Keeping It Real

MTV’s The Real World has been a reality television staple for almost 20 years. For its new Brooklyn season, the show is upping the LGBT ante -- a gay man, a trans woman, a girl who's dated girls but is now seeing a guy, and an allegedly straight virgin who pings the gaydar more than Ryan Seacrest at a Jonas Brothers concert.

BY Dan Avery

December 15 2008 12:00 AM ET

When it debuted
back in 1992, MTV’s The Real World was
truly groundbreaking television. Not only did it establish
the template of thrusting disparate strangers together to
live under the camera’s unblinking eye, but it
introduced America to something rather unusual for the
time: an out gay man (Norman Korpi) who was
well-adjusted, popular, and upbeat.

Nearly 17 years
later, gays and lesbians are a staple of reality
television. In fact, it’s more noticeable if
there’s not a queer contingent on shows like
Survivor or Top Chef. So how could could
Bunim-Murray Productions raise the ante for Real
World: Brooklyn,
the show’s 21st
installment, debuting January 7? By including as cast
members a gay man, a trans woman, a girl who's dated
women exclusively ... until now, and an allegedly
straight virgin who pings the gaydar more than Ryan
Seacrest at a Jonas Brothers concert. Now, instead of
a token gay roommate, the show has LGBTs representing a
formidable faction of the house. But in the age of Lindsay
Lohan and Clay Aiken, will such card-shuffling
reinvigorate the somewhat stale Real World franchise?

Judging from the
first episode, which was sent out to reporters for
screening, it appears Bunim-Murray went back to the
show’s New York City roots more than just
geographically. Gone are the hackneyed
“projects” forced on cast members in
recent years (remember when the cast of The Real World:
Las Vegas
had to work at Palms Casino?). The
eight roommates (yep, there are eight this time around) are
encouraged to pursue their personal passions in the Big
Apple -- singing, writing, acting, etc. And while
there’s sure to be plenty of infighting and
drunken shenanigans, the cast doesn’t seem as
desperate for fame (or infamy) as in recent seasons.

Even the location
of the Real World house is something of a
departure -- rather than Brooklyn hipster haven
Williamsburg or stroller-set capital Park Slope, producers
opted for Red Hook, a slowly gentrifying neighborhood
that’s still mostly industrial (the arrival of
an IKEA earlier this year made local headlines). The
house itself, a converted two-story warehouse that sits
right on the Brooklyn pier, is to die for:
We’re talking about a built-in gym, funky
furniture, bold artwork, and staggering views of New York
Harbor and the Statue of Liberty. Being isolated in a
region practically inaccessible by public
transportation isn’t such an issue when you have cars
to shuttle you into Manhattan. So who are the lucky
20-something queers who got to call this pad home for
four months?

Tags: television