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'Real World D.C': Hank Stuever discusses the first episode

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Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 31, 2009; 12:00 PM

Did you watch the premiere of "The Real World: Washington, D.C."? Do you care about the cast and how the city is portrayed? Share your thoughts with Post TV critic Hank Stuever.

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Hank Stuever: Hello, strangers (and acquaintances)! We're here to talk about the debut last night of "The Real World: DC," reality TV, Washington, MTV, whatevs. Seriously, whatevs -- the show may not sustain a full hour of chat and I'm here for whatever else you may want to talk about.

If you're working in the office today, my sympathies. (Go read Monica Hesse's story today about that.) I'm working for this hour only, from a hotel room in LA, where I'm technically on vacation, the first time I've _ever_ had the holidays off, but oh well.

Let's stop being polite (actually, please don't ever stop being polite) and start getting real....


Arlington, VA: This show made me feel OLD...not to mention extremely envious of the house the immature cast members got to stay in for free for however many months. I was disappointed they chose Buca di Beppo as the restaurant of choice for their first meal given all the other options they had. With a few exceptions (okay, maybe just Mike), the cast seemed so annoyingly self-righteous. I will of course religiously tune in next week in hopes that Andrew sleeps with something other than a polar bear this season.

Hank Stuever: The show made me feel _older,_ but I think the word is _mature._ How wonderful to be past the point where you need a table for 8 at Buca di Beppo.

Don't be jealous of living in the house, unless you're jealous of living under extremely, extremely bright lights all day and most of the night, until, blessedly, the bright lights go off but the night-vision lights keep watching you. Also some things you may not like about living there: Can't watch TV or listen to loud music (or else the show has to pay royalties to the content-maker you're trying to watch/listen to). Also have to be careful about brand names you're wearing, consuming, etc.

Also, the house decor looks a tad flimsy to me, really slapped together with kitsch and spit. Within minutes, Andrew broke a curtain rod. And I mean that literally, not figuratively.


Austin, Texas: A reality show about the kind of young folk who actually do move to DC to work, discover fame-glory-power, "make a difference," etc., would actually be a lot of fun. I envision a group house with an aspiring plastic-haired politico, a fatuous young lawyer, a couple do-gooder NGO-types, an earnest academic, a junior foreign service officer back from her gig in Togo, etc. Random hook-ups, fights over dishes, chores, and stolen wine--the usual but more real. Whaddya think?

Also, what are your new year's resolutions?

Hank Stuever: I think it might be interesting and it might not. MTV learned over the years that the ratings were in direct proportion to minutes spent drunk and/or in hot tubs. But since RW ratings have been trending down for so long, they could have used this opportunity to go another way with the show, perhaps starting with earnest, busy young overachievers.

I wonder if MTV already thinks RW:DC is a loser. Why else would they premiere it on Dec. 30, TV's deadest zone?


fabulous city, DC: Hi Hank. love the chats. I wonder what happens to the house after everyone left...Is it someone's personal house? Or was it a rental? Do they turn it into overpriced apts? This is, of course, after they have scrubbed everything down with bleach and crime scene clean up chemicals...haha

Hank Stuever: I should have looked into this before this chat, but I _seem to recall_ someone in the Style section saying it was going to become office space?


Anonymous: Why did'nt The Real World cast a local from D.C. ?

Hank Stuever: Hmmm, I don't know, and I'm trying to remember past seasons where they cast a local? (Hawaii had one? Miami? See, I go back too far.)

I wonder if there WAS a DC native in the house that they'd spend too much time tryin' to represent or telling the others everything they don't know. Would it ruin the science project? I much prefer watching Callie from Huntsville, Texas, try to navigate Dupont Circle with her rolly luggage.


New York, N.Y. (formerly Washington D.C.): At what point can MTV finally decide that this series is past is peak and just end it. When I originally heard that the show was coming to D.C., I was utterly annoyed. I told a friend, "great now they are going to overly expose the bars on U Street and make these kids seem like they actually understand the industry of politics and government. This show is going to be a joke, just like the past ones." Final note: Perhaps the producers should direct them to the intern bars...that is where they belong. (No offense to the intern bars).

