AUSTIN, Texas – It's back, but is it better than ever?
After 16 seasons and locations as diverse as Philadelphia and Hawaii, the show still remains one of TV’s most successful franchises. But the real question is: can this docusoap still deliver the goods?
"This season is great," says Jon Murray, "Real World" co-creator and executive producer. "Every show is defined by its cast, and this year there is some really powerful drama."
Murray may have a vested interest here — and MTV’s ads for the show allude to heavier story lines than the booze-soaked fare of seasons past.
While "Real World" seasons have showcased cast members with serious issues —for instance, Pedro in San Francisco (1993) was HIV-positive (he later died from AIDS), Irene from Seattle (1998) suffered from Lyme Disease — seldom has a cast carried so much collective baggage:
Rachel: The "talkative" brunette from suburban Los Angeles did a tour of duty as a medic.
Nehemiah: The L.A. suburbanite grew up in a single-parent family, and his mother is currently in drug rehab.
Danny: He’s from the blue-collar outskirts of Boston and grew up working for his father’s roofing business while his mother struggled with alcoholism and depression.
But the show is still called "The Real World," and no season would be complete without catfights over who didn’t do their dishes or the occasional tryst in the hot tub (the house, designed by Joel Mozersky, also features an indoor pool with strategically placed jets that "stimulate" specific areas of the body).
This year, Murray promises "a great inner-cast romance" as well as hours of lighthearted shenanigans. Expect antics from:
Wes: A college student originally from Kansas City, Wes admits many people think he is "a jerk," and claims to have "the best six-pack in [his] school." Wow.
Johanna: This Peruvian bad girl was raised in (again!) suburban L.A., and even though she denies the accusation that she has behavior issues, she was arrested for an as-yet-unnamed infraction while in the Austin house.
Lacey: This hairstylist from Ohio ensured her place in the house by telling casting directors, "I don’t go looking for gossip — it just finds me!"
Melinda: She contributed an unforgettable audition tape. The suburban Milwaukee lass is seen streaking topless and screeching "I’m crazy! I’m a crazy b--ch!"
Besides these live wires, the "Real World" is set in one of America’s hottest party cities. Home to 50,000 University of Texas students, Austin has some of the country’s largest musical festivals.
Even though the city is the state capital, Austin natives take pride in its funky, liberal culture, even adopting the unofficial city slogan of "Keep Austin Weird."
"The city has to be an environment people want to be in," says Murray. "We’ve been wanting to do Austin for a while. It’s got a great music scene, a great bar scene. It’s got a cool vibe — it’s always been a city that people love."
And "Real World" is a show that people will always love, it seems. MTV has already contracted for five more seasons. It’s easy to see why, after all this time, Murray thinks there’s no end in sight.
"Every four years a whole new group grows up watching ‘The Real World,’" he says. "So for those kids watching the show today, it is as fresh as it was for people watching 10 years ago."