Ah to be young, cute and stupid, and to have too much free time. Such is the lot facing the wayward wastrels of "The Real World," something new in excruciating torture from the busy minds at MTV.

An attempt to do an unscripted soap opera with real kids playing themselves, the weekly half-hour is at least intriguing in concept: Seven young people, 19 to 25, were recruited to live together for three months in a SoHo loft with cameras and microphones recording what they did and said.

This was edited down to 13 helter-skelter installments, the third of which airs on MTV tonight at 10.

Unfortunately, much of what these kids did and said turned out to be neither worth recording nor worth watching. Worse are the signals the series sends to MTV's young viewers, who get enough bum juju from the cable network as it is. The seven kids are implicitly being held up as role models, and what they encourage viewers to do is think mostly if not exclusively of themselves.

That's what they talk, care, whine and wonder about. Their involvement with the real real world appears limited to politically correct bumper-sticker slogans; they're against racism, for the environment. Beyond that they can't see much further than the ends of their own egos.

Kevin, 25, wants to be a poet. Heather, 21, is a rap artist. Norman, 24, paints. Becky, 24, sings and writes songs. Andre, 21, has a band. Eric, 20, is a model, and Julie, 19, studies dance.

What someone should say to impressionable kids who will watch this is that we have enough poets, rappers, painters, singers, bands, models and dancers. More than enough, in fact. You might want to think about getting a real job. You might want to think about getting a real life. You might want to stop watching head-emptying drivel like "The Real World."

The program dutifully reflects the MTV gospel, which says that above all else one should express oneself, even if there's nothing much to express or the ability to express it. Never mind neighborhood or community or society. Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what your country can do for you.

"I don't like being sick," sulks Andre. "I would rather be dead than be sick, because at least dead, I could sleep."

"I'm a Pisces," says Norman. "I'm always out there lookin' for another fish kind of thing."

"And remember, positive attitude. Feel good about yourself," says a dance instructor. Talk about coals to Newcastle!

"Well, I hated school," says Heather, and you aren't surprised. In a recording studio, she rehearses her latest rap ditty, a commentary on date rape poetically titled "The System Sucks."

Wisely, or just because it's the obvious commercial thing to do, the producers gravitate to the two arguably most attractive loft-dwellers: Eric the model, who loves the camera to pieces; and Julie the dancer, who has come all the way to New York from Birmingham, Ala., to find new experiences. She and Eric get a thing going.

"I think she's really, really cool," says Eric.

The young man's boundless delight in his own body seems forgivably youthful, and Julie's self-consciousness comes across as sweetly, affectingly sexy. But when they start to jabber, head for the hills.

"The first part of it was us, like, ripping each other's clothes off," says Eric, recalling the day he filmed a perfume commercial with a female model. "So it was, like, the music goes and I'm like rippin' off all her clothes."

Julie asks if the two models were laughing.

"It was like we were, you know, goin', yeah, that's what it was supposed to be like," says Eric. "So it was really cool."

Unfortunately for Julie, or maybe not, Eric meets another pretty model in tonight's installment and frolics through a photo session with her, both of them topless. "She's great," he says afterward. "She's the coolest chick. She's just really cool."

Oh stuff a sock in it.

Here we have seven young people in desperate need of gainful employment. They spend their time singing and rapping and hip-hopping, they have a squirt gun fight at a department store, they play Scrabble, they go to an art opening, they listen to Andre's band, they have a dinner party, they go roller-skating, and they sit around asking one another, "If we were on 'Gilligan's Island,' who would you want to be?"this group represent a generation?

If so, hellllllllpppp!

Publicity tells us the program has been produced (by Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jon Murray) according to "the unmistakable style of MTV -- fast pace, quick cuts, rock-and-roll score and a contemporary attitude." They should have added: meaningless zooms and screwy camera angles, jangled editing and a general air of smug, pseudo-chic arrogance.

And to think Dan Quayle is worried about the values endorsed by "Murphy Brown."

'Nightline' on the Riots The opportunity to relive the Los Angeles riots is not particularly inviting. But Ted Koppel and company do a fairly good job of reassessing the tragedy in a special prime-time "Nightline" tonight called "Moment of Crisis: Anatomy of a Riot," at 10 on Channel 7.

TV news gets some of the blame in Koppel's report, though not much. Live TV pictures aired by local stations became "the carrier of a virus," Koppel says, spreading the word that the L.A. Police Department seemed "impotent" in the face of even the initial, limited violence that broke out after a mostly white jury returned not-guilty verdicts against four white cops charged in the brutal beating of black motorist Rodney King.

Koppel interviews Mayor Tom Bradley and outgoing (though very slowly) Police Chief Daryl Gates. Eight hours into the rioting, Koppel says, the two political foes had still not spoken directly to each other. Obviously, though, if Gates had left office by this time instead of clinging to his position for months, things might have been different.

Gates comes close to conceding that he in particular did a terrible job. Asked by Koppel why he rushed off to a political fund-raiser two hours after the verdict was delivered and the violence began, Gates admits, "There is no good reason for my attending that group."

Gates will be interviewed further on the regular "Nightline" at 11:30. He has, after all, a book to plug.

Some of the home video seen tonight in prime time seems new and unfamiliar. A mob is always frightening, no matter what the context, and while it is naturally harrowing to see again the mauling of bystanders caught up in the frenzy, even less dramatic shots carry the grim specter of anarchy.

Scenes of a crowd, racially mixed, laying angry siege to police headquarters are reminiscent of the political thriller "Z" by Costa-Gavras, but this is closer to home than Greece, and it's the real thing.

Executive Producer Tom Bettag does find time, if only a tiny bit of it, for the gratifying good Samaritan stories that emerged. A Hispanic man clings to the black man who pulled him from the mob and saved his life, and tears come to his eyes. "I love him," he says.

But the program cuts away quickly to more shots of carnage and terror.