For its mind-boggling 25th season, the people behind the Real World clearly made a pointed decision by setting the flagging franchise in the city it arguably exploded most in: Sin City. Really, what could be a better locale for a show about people either in or immediately out of college than Las Vegas? It's a place where no one would ever assume it's normal to ask about your occupation or even, really, assume you had one. But in the face of today's current overload of reality TV, it can be tough to distinguish what sets Real World apart from so many of its offspring, other than youthful mischievousness and living quarters everyone knows will involve a hot tub, co-ed showers, a fish tank, and a confessional room.
And while MTV-helmed reality TV experienced a pop culture renaissance thanks to half a dozen Italian-Americans getting blotto in a Jersey beach house year-round, the Real World keeps chugging along, churning out a familiar, if not entirely outdated, formula with tried and true ingredients. It's, perhaps, because the unstoppable force of Jersey Shore continues to dominate the pop culture landscape (Exhibit A: Snooki on the cover of this month's Rolling Stone) that the Real World went back to its quasi-roots and decided go back to jamming a bunch of early twentysomethings into a hotel penthouse in Las Vegas, keeping a continuous stream of booze rolling down their throats, and hoping for a season as wildly entertaining as 2002's Real World: Las Vegas.
Based on the premiere episode, drama looks to be starting right away for the second Real World: Las Vegas cast. There's a romance on the rocks (sultry knockout Nany—the only roommate with a significant other back home—is clearly tempted by "bad boy" Adam, who aims to break up her relationship), a recently deflowered male looking to break out of his conservative shell (Michael), and a deep, dark secret or two to rock the penthouse when unleashed.
Unfortunately, setting these paths for the season was incredibly laborious in the premiere episode, particularly the will-they-or-won't-they between gullible Nany and sleazy Adam, which felt as though it was being used as a club and beaten over the head of the viewer. We saw Nany making eyes at Adam, Adam being inappropriately touchy at the club with Nany, Nany telling her boyfriend over the phone that there's a cute boy in the house (because….why?), Adam anticipating in confessional that he'll break up Nany and her hometown hunk, and so on, including way too many conversations between Nany and Bronx-native Naomi about how she really won't cheat on her boyfriend, even though Adam is really her type. We get it.
There's also a surprisingly sweet, Abercrombie & Fitch catalog-friendly romance unfurling between Louisiana-native Dustin and cute-as-a-button blonde Heather. While Dustin seemed intent on not getting involved with any of the roommates, he and his new, tiny paramour were as handsy and lovey-dovey as can be by the first roll of credits. He'd even observed—far too wisely for Real World standards—"I'm not trying to touch any of the housemates. Unnecessary drama." But what would Heather think about his past as a nude Web site model? In an unexpected turn, it turns out Dustin was part of a website known as FratPad.com, where young, strapping fellas "work out, take, showers, go about their days with each other, and jack off" while cameras roll 14 hours a day. Naturally, the Southern charmer is worried, and with good reason, given the fact the site's main page still shows a giant picture of him buck-naked and stroking himself.
But there are Vegas-style things to be done while all this secret-hiding is going on! Just like the inaugural Real World: Las Vegas cast, these newbies are living in a hotel suite designed specifically for this show, but this time at the ultra-hip Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. True to form, the suite is decked out with more eye-popping amenities than ever before, including an in-room bowling alley, which becomes awkward Michael's main selling point when desperately trying to talk girls into hanging out after the club.
Lost in these immediately forced love connections and dirty secrets is the addition of cast members Leroy and Michael. They're clearly polar opposites: Leroy's backstory involves a tumultuous childhood and being a full-time party boy/garbageman back home, while Michael can't stop worrying about what his Grandma might think of him should it get back to her he behaved badly on the show. But they also create refreshing foils to the ho-hum nature of the rest of the cast. And it's Leroy who looks straight into the camera and bluntly describes his expectations about a first-night hookup: "I'm really not that picky. It's the first night. I'm just trying to clear my passage, man." Whatever that means, he has certainly has no trouble, and, meanwhile, sweet-natured Michael can't help but start spouting off about his favorite spiritual inspirations when he manages to get two pretty ladies back to his room late-night. The tawdry night ends with a shot of Michael standing alone and drunk in the same hot tub that multiple barely dressed randoms and roommates were busy attempting three-way kisses and sloppy caresses in just hours before. And in a perfect moment of drunken, filmed weirdness, he throws his hands up in the air and yells "Oh my God!"
At the end of the day, it seems MTV has realized that it's useless to pretend these kids should be "working" in any capacity, as they've repeatedly tried to do with other seasons (anyone remember the Miami cast's attempt at opening a tanning salon?), and succumbed to shoving good-looking young people with rocky pasts and a penchant for booze into a house for three months like a tightly packed powder keg. Given the fact that last season's Real World: New Orleans dealt somewhat maturely and very surprisingly with unexpected issues of domestic abuse and mental instability, there might even be cast members who shine, even when placed in a nonstop, neon-lit party zone. Either that, or The Situation and Snooki make a surprise appearance and crash the Hard Rock for some fist pumping, stat.
- Holy hell, who was that girl who is supposedly Adam's "girlfriend" at home? Being told "I'll call you when I want to. Don't call me" sends a pretty clear message, no?
- Michael describing the other male roommates as having "dirty boy rules" they get to live by was priceless.
- Can someone call a moratorium on the game Never Have I Ever? Especially out at a nice dinner?
- "Rolling shades," a.k.a. wearing sunglasses out at night as a big dude gang should be banished to the land of popped collars and bedazzled man shirts.
- Nice work on the part of the editors, cutting between Adam's almost word-for-word fake out about "having no game" when talking to pretty girls and, thus, looking like a complete player.
- Naomi seemed to have gotten shafted big time on the premiere with screen time, probably based on the fact she seems cute, sweet and nice.
- Adam's violent past (a shooting landed him in juvie for three years, apparently) looks to surface in the previews when he's punching a wall dangerously close to Nany's head… scary!