September 6, 2007

These Things Matter: Desperately Seeking LeRoy

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Wait, wait! Don’t turn the page. I know, yet another column about The Real World. When a new season starts, everybody always rushes to offer their analysis of the new cast and the various formulaic roles they fit into. But everyone knows all of that by now. There’s the token slut, the token man-whore and the token psychopath. It’s pretty simple stuff.
But bear with me. I want to go deeper than that. I want to show you the formulas beneath the formulas. What is actually more important with each season is editing the action in the right way, not in providing the right cast members. Hopefully my analysis will provide the knowledge necessary to distinguish between the good seasons (like the recent Sydney installments) and the great seasons (like Denver last season). Did somebody say comparison?
Unrequitted love: It works in Hollywood, so it’ll work in the Real World house. We want to see the anguish and suffering of the cast members because it distracts us from the suffering in our own morose and flatlining love lives. The better seasons will do something very simple: maximize pain. How many viewers’ hearts broke when Denver’s Colie was repeatedly denied the affections of Alex? (Answer: nobody’s.) But it did make for some fascinating television. Alex always would shoot Colie down, each time more humiliating than the last, and yet Colie always came back for more. Sydney also has an unrequited love story, that being Parisa’s attempts to woo Dunbar, but I find it hard to believe that an NYU graduate will ever enter the zone known only as “Colieland.”
A house divided is more fun for us to watch. A big theme of Denver was the extreme loathing that the guys felt for the girls in the house. Thanks to their collective disdain, the guys effectively put a trademark on the sarcastic eye roll maneuver. They refused to even ride in the same car together on their three hour long rides to the Colorado wilderness for their job. I cannot explain how this can be construed as healthy behavior. Naturally, that’s why we loved it. Sydney got off to a terrific start, with the girls splitting into teams of two after literally ten seconds, but since then it unfortunately seems as if they’ve put their differences aside.
Watch out for the fuzz! Or better yet, don’t. Every classic Real World season has at least one run-in with the cops. Denver’s was particularly mind-boggling, as Tyrie was arrested for urinating on the wall of his unlocked house, in front of a police car. I will hope for humanity’s sake that he was trying to get arrested. The Sydney cast, on the other hand, unfathomably appears to have no police incidents, judging by the lack of any such incident in the extended season preview. The season preview always shows the arrests, so I have to believe there are none down under.
Legitimately funny guys are the hidden key. If there is not at least one guy to make wisecracks both in the house and in the interviews, the show tends to drag. Denver didn’t have just one, it had two. Alex was the type of person who would say the five meanest things he could think of about somebody, and still make you laugh about them. (Hey, at least he wasn’t talking about you.) Tyrie was the type of person who gave himself two aliases: LeRoy Jenkins and Dark Kent. Studies have shown that these are the two greatest nicknames in recorded history. Tyrie also was the master of the disapproving head shake. Nobody could match his execution on that one. Sydney, on the other hand, features Isaac, who has provided the season’s highlight so far, by making a daily checklist with “pimp harder” as an item. Needless to say, the box eventually got checked. However, while he is supposed to be “the funny one,” his interviews are so awful, I ponder staring at a blank TV screen instead. (It would be funnier.)
I could provide you with some more of these criteria, but my time is limited, and you’re losing interest.
So let me suck you back in with my list of the Top 5 Seasons of The Real World. All of these seasons had just the right mix of these ingredients to create the most scrumptious reality TV pie.

5. New Orleans (David, Julie, Melissa)

4. Las Vegas (Trishelle, Alton, Steven)

3. Seattle (David, Nathan, Stephen, Irene)

2. Denver (Tyrie, Colie, Brooke, Alex)

1. San Francisco (Puck, Pedro, Rachel)