, ”Whoa, Lacey has a twin brother?” Upon further reflection (and a lengthy rewind), I realize they don’t look much alike. I think it’s just the hair. Maybe there is a special discount on that style at Lacey’s salon. Anyway, the two are so perfect and happy together, and such blatantly wholesome, decent people that it almost seems weird that they’re on this show. I kept waiting to hear something really juicy and delinquent that would stop the phrase ”Aww, so cute!” from constantly ringing in my head. That can get really annoying.

Anyway, Lacey and Ryan were just…pleasant — a great complement to all the tear-jerking Danny footage and the similarly themed Nehemiah plot. It turns out that Neh’s mother, like Danny’s, has struggled with substance abuse. From the way Neh complained about her to Mel, I figured there was no chance at a good relationship between them, but then Neh surprised everyone by calling his mom (who is now in rehab and sounded pretty good, by the way) and telling her he loved her.

Okay, I know this is supposed to show Neh learning a lesson from Danny’s mistakes, but wasn’t it a little too obvious and also sort of mean to show it now? We get the point that Danny feels bad about his last conversation with his mom. I’m glad Neh got to resolve some issues, at least temporarily, with his own parent, but his ”good son” act almost seemed like a sucker punch in Danny’s face. (Been there, done that.)

I’m not complaining too hard, though, because Danny seemed surprisingly collected most of the time he was at home — particularly while talking to the camera in the snow-covered cemetery with his jacket off. (I guess he found a shirt and tie after all.) He said he had found comfort in ”knowing that she’s not here in pain anymore.” He looked alarmingly composed and serene when he said that, which prompted me to cry again. Of course, it was hard to watch Danny look over his mom’s photo collection and tearfully reunite with his Billerica buddies. The saddest point of the scenes at his home was probably the camera’s pan of everyone silently milling around right before the funeral. Even the dog looked depressed. But I ended up feeling grateful to learn that Danny had such supportive and accessible friends and a loving family around him, instead of despising the cameras for being there to get it all on tape.

The big question now: Will Danny return? I think so. He did what he needed to do at home, and we don’t want him sticking around indefinitely after a parent’s death. (Look how well that turned out for Six Feet Under‘s Nate Fisher.) God, I hope he comes back, if only because it might make Mel shut up. Fat chance of that. She even managed to make Danny’s call on the day of his mother’s funeral all about her. Overall, though, she really did seem to be suffering, which shows how much she cares about Danny being okay. And about herself being okay.

What do you think? Was this episode the most real yet? Will Danny return for the rest of the season? And do we really have to go back to watching Wes try and hook up with groupies next week?

The Real World: Austin
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