The Real World is a show whose formula seemed mostly unchanged, at least for the first twenty-eight seasons. There have been some shifts in the direction in the show, but the late 00’s found the show getting somewhat stale. Thanks to the super-saturation of reality TV shows across cable networks, the Real World had a hard time competing. The concept of young adults partying and fighting were a reality TV standard and most shows upped the ante when compared to The Real World.
So, what did The Real World do? It returned to its roots. In may ways, this was a success.
Like the early season of The Real World, the Brooklyn cast was a group of complicated young adults trying to find their footing in the complicated climate of 2008. On the first season of The Real World, all of the roommates (except for Julie) were young adults trying to find their niche within the arts. On The Real World Brooklyn, many of the roommates found themselves in similar situations. Devyn was an aspiring actress in the theater scene, Baya was a dancer, Sarah believed in the powers of art therapy, Scott was a model, and Chet dreamed of hosting TRL though he’d discover the cancellation of the show during filming of The Real World.
The bigger theme of the season was showcasing current events being lived through the cast mates. This season featured Katelynn Cusanelli, a transgender woman who was living on her own after surgery. Alongside her was JD, an openly gay male who endured a challenging childhood of abuse before moving out. Production deserves a round of applause for their early efforts to increase visibility to the transgender community and designing a season that focused on social issues rather than partying. The second major social issue was showcased through Ryan, who enlisted in the army and dealt with post-traumatic stress. At the end of the season, he discovers he is being recalled to duty.
Initially, the Brooklyn season was a success. The season opened with Katelynn revealing her gender identity and the cast reacting to this. For many of them, they had never interacted with another transgender person. This was an interesting and ahead of its time plot line that sparked interest. As the season progressed, Ryan’s story began to unfold and this also captured the attention of the audience. Further, Sarah’s history of abuse was a topic that surprised and saddened the house when she received an unexpected phone call from her father. All of these real-life topics were able to reconnect the with early interests of The Real World, as they were real-life issues addressed by people who truly experienced them.
The rest of the season was somewhat lackluster. Watching auditions, prank wars, and community service can only go so far. Plus, this season did not have the structure of a job to force the roommate to work together. With these mediocre episodes, the Brooklyn season started strong but slowly fizzled out.
Brooklyn was proceeded by the Cancun season, one that guaranteed more parties, hook-ups, and drunken fights. This season started off slow but picked up as the season progressed. Clearly, there was some interest remaining for the party-animal season.
Real World Brooklyn did teach us one thing. Fans connect with real-life issues. If production is able to cast people who don’t fit into traditional Reality TV stereotypes, viewers will be interested. However, they’re more likely to stick with the safe route. They want to have a show focused on drama, partying, and hook ups. If they can fuse the two, they’re going to hit a jackpot. That’s exactly what they did during the New Orleans and Las Vegas seasons in 2010 and 2011. Those seasons were heavily focused on partying, but also had a cast with complicated backgrounds. These seasons were a revival for The Real World, and the last time the show was truly successful with its original formula.