"Almost 30 years later, The Real World Homecoming: New York... re-evaluates its own premise, intentionally or unintentionally, particularly (co-creator Jonathan) Murray’s claim that diversifying our personal circles automatically creates a progressive outcome—and who these conversations are progressive for," says Kyndall Cunningham of the Paramount+ reality show. "This approach is hinted at early on in the premiere when Kevin and Becky are waiting for the rest of their castmates to arrive at their original SoHo loft where they’ll be residing for a six-day reunion. Becky tells Kevin that, despite the time that’s passed since their initial meeting, America is still dealing with the “same shit.” It’s hardly an original statement, but nevertheless appropriate. (Wednesday) marked 30 years since Rodney King was brutally beaten by four white Los Angeles police officers, who would be acquitted on all but one charge (in never-before-seen footage from the original season, we see the castmates watching the LA riots on the news). And the year before Real World premiered in 1992, Anita Hill testified before Congress about the sexual harassment she allegedly endured under future Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Kevin remarks that these respective flashpoints are embedded in the current #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements. To be clear, it’s not that Bunim and Murray set out to end gendered violence and white supremacy on a systemic scale with their program. It is entertainment, after all. But the persistent lack of understanding surrounding these issues, despite advancements in representation and the amplification of marginalized voices through social media, says a lot about the unreliability of what writer Alex V. Green calls the 'Having Conversations Industrial Complex' that’s intrinsic to the Real World."
The Real World Homecoming: New York is a bittersweet glimpse at everything reality TV could've been: "We’re now living—perhaps paradoxically—in a world The Real World: New York helped create, to an extent that its cast never could have predicted," says Judy Berman. "Which makes The Real World Homecoming: New York, a reunion series whose March 4 debut coincides with the launch of ViacomCBS streaming service Paramount+, more than a ’90s nostalgia trip. Revisiting the original season before screening the premiere, I found myself imagining a better, alternate version of reality TV that could’ve emerged from its example, one with fewer bachelors, housewives and narcissists, and more people who did come here to make friends. Although producers eventually threw in challenges and twists to spice up an old recipe that fueled 33 seasons of The Real World (including the most recent, 2019 edition, which lived on Facebook Watch and played like an extended Instagram Story), every single iteration of the show has been made or broken in the casting stage. The cohort of Gen X-ers, ages 19-25, who moved into MTV’s cavernous, industrial-chic Soho loft in the winter of ’92 unwittingly set archetypes that still persist in reality television. And the genre became so popular in the decade that followed that it seems fair to say it, in turn, influenced fictional storytelling in every medium."
Real World Homecoming is catnip for viewers of the first season -- but of little interest to those who didn't watch: "To get the obvious question out of the way first: No, I can’t imagine this being of much interest to people who didn’t watch the first season of The Real World, either in its original airing, during subsequent reruns, or on DVD," says Alex McLevy. "Outside of those curious about the history of reality television or media studies folks, this reunion of the original 'seven strangers, picked to live in a loft and have their lives taped' is mostly a nostalgia-driven affair, a chance to do some then-and-now comparisons and watch old roommates rekindle their friendships. (And fights—but that doesn’t look to be happening until later in the season.) But for those of us who watched (and re-watched, and re-watched, and re-watched…) the first season of MTV’s groundbreaking series, this thing is pure catnip. Within the first five minutes, I was having flashbacks to scenes from the original show; though these were soon helped along by actual flashbacks, cut repeatedly into the episode, ad nauseam, to continually remind and prompt viewers to reflect on the fact that none of this means anything without knowledge of what came before. Halfway through, I was dying to know more about where everyone was in their life at this point. But the show isn’t stupid—it’s saving a lot of those nuggets for later, and counting on the fact that most of the seven aren’t very well known anymore, and thus a quick Wikipedia search won’t reveal the good stuff we’re after. What immediately becomes clear is that producers know the focus has shifted, in terms of who and what they’re going to be spending time on during this series. What made the first season feel so unexpectedly authentic back when it debuted was that the people behind the cameras were making it up as they went along, with very little idea of how to craft narratives and manufacture the kind of bogus reality-TV drama the series later perfected and passed on into the DNA of a thousand other shows, like a particularly stupid virus. As a result, much of that first season was literally just watching people live their lives in New York City. Housemates Becky Blasband, Andre Comeau, Heather B. Gardner, Julie Gentry, Norman Korpi, Eric Nies and Kevin Powell all had jobs and/or individual careers they were pursuing, and the show mostly let the unfiltered messiness of that existence play out unimpeded."
Real World Homecoming's editing showing a split screen of then vs. now is especially clever: "I found myself tearing up at the split-screens: Kevin walking into the kitchen, Becky opening the fridge, Norm coming in with his suitcase," says Andy Dehnart. "Sometimes those screens show slight changes: Andre shaking norms hand in 1992 and hugging Norm in 2021. Those moments erased the time that’s passed between them, which somehow makes that elapsed time both significant and devastating."
The main issue with Real World Homecoming is that the first Real World season was really tame compared to what reality TV would become: "The most frustrating part of the first episode is not getting a full update on what everyone has been up to since the show ended," says Amy Amatangelo. "We learn that Andre (still rocking that long hair, but now it’s grey) has a four-year-old daughter, and Julie has two teenagers and is living back in Birmingham, Alabama. But these updates come in unsatisfying drips and drabs. The other issue at hand—if we are going to get real—is that while they were the pioneers of reality TV, Season 1 wasn’t the most exciting or interesting of The Real World franchise, and the antics of the original seven certainly pale in comparison to today’s modern reality TV. Even the explosive fight between Julie and Kevin, which Kevin identifies as 'the most famous argument in American TV history on race and racism' is both tame by today’s modern standards and more genuine. Because they were the first, the cast didn’t perform for the camera."
The Real World co-creator Jonathan Murray feels lucky that Homecoming could even be made: "Initially, it was like, 'Yeah, I think we should do something, but we don’t quite know what,'" he says. "And then as the plans for Paramount Plus came along, there was a realization that maybe there’s an audience that was there in 1992, but is now watching shows on CBS All Access, which will become Paramount Plus, and this could be an interesting thing to put on that. Again, we got lucky. There was an opportunity with this new network that they’re re-branding and, also, we were coming up on the 30th anniversary. Our luck continued when we were able to get the original loft for the cast to move back into. The stars aligned. Of course, we still had to deal with Covid, but the stars aligned." Did Murray worry that you wouldn’t get all seven to say yes? "We weren’t really sure it was going to happen until everyone had signed on to come on board," he says. "When that finally did happen, we were bracing ourself that everyone would actually show up. Again, we really wanted that Big Chill perspective."
Kevin Powell on why he signed on for Homecoming: “I agreed to do the reunion shows because I have not been with my six castmates, all of us together, since the 1990s and because if COVID has taught us nothing else, life can be gone just like that,” Powell said in an email of his return to the flagship. “I also returned because it is very rare in life to be able to go back, to go forward, to be able to review who we were, and to show people who’ve we become. And I returned because I had some serious healing to do around this show, too, and all the reactions to it, to me, through the years, including many, many ugly and harsh things that have been said to me, or about me, because of folks’ own challenges and or shortcomings on race, on racism.”