Hank Stuever: One thing some of the other reviews pointed out (can't remember if it was LA Times or NY Times -- sawrry!) is that RW has a charming honesty and quaintness to it compared to "Jersey Shore." Maybe RW is MTV's way of keeping its soul in check? Nah, couldn't be.

I agree -- they could end the series now and it will always remain fixed in pop-cult lore. They could end it now and bring it back in 10 years.


Minneapolis: I'm 51-years-old and yet I still find myself watching this show, at least the few few episodes. Last night's premiere: lame for sure. The obligatory cute gay guy who reveals his big secret at the first dinner? Check. The first big blow up over a hot issue, in this case religion, also at the introductory dinner? Check. The first hot tub confab? Check. The first hook up? Check...I could go on and on. So predictable. This is the most scripted reality show in the history of television. And yet why do people -- yes, include me -- watch? Hank, what do you think?

Hank Stuever: Not to compare you to a vampire, but maybe you thirst for youth? There's something cathartic about yelling at 21-year-olds (who can't hear you) about how much they don't have figured out. It's some sort of reassurance that you DO, at 51, know a thing or two.

Since I hadn't watched the show lately (and try as best I can not to spend too much time with persons aged 20-23), I was struck by how dead-certain they each are about their beliefs, ideas, self. I guess you don't get on the show if you tell the camera: I have no idea about [subject] but I'd love to know more.


Trinidad NE, Washington D.C.: Wholetime, I have a feeling the whole show was shot in NW the wholetime.. The real DC is shown on Georgia Ave, Florida Ave, New York Ave.. Them bammas be ji fakin liiiike!! Ya dig??

Hank Stuever: Yeah, man.


Washington, DC: I also heard offices were going to move in to the vacant house at 20th and S...I think a non-profit (where one of my friends works) will be re-locating there soon. I walked by the house a couple of weeks ago and it was completely gutted. Even the hot tub was gone. Sigh.

Hank Stuever: Hazmat suits, etc. Scrub it away!


McLean, VA: I tune in to the Real World premiere each time hoping that there will be some interesting "Real" people finding their place in the world but each time I'm disappointed. It doesn't appear that the producers have any interest in going back to the original Real World format that made this show popular to begin with. Now people still watch, but they just watch so they make cynical comments and feel good about the fact that they are not one of these self-richeous, vapid, stereotyped characters.

Hank Stuever: Which gets really old, doesn't it? Look, the ratings are pretty low now. (You want concrete numbers. I know you do. Lisa de M, are you out there? Halp!)

MTV, your (remaining) viewers would probably totally tolerate a bold new experiment in Real World programming. Pick people who are having intense lives right now: Follow 23-year-olds who are doing medical residencies, running political campaigns, actually IN bands instead of noodling around on guitars......


DC Empty Office Dweller: I didn't watch it, but am glad they put the show in DC. We're a cool city, darnit. I am curious about how they portrayed us. Can we have a summary?

(Biding my time till I can leave the office for new year's!)

washingtonpost.com: 'World' weary : D.C. finally gets turn, but MTV show quite the tired affair

Hank Stuever: Yes, you can start by reading the link to my review. So far, looks like a lotta NW, Dup Circle, U St., 17th St. Eventually, there are jobs (of a sort). But mostly a lot of house-centric activity.


Washington, D.C.: As an atheist, I felt embarrassed by Ty's argument that if someone is religious, or believes in Jesus Christ, then he or she is "narrow-minded". I don't know if it was MTV's editing, but it made Ty seem like a caricature of an Athiest - a stubborn "realist" who has no respect for people of faith, instead of a thoughtful person, with passionate secular beliefs.

Hank Stuever: Yeah, you've come to the wrong show if you wanted to go beyond stereotyped. I was stunned that all these years later, the first episode still included a house-against-the-black-guy argument. Right back to Kevin and Julie in New York in 1992. We didn't move an inch in 18 years!


