Start Getting Real

Watching The Real World: Homecoming or whatever it’s called yesterday proved to be a nostalgic experience, if not for the exact reasons that the show’s makers had intended. Don’t get me wrong, it was fun enough to watch Kevin, Heather, Julie, Norman, and the other three whose names I forget go on at genuinely extraordinary and dull length about how unbelievable it was that they were in exactly the same loft space as they’d been in 29 years earlier — that the show couldn’t have been filmed a year later to coincide with an actual anniversary feels as if it says everything about how lazy and contrived the whole thing is, wonderfully — but the nostalgia I felt wasn’t actually anything to do with the show itself, not really.

In the UK, the first season of Real World didn’t air on MTV, but as a Sunday lunchtime show on mainstream network Channel 4. As such, it picked up a lot of viewers who would otherwise have passed it by out of ignorance or simply never watching MTV. For example, me. Even better, for a further example, my mother.

While I’ll happily put my hands up as a fan of reality show trash, the same would never be true of my mum, who never watched an episode of Big Brother or any similar show in her life. But that first season of Real World obsessed her as much as it did me, feeling like the social experiment that the show claimed to be at the time — Michael Apted’s 7Up series on fast-forward and filled with particularly insufferable people.

We’d watch the show together as we ate lunch, the rest of the family doing more important things. (It was a Sunday, so they were probably reading the newspapers; buying seven or eight massive Sunday papers, with all the supplements and the magazines, was a weekly tradition in my family; we’d spend the rest of the day reading them.) It was a small, silly thing, our watching together and getting breathlessly sucked in — and reacting together, at whatever ridiculousness was happening that week — but, even at the time, it felt comforting and important, an unexpected thing we shared and bonded over quietly.

Far more than what had happened to the original cast, that’s what the reunion made me think of; a summer of lunchtimes with my mum, almost three decades ago. It’s a favorite memory, when I return to it.

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