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The Real World: "Leather Chaps And Sequins? What Is Eric Getting Himself Into?

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Almost nothing happens in the third episode of The Real World: New York and, as a result, it’s a gem. It's almost impossible to imagine MTV would put something as aimless and observational as this little slice of twentysomething life on the air today—or at least the parts that did not involve a half-naked makeout session between two models. This episode is breezy and slight: Julie and Heather play Scrabble; Andre sulks on the fire escape; Becky makes chicken and vegetables for dinner; Julie and Becky meet some pretentious artists; Julie, Norm and Heather go rollerskating; Andre has a gig. And…scene.


The complete and utter lack of urgency in this episode is precisely why I adore it so much; if anything, it feels under-produced. It depicts a group of twentysomethings hanging out, sharing a few drinks, lying around their apartment giggling, and generally getting along with each other. How refreshing  is that?

Andre actually gets a little bit of air time this week. Like an angry hermit crab who, after being poked repeatedly with twigs, finally comes out of his shell, scurries across the sand, then disappears once again into his shell, Andre made a brief, begrudging appearance in this episode. Truthfully, it’s not like he had much of a choice, since Andre and his band Citizen Dick Reigndance have a big gig coming up. Andre and the rest of the band, all of whom look vaguely like Stone Gossard, rehearse at their house in New Jersey. From the outside, the place looks like an abandoned crime scene:

On the inside, it’s not much better: dingy wall-to-wall carpeting, and a few posters on the wall—Soundgarden, The Black Crowes and (for some reason) Madonna. The band rehearses in a basement which is so small that Andre has to stand, hunched over, on the stairs. But hey, man, that’s cool: “I kind of like being cramped in that dungeon like disgusting basement,” he says. The rehearsal is cut short by the arrival of the cops, who've gotten some noise complaints. That's rock n' roll for you.

Becky, Norm and Julie plan to go to the show, even though it's all the way on Staten Island, but first, they head to Norm’s friend’s art opening. Thus ensues my favorite scene in this episode. Becky (wearing a teensy gold-studded bustier with a pair of baggy jeans and a black blazer) and Julie (wearing an enormous plaid jacket with bulky shoulder pads) get trapped in conversation with various pretentious windbags. One of them explains a piece of his work as “early documentation of me masturbating in 1979.” The art is bad, a ready-made satire of itself; there are pink and yellow plastic pillows filled with Styrofoam peanuts, a picture of Ginger from Gilligan’s Island.  Julie does not disguise her disdain for the “phony” artists. One guy tells her and Becky, “Maybe we should do that when you kids come over. Turn flowers into food.” Julie’s response is sublimely sarcastic: “Oh, we’ll have to do that.”


The intrepid roommates then journey out to Staten Island (which is not, I would like to point out, an easy trip) for Andre’s gig. Becky and Norm almost bail on the evening, but Julie lays on a guilt trip.  The gig is at a bar called The Red Spot whose décor appears to have been inspired by Pee-Wee’s Playhouse: there's a crooked yellow piano and a door decorated with a cloudy blue sky. Andre is happy to see his roomies in the audience. He even dedicates a song to them, joking that “everyone will end up living with me someday.” (Because, you know, he's just going to couch surf for the next decade.) The small crowd rocks out, especially one girl in the audience dressed in a white crop-top; I like to imagine she was Reigndance’s #1 groupie.


Other than the gig, Andre’s other big storyline this week is he has a cold: that’s right, his narrative obstacle is a stuffy nose. In one unintentionally hilarious moment, Andre sits, brooding, on the fire escape as his long, curly locks blow in the breeze. In the street below, a busker plays a moody song on a saxophone (if only he’d been playing at night, in the light of a lamppost). “I don’t like being sick. I’d rather be dead than sick. Cause at least dead I can sleep,” says Andre in voice-over.  Of all the cast members on this season, Andre is the one who seems the most ridiculous in retrospect: he’s just so Generation X.