Herndon, Va.: Mr. S: No I didn't watch it and don't intend to, but, since I don't watch any "reality" shows (SINCE THEY'RE NOT REAL), I suppose I'm just out of it.

Hank Stuever: I can name some reality shows you might want to watch. ("Intervention" I think, is pretty real, except for the part where the subject of each episode is whisked away to about $100,000 worth of free rehab treatment.) But I get what you're saying: Reality television is not very real at all. I've watched the making of some episodes of it. It's tedious and manipulative. And yet, and yet ...

It can be instructive. If you're looking for that sort of instruction, which so many people in our society (especially young people) are looking for -- some sort of affirmation that good behavior is good and bad behavior is bad. It's all a twist on basic mythology.


Arlington, Va.: I thought it was interesting how the first day, politics and religion were major topics of conversation. Was this because of the area? The house with all the presidential photos? The people in the house? Or all of these? I know when I'm first meeting people, politics and religion I avoid at all costs. Even with family and friends I try to avoid it because its such a touchy subject. These people dove right in..I wonder if some eyes will be opened because of them all living together, or they'll just hate each other.

Hank Stuever: I don't think they'll do much in the way of opening eyes or broadening minds. And their talk of politics and God really more closely resembled (I think) the way people talk about sports. (You like the Yankees? I hate the Yankees. Etc.) They were just sniffing around the subjects.

I think you're wrong to avoid politics and religion in your everyday encounters. Part of the reason those subjects have been highjacked by extremists on the right and left is because everyday sane people are too timid to have basic discussions, day in and day out, about politics and religion. And culture. And race. And gender. I mean, what else is there to talk about? (Celebrities! Sports! Weather!) Avoiding touchy subjects is how we deaden ourselves to what's going on around us.


RW Thought . . .: Do you think the kids go on Real World just to get on Real World vs Road Rules Duel show to win money? Or maybe, and more likely, they are just fame hungry and have nothing better to do in life!

Hank Stuever: Oh, this reminds me. When was Road Rules last _on_? Where do the "Road Rules" competitors come from in those RW/RR showdowns? And what keeps them coming back? A paycheck, right?


NE: Union Station is in NE. By half a block. But it's in NE.

Hank Stuever: Right, there was a brief arrival scene at Union Station, that quickly went to a cab to 20th and S.

I'm sure there's plenty of Capitol Hill to come, and maybe H Street? Don't expect Shrimp Boat, though.


RE: Locals on the RW: I remember that being a production issue in Miami. I went to high school with Melissa, who was one of two locals on that season, and she used to constantly hide from the cameras at home when things got too much for her (which was often, she was that kind of girl). It's one thing to chase a cast member into a public bathroom but I think it's harder to storm into their parents' living room.

Hank Stuever: Right, she was from Miami. Also Puck was from San Fran. And there was a punky guy from London in the London house. But see, that's the extent of my RW brain. I gave up in the late '90s.


Real World, Northwest: They didn't spend -all- their time in northwest, because they went to a DC United game. Also a bar on H St I think, maybe H St Country Club for mini-golf.

Hank Stuever: More intel.


20th and S: I feel horrible for watching the show. They haven't changed the format of that show in 20 years.

It's just the same damn young, stupid, single digit IQ morons - just here in DC.

Please help me get a life.

Hank Stuever: Oh, don't feel horrible. Would it help if I commanded you to read 70 pages of "Bleak House" after each episode?


Washington, D.C.: I started to watch it, but it was so boring I turned it off. I might be wrong, but I had the impression that they just used Washington as the backdrop for the show instead of really exploring what life is like here for young people. It seems like a missed opportunity.

Hank Stuever: Gasp! Truth-teller, be gone!


Silver Spring, Md.: My thoughts on the premiere episode of 'RWDC' in five words or less: I fell asleep on it!

Hank Stuever: It was all those comfy Lovesac beanbags what done it.


DC: How come they didn't go to Thaiphoon? It's literally across the street.

