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?