While most pop culture historians would say the first reality TV program was An American Family on PBS in 1973, the show that really brought the genre into mainstream consciousness, for better or worse, was MTV’s The Real World. I was just finishing up the 8th grade when the show premiered in May of 1992, and while I wasn’t especially thrilled about the network’s increasing moves away from music videos, I was still immediately hooked. There simply wasn’t anything else on television at the time that let you watch real people living authentic, unscripted lives. While the premise of thrusting them into the same apartment may have been forced, this was back before there was a formula for these kinds of shows, and so it truly felt unpredictable and true in a way later seasons and copycat shows would not.
Now, in an attempt to drive new viewers to the just launched Paramount+ streaming service (a rebrand of CBS All Access), MTV is reuniting the first 7 “strangers” to live in the same loft nearly 30 years later. Much of the first episode (the only one available at this time) is spent reminiscing about the events of the show’s original run, as the cast reunites, many for the first time since the 1990s. While this can make the pacing feel a bit slow at times, it still seems both necessary to refresh viewers’ memories and pretty much how you would expect people who hadn’t seen each other in decades to initially respond. Teases of the remaining 5 episodes promise fireworks will be coming, but at least for now, the juxtaposition of the new and old footage lets us see a group of people who spent 4 months living together when they were just making their first steps into the world and who have now matured into seemingly well-adjusted adults. It once again feels more calm and less “managed” than other similar fare, at least initially, which makes for a welcome change. And perhaps because it was on MTV just as I was still figuring out who I was, I’m a lot more invested in seeing who these 7 people have turned out to be than I expected. A fun and occasionally poignant way to both reminisce about and catch-up with America’s first reality TV stars, that will appeal greatly to anyone who remembers watching this show every week. ★★★★ – Sean Farrell
AVAILABLE ON PARAMOUNT+
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor