‘The Real World: Skeletons’ Is MTV’s Latest Attempt to Reinvigorate a Tired Franchise

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How do you even review The Real World? The reality show has been on for 30 seasons now, and no two are alike. Most are objectively awful. Yet this can rarely be blamed on the show’s premise — The Real World has, for the most part, stuck with its original “seven strangers picked to live in a house” format. Whether or not the format works is actually the result of the particular characteristics of each group of seven strangers. Are they “real” people who are legitimately open to new experiences, or are they empty caricatures of the reality show roles they are molding themselves to fit into? Are they genuinely interested in meeting new people, or are they just down to fight and fuck in order to become “famous” on MTV’s blog or in a GIF recap? The cast is usually the main draw of The Real World, but lately the show has resorted to more desperate measures, like last season’s “EX-Plosion” or this season’s “Skeletons.” Whether these conceits “work” is tricker to figure out.

Last season, The Real World introduced a twist in which the cast members’ exes randomly showed up at the house to surprise them and ramp up the drama (the producers wisely waited until some new relationships had formed between the roommates). As expected, there was a lot of fighting. That was basically the point of the entire season. It was an OK watch in a shamed, schadenfreude type of way, but the show lacked any sort of engagement with the characters — I couldn’t name a single cast member while watching, let alone recall them now.

Now that the show is in its 30th season (and therefore in need of some “clever” reinvention to keep it from feeling really stale), the producers of The Real World have taken it yet another step further. In Skeletons, the cast members will be visited by a metaphorical skeleton, the one in their closet that they’ve tried to keep secret (but let slip to the casting directors, whoops). It isn’t just exes; according to the words that obnoxiously flash across the screen, there are brothers, enemies, addictions, baby mamas, and stalkers. The idea is for these “skeletons” to pop up every few days, completely disrupt the household, and force the cast members to deal with their past issues… but really just drunkenly scream and throw things. Depending on what your general opinion of The Real World is, it’s probably going to be a pretty great season.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s not going to be a good season of television, not in the least. But it is going to be a fantastic season of the crazy entity that is now The Real World. At this point, in 2014, it’s officially time to let go of what The Real World was in those earlier seasons. It was a brilliant, original, and consistently interesting reality experiment that allowed viewers to watch strangers grow in front of us, to learn about other cultures, to try new jobs, fall in love, or just have honest and enlightening conversations about everything from racism to HIV. That’s all gone! The Real World 2.0 has no interest in that because (and let’s be totally honest here), the vast majority of the MTV’s general demographic has no interest in that.

The Real World: Skeletons is about the drama, and we are definitely going to get drama. Say what you want about The Real World, but you do have to give kudos to its casting directors, who regularly manage to find the exact mix of grating and obnoxious 20-somethings who are guaranteed to clash with each other. It’s terrible and wonderful all at that same time. This current Chicago cast of interchangeable “adults” include people such as Bruno, a “stubborn macho man” with an “explosive temper” (is there any other kind of temper on The Real World?); Sylvia, a “fiery, hot-tempered bartender” with a penchant for dysfunctional relationships; Madison, a “flirty, gorgeous yet naive blonde” with a past history of drug addiction; and Violetta, a “former fat girl” who “became a hard-edged bully herself”; and so on and so on. It takes about 30 minutes and a round of shots before two of the women are at each other’s throats. It’s going to be that kind of season.

In the pilot episode, once the general introductions and house tours are done, the new roommates go out drinking, which results in a fight over money (I was always under the impression that MTV paid for most of their bar drinks; consider my application officially withdrawn). Back at the house, the fight escalates into even more ridiculousness: Violetta explicitly states that she is ready to start some drama and goes to pick a fight with Southern boy Tony because he likes Madison instead of her — it’s becoming more and more apparent that The Real World house is just a period of extended adolescence, an extra three months of high school for all involved.

The thing about Skeletons so far is that I can’t really review it as the show that it’s aiming to be. The skeletons have yet to show up — similar to Ex-Plosion, the producers seem to want these roommates to get used to each other, to become friends and hook up, and to later be completely blindsided by their pasts — so, at this point, it’s basically the same old Real World. Still, there are hints that there’s plenty more to come, and it does have the potential to be a lot more interesting than Ex-Plosion, because instead of simple exes, it looks like a cast member will face her teenage drug addiction and another will be reunited with his estranged brother. Then again, it’s still MTV, so it’s likely this will all be sensationalized nonsense.