Norm also finally gets a little air-time this week. A roller-skating to the Roxy provides a handy entrée into a discussion of Norm’s sexuality. He’s either gay or bisexual, depending on who’s talking and whom they’re talking to; what’s interesting to me is the conflation between the two terms. There’s a funny scene where Norm, Julie and Becky are lying in bed together like a litter of puppies. Norm’s in his underwear; Becky is wearing (yet another) awesome hat. Heather playfully wacks them with what looks like a dog treat, and Norm asks Heather about some guy’s cuteness/penis size. “Norman didn’t really say ‘I’m bisexual.’ It just sort of surfaced,” Julie explains. In another scene, she’s describing her night at the Roxy to someone back home. “They played like disco-y music and there were a lot of homosexuals there. Isn’t that funny?” she asks. Interesting that, back in Alabama mode, Julie uses the word “homosexual.” Maybe that’s just easier to explain to the folks back home?


The real action (ha!) this week involves Eric who, after a hot-and-heavy photo shoot (just another day at the office, am I right or am I right?) goes on a date with a beautiful model named Karen. Their date involves sucking on lollipops and trying on leather pants and puffy shirts at a shop on St. Mark's Place. In other words, it's totally hot.  I watched this episode on a crowded train and I have to say, I felt a little awkward when the make-out scene came on; I wondered if Eric just repeated baseball stats in his head during the whole thing.

Still it’s pretty clear that Karen—who actually seems kind of cool—and Eric—who now seems pretty dopey—are not a good match, despite their equally obvious physical attraction. The whole point of their flirtation seems to be to annoy Julie; Eric even asks Julie to buy dish soap and clean up the kitchen while he's out on his date, like he's trying to rub it in.


There's another hilarious edit that helps drive home the point. At the end of their sexy shopping date, Eric and Karen lean in for one of those awkward “let’s-hug-and-press-our-heads-together-because-it-would-be-weird-to-start-making-out-in the-store” things. The next thing we see is a close-up of a Scrabble board. The juxtaposition is amusing: while Eric's out getting some, Julie and Heather are spending a cozy evening at the loft. Julie’s just played the (non-)word “cornfan.” Julie explains that the word has two definitions. “Have you heard of like, the Cornhuskers? Well their fans are just, like, cornfans,” she says. “Have you not seen those fans at like the state park made out of corn husks.” Heather just laughs.

It’s too bad these two never got a spin-off.

Stray observations:

  • It’s a tough call when it comes to deciding who wins Best-Dressed this week. Becky’s gold-studded bustier is extremely Blonde Ambition but, holy shit, Karen’s plaid leggings/fake fur coat/biker boots combo is amazing:
  • If only because she matches Eric's sheets, I’m going to declare Karen the winner by a nose.
  • Honorable mention goes to the dude at The Red Spot wearing a Reigndance leather jacket.
  • On their date, Eric and Karen both suck on lollipops. So sexy.
  • “Do you two swap phone numbers now, like we do on Studs?” Faithful Real World viewers will recall that, in season 2, housemate Tami makes an appearance on Studs. For those of you too young to know this, Studs was a terrible dating show from the early ‘90s—basically a raunchier version of The Dating Game.
  • Julie also tells her friend on the phone that peeing on the street is a normal thing in New York. "Businessmen, or just bums?" "Both,"Julie says.
  • It’s easy to forget what a big heartthrob Eric Nies was in the early ‘90s. A friend of mine who grew up in Manhattan still boasts about hanging out with him in Central Park when she was 15. (He was rollerblading with a friend who called himself “Poontang,” took her number, and never called. What a cad!) I like to think of him as a predecessor to The Situation.
  • Cops are always good for some wisecracking: “You guys take requests? How about ‘I fought the law and the law won’?”
  • I’m pretty sure the inventory at Trash & Vaudeville, the store where Eric and Karen go shopping, has not changed in the slightest since 1992. Or 1982, for that matter.
  • Is it sad that I still remember the words to Andre’s song? (“You say when opportunity knocks/I’m never home”)
  • I also still find the name Reigndance hilarious.

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