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The Real World Homecoming Returns to L.A., Opens Old Wounds

The Los Angeles cast strikes a different tone from their NYC counterparts as the Paramount+ series returns for Season 2.
  • Photo: Paramount+
    Photo: Paramount+

    Paramount+ may still be experiencing its fair share of growing pains, but when it comes to Gen X nostagia content, it's unmatched among its peers. And that all began last March with a stellar reunion of the very first cast of The Real World in The Real World Homecoming: New York. Despite some resurfaced ugliness from Becky and the fact that a COVID-positive Eric Nies had to Skype in from a nearby hotel room, the original roomates enjoyed a reunion that was full of nostalgia and newfound perspectives on the reality TV genre they helped birth.

    It comes as zero surprise that the franchise would move on and attempt to reunite the show's second cast, with The Real World Homecoming: Los Angeles kicking off with its first episode today. But if you were expecting a repeat of the familial vibes and warm nostalgia of the first season, you should probably brush up on your history, because those expectations would be misplaced.

    If the original Real World season was a social experiment undertaken by seven strangers who had no idea what they were in for, by Season 2 the show's cast members were already young masters in the arts of reality television. Having watched a full season of The Real World gave these new strangers a set of expectations and a shared language to speak. They knew the character types and the conflicts that would make for good TV. While I wouldn't call all subsequent seasons of The Real World artificial, there was an unavoidable performative quality to these new kids. That certainly didn't make for bad television — in fact, Real World: Los Angeles is one of the most memorable seasons of reality television ever — but it makes for a reunion that's less about the participants recalling a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and more a collection of personalities who mostly didn't get along then and don't seem all that likely to change course now.

    The first returning cast member we see in Homecoming: L.A. is Tami Roman, the centerpiece around whom this reunion deserves to revolve. If there were a Mount Rushmore depicting the founding parents of reality TV, Tami would be on it. In many ways, she invented the baseline reality TV persona: dramatic, ambitious, argumentative, brutally honest, and willing to bare all aspects of her life for the cameras. Over the course of The Real World: L.A., Tami feuded with her roommates, shared moments of genuine friendship, performed with her girl group, was at the center of the season's most confrontational moment, got an abortion, and had her jaw wired shut. Since The Real World, she's remained visible on reality TV via the VH1 series Basketball Wives.

    Tami is soon joined by Jon Brennan, the country musician who was originally cast at age 18 and appears to be the one cast member Tami has kept in touch win. The same can't be said for Beth Stolarczyk, who was on good terms with Tami during the original season, but has since become an infamous demon on The Challenge and whose thirsty personality doesn't seem to sit well with Tami. With the exception of Dominic and Aaron, who declined to participate, the rest of the roommates eventually arrive — Irene the cop (which feels like will become a topic of conversation sooner or later), Glen the grunge-rocker, Beth Anthony the self-identified lesbian who's now married to a man, which (in a moment of history repeating, down to the clever t-shirt) throws Tami for a loop — but it's David Edwards's arrival that everybody is waiting for.

    If you remember The Real World: Los Angeles for anything, it's for the infamous incident between Tami and David where she took exception to him pulling a blanket off of her during what appeared to begin as a joking moment between all the roommates. The situation devolved, with accusations of assault and comparisons to rape. Tami's demonstrative reaction ("It wasn't! Not! Funny!") made for electric and instantly memorable TV, and the fallout was historic, with David becoming the first Real World cast member asked to leave the house.

    When David arrives, he interviews about how he's seeking "redemption" from where his reality TV career left off. He's not entirely wrong to expect some kind of apology, particularly for how Beth brought the word "rape" into the equation, a charged accusation to casually levy against a Black man in a Los Angeles that was in the middle of the trial of the cops who beat Rodney King. But expecting a redemption arc on a reality show is a tricky thing, and it's not like Tami doesn't have a right to her own anger over that moment.

    Homecoming doesn't waste any time, and by the end of the premiere episode, the gathered roommates are sitting down and watching the infamous moment play out. Almost everybody cringes at either what happened or how they behaved during it, but David, who's here for an apology but also to make a point, performatively laughs throughout. Tami, who'd been willing to "give [David] a pass" after all these years, gets understandably upset at this. And just like that... nearly 30 years later, the Real World: Los Angeles cast members are fighting again.

    While the Real World: New York cast endured some hurt feelings and a dramatic falling out during the first Homecoming season, the dominant mood was one of love. Those cast members had real love for each other, and it suffused that entire project. About halfway through the Homecoming: L.A. premiere it becomes clear — and if it didn't, Glen outright says it at one point — that these people never really liked each other very much. And despite Beth and Irene getting choked up with nostalgia upon their return to the house, absence has clearly not made the heart grow fonder among these cast members. If the first episode is any indication, the new season of Homecoming is going to be very different one than the last one. More dramatic, more acrimonious, and more like the show that spawned it. In short, it won't be good vibes, but it could be good TV.

    The Real World Homecoming: Los Angeles premieres Wednesday November 24th on Paramount+. New episodes are set to drop weekly through December.

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    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: The Real World Homecoming, MTV, Paramount+, The Real World, Tami Roman