Hank Stuever: One thing I don't miss about being 22 is all my dopey restaurant choices. Have you watched a group of nascent 20-somethings try to pick out a place to eat? It's not pretty. My question (always my question with reality TV): If they go to a restaurant -- as a group, or as random offshoots of the group, or on a date -- does MTV pick up the tab?

One way to broaden the "real" of "Real World" is to have them live on a budget? Watch them pay for things? Watch them survive off peanut butter or Ramen noodles until the next "pay" period?


Washington, DC: I kept "joking" to my friends I wanted to go to the premiere viewing party at one of the bars in DC last night -- eventually, a few caught on and reluctantly agreed and we went to BlackFinn. Of the cast, Ty, Ashley, Emily and Callie (I think? I kept forgetting she was on the show, too) were in attendance.

The bar was pretty crowded, and there were lots of cheers in the beginning when they showed all the exterior shots of the city. However everyone lost interest pretty quickly...an hour was WAY too long. The best part was toward the end of the show, when someone from the bar forced the cast to get on the microphone. I can't tell Ashley/Emily apart, and one of them said "That Andrew, such a liar," just in case anyone had any doubts. Then the other one encouraged any and all fans to come up and take pictures -- "Don't be scared!"

Anyway, that is my report. And yes, I'm a little ashamed.

Hank Stuever: Citizen journalist, we thank you! I'm _shocked_ they got four cast members there, but that's another surreal thing about the Real World -- the franchise industry that exists for cast members to promote the show, do speaking engagements, come back and mud wrestle, etc.


Bowie, Md.: I always felt like if RW ever came to Washington, that they should mix it up by having 5 Blacks, and only 2 Whites. It would revitalize the tired aspects of the show by mixing up the dynamic. I like to call the Real World an example of "television diversity." Include one of every group, but make sure the majority is still the majority.

Hank Stuever: Right. I brought that up in the review, too, and had forgotten that Dave Chappelle (was it Chappelle?) had done a skit like this a while back....


Washington, DC: So the first two kids meet at the airport, another two at Union Station . . that makes sense. But who arrives in DC - luggage in tow - at the Tidal Basin? Did they arrive by pedal-boat? Am I asking for too much reality in my "reality TV"?

Hank Stuever: Up the Potomac, looking for a passage to the West.


Non NW: The cast seemed to show up at the Capitol Skyline Hotel for the BYT's weekly pool parties fairly often. That's in SW. Conveniently located nearby the abysmal DC vehicle inspection facility.

Hank Stuever: Oh, no! That's a fast way to deflate Capitol Skyline of its hipitude. (I did a Style story about the Skyline pool scene back in June, but it was blessedly RW-free.)


Falls Church, Va.: The initial episodes of a Real World season aren't much. The introductions drag because the people aren't that interesting, and there's little real interaction yet. The religion confrontation seemed totally producer-inspired.

Also, WHEN are the producers going to cast a black guy who's not an angry narcissist? Every year it's the same damn thing.

Hank Stuever: I think the people who make the RW would lose any argument that they've shown viewers a wide variety of people, of any flavor. They _think_ they have, but they haven't. What about a really fat person?


I care: Funny, but I DO care how this City is portrayed. (Imagine my chagrin at possibility of a "Real Housewives" series.) DC is filled with interesting people and places and is too much maligned by persons who know nothing about us. While I like bikini-clad women in hot tubs as much as the next guy, and an "exposee" of almost any sort, keep those cameras out of my neighborhood.

Hank Stuever: I'd worry about it if we were a city that's never on television, except on "Cops," like Fort Worth or something, but one cannot say that DC doesn't show up constantly on TV -- not just in a news context, either. I'm amazed at how often our nightlife shows up on travel and food shows, and how often people are seen buying houses or renovating houses in DC.

And what I gather from the Real Housewives news so far is that we're going to see a lot of Virginia, when and if that show comes to fruition, with nominal trips to, say, Georgetown for lunch and hair appointments, and, um, maybe like a White House dinner?

Still not on TV much, of course, would be minority Washington.


