The 1990s are a fun decade to be nostalgic about because it was such a unique time. People wore combat boots and flannel, 90210 was just getting started, and Sir-Mix-a-Lot, Billy Ray Cyrus, and grunge were all on the radio. Additionally, in 1992, MTV aired the first season of a show called The Real World that, now famously, told “the true story…of seven strangers…picked to live in a house…work together…and have their lives taped…to find out what happens…when people stop being polite…and start getting real.” Those seven strangers had no idea what they were getting into and viewers didn’t know what to make of them.
The Real World ran on MTV from 1992 to 2017 (that’s a quarter of a century which is insane!) because people liked watching the social experiment unfold each week. Viewers also enjoyed watching new sets of roommates coexist in cities across the globe. Of course, over the years, the premise (and the people) evolved with technology, fame, and social media. For example in 1992 cell phones, iPads, and social media didn’t exist yet. But with the arrival of Facebook in 2004, pop culture shifted and The Real World became more and more outrageous as people started using the show as a platform to elevate their brand or become famous for being famous.
But in 1992 everything was new, no one had an agenda, and everyone was a winging it. Since the people in that first cast were the trailblazers – and are credited for launching the reality television genre – there was no blueprint. They were told that they were going to live in a SoHo loft for three months and that a camera crew would film them. The show was described as a documentary/90210-type show which is interesting because that description ended up being pretty accurate. That first season was a documentary in the sense that it was about real people talking about real things and it was also similar to 90210 in the sense that hot button topics like race were consistently discussed.
Fast forward to 2021: Six days, 30 years later, same people, same loft. Real World Homecoming: New York brings back the original cast – Norman, Julie, Becky, Kevin, Andre, Heather, and Eric – for a week of nostalgia. I won’t ruin anything (unless you want to read the spoiler section below) but I will say that all seven don’t end up in the loft together.
Here are my notes from the six Homecoming episodes:
- I totally forgot that most of the people on the first season were either aspiring/struggling artists, in the music industry, or trying to be in the music industry.
- Two of them still write and play guitar (Becky and Andre), one now has several radio shows (Heather), one has written multiple books and is a speaker/activist (Kevin) and the other was a longtime television personality (Eric).
- As Heather says, in the 90s everyone was looking for a record deal on a big label and she already had that which set her apart from the rest of the cast.
- Reality television didn’t exist back then and now it seems like that’s all that’s on television.
- For me the flashback footage next to the current footage is essential to Homecoming’s success. The producers do an excellent job showing parallels and pairing scenes that juxtapose 1992 and 2021.
- Unfortunately/interestingly, the similar race issues that took place in 1992 (Rodney King) are happening today (Black Lives Matter).
- Heather and Eric are the most interesting to me – they are fun but have also grown up.
- During season one, the cast was between 19 and 26 years old. Now they are in their 40s and 50s and some have families.
- In 1992 they went more places and did more things, but in the Homecoming episodes they spend more time at the loft. Is that because of the shorter timeframe or Covid? If that was the case why not wait until after Covid? Also, since 2022 is technically the 30-year anniversary, why didn’t the producers wait until next year?
- Watching footage of themselves in the same place three decades earlier is understandbly mind-blowing for them. In fact, they compare it to being in a time machine. I can’t even imagine.
- Arguments come up – most of which Heather and Andre stay out of – but the cast is older and wiser and clearly care very much about one another.
- Andre constantly has a guitar strapped to him. Is it a security blanket? He definitely speaks the least out of everyone in the cast.
- Unlike 30 years ago, these people knew what they were getting into this time around.
While it’s interesting to see what’s changed (former party boy and The Grind host Eric is many years sober and has found his spiritual side) and what hasn’t (Heather is still in the entertainment business), I