By Meredith Blake Los Angeles Times
Hey, remember when “The Real World” was an earnest show about diverse but well-meaning people from different walks of life sharing a house for a few months, a series that forced millions of teen and twentysomething viewers to think about issues of race, religion and sexuality?
Well, MTV is doing its best to make us forget all that.
For the upcoming 29th season of the long-running reality series, premiering Jan. 15, the network has cast the usual assortment of young and attractive people. But in an obvious bid to inject new life into the aging franchise and keep pace with its tawdry imitators, such as MTV’s own “Jersey Shore,” producers have added a new twist: Several weeks into the season, the single housemates will unexpectedly be joined by their exes.
According to a news release from MTV, “This new living arrangement throws a wrench in the roommates’ love lives as jealousy, scandal, fights, hookups, breakups and makeups take over the house, and everyone has to learn to live with one another.”
The cast this season includes Jay, a commitment-phobic “heartthrob” from the Bronx who boasts 60,000 Twitter followers, and Jenny, a bisexual aspiring actress from Los Angeles. So, it’s kind of educational, right?
Over the years, “Real World” producers have tinkered slightly with the show’s format. For a time, beginning with the Miami-set fifth season, each cast was given a seasonlong task or job to work on together.
The producers have also mixed up the roommate formula, casting as many as eight housemates and sometimes including people who knew each other prior to the show (beginning with David and Nathan of the Seattle season.)
But the surprise addition of exes to the cast represents the biggest shakeup so far in the 21-year history of the show.
Making the twist all the more unsavory, at least for ‘“Real World” purists, is that the upcoming season will be set in San Francisco, the city that played host to perhaps the most memorable installment of the series in 1994.
That year, the young and attractive cast included Pedro Zamora, a 22-year-old HIV-positive AIDS educator who married his boyfriend on the show and succumbed to the disease just hours after the season finale aired.
He frequently clashed with Puck, a hygienically challenged bike messenger, but formed a bond with his other roommates, including die-hard Republican Rachel and lovelorn cartoonist Judd.
His appearance on the show helped put a human face on the AIDS crisis for many Americans and is widely viewed as a critical milestone in the quest for LGBT acceptance.