Real World Ratings: I could only wish to be like the divine Lisa de M (and I do, at night, alone, whenever I'm not sobbing or watching Bravo) - but here's a brief glimpse at RW ratings:

Back in the day (right before the show took a ratings nosedive), MTV could expect 5-6 million viewers for an episode of the Chicago season. By the time they'd gotten to Brooklyn, 2.25 million was considered "strong." Seasons prior to Chicago were better television, but I think that's the one that hit their highest note for ratings.

Apologies for the "back in the day" bit. As an ancient 29-year-old, I was with the show from the beginning, but I recognize that eight years is a long time, and Chicago is probably long forgotten by the kids.

Hank Stuever: Thanks! 29? You still got a lot of life in ya!


Vienna, Va: I've lived in the D.C. area my entire life (went to highschool in DC and spent way too much of my 20s in Adams Morgan, Heorgetown, etc). I tried to watch the premiere, but just couldn't make it through the whole thing. Lame and totally scripted - it's like they have a check list for the cast (redneck, brain, gay person, angry dude, etc). What's worse is these do nothing, self-involved babies will end up complaining about whatever job they stick them in rather than talk about DC's 11 percent unemployment rate. "Guys, they want us to be their at like 9:30 AM for work, that's so unfair!" I just hope I wasn't as big an idiot in 1990.

Hank Stuever: 1990 was my idiot age, too, and I'm afraid we might have been. Finding "The Real World" too tedious to bear is probably a sign of maturity. (Not AGE; maturity.)


Washington - Foggy Bottom: This may sound stupid, but I've never heard of Real World DC before this chat and only came to the chat because I periodically check the discussions.

I should have prefaced my comment by saying I watch virtually no televison any more, very little in the past few years, and for the life of me don't think reality television is real, let alone reality.

Am I missing something? By not watching Real World DC I mean?

Hank Stuever: No, but do the world a favor: If you're not watching television at all, stop talking about how you don't watch television at all. Do all those better things you're doing. Talk about that.


Dallas: I think what makes the show seem so antiquated is that it hasn't been updated. The phone room concept made sense 10 years ago...it's time now to give each of them a tapped cell phone.

Hank Stuever: Another thing I was thinking about while watching (but didn't have room to bring up in my otherwise epically long review) is that we don't see these kids texting or in that constant state of distraction that is Facebook-checking, status-updating, etc., which makes me wonder if the producers forbid that behavior -- since nothing is more boring than watching another person fiddle around with their Blackberry or iPhone. But isn't that what they'd be doing all time nowadays?

Also, how easy is it to "leave behind" your world and immerse yourself in a new house, new city, and 7 new people? Do people do that anymore? Because it seems like even kids who are living overseas are in constant contact with their "old" friends and life back home, via the Facebook, etc.

The idea that they could unplug and devote themselves to this RW season fully seems ... well, more unreal.


Washington, D.C.: Money quote from your review:

"Which is not to say that the show is disastrously dull. One thing "The Real World: D.C." has going for it is a seductive nostalgia for anyone who was ever young and clueless in the capital city and lived in a group house and screwed around. "

This is exactly how I see the show. yes, the kids all have know-it-all attitudes, but so did I when I was 21. My group living arrangements all had alcohol, sex, and feeling out each other in terms of race, sexuality, religion, and politics. Heck, this formula might be closer to reality than I might be willing to admit!

But it makes me realize how much I have grown up. Makes you wonder if MTV (or a sister Viacom network) would be able to do a "Real World Reunion" reality show of a previous cast. Throw them in a house and compare/contrast who they were then with who they are now. Show us how people have grown...

Hank Stuever: Thanks.

I would watch a reunion of early casts. But I think there are a lot of people in those casts who've washed their hands of it and moved way on -- likely horrified by the fame-grubbing and mud-wrestling that their cohort have participated in.


Yonkers, N.Y.: I see they are living in Dupont Circle, but where exactly?

Who owned the house they are living in? Who was living in it?

How much was the renovation?

washingtonpost.com: Video: D.C. cast members of 'The Real World' show off their house

Hank Stuever: Here's some info


Hank Stuever: Everyone, thanks for you questions. Have a "real" good day and "real" good year! --- Hank


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