The 28th season of The Real Worldpremieres tonight, and the trailer features some crying bros and a lot of slapping in Portland, Ore. To remind us of the show's less … well, shitty origins, MTV ran a “retro marathon” of its first three seasons last weekend.
Before the Teen Mom franchise, before Jersey Shore (and its ever-multiplying spin-offs), and before something called Buckwildthat I don’t feel like researching, there were true stories of seven strangers picked to live in houses in New York and Los Angeles. And then in 1994, some strangers came to the wonderful city of San Francisco. The third season, last weekend’s grand finale, often gets credited with sparking the show’s popularity and indirectly launching the reality TV craze. It almost lives up to its reputation.
Usually, watching a reality television show after it's finished airing presents a predicament; the knowledge that the cast has returned to the world outside the screen takes away the precept -- flimsy as it is to begin with -- that we are seeing reality unfold. Watching the San Francisco season is a different experience. The 19 years of distance, a huge cultural gap (OMG, no smartphones!), makes the show a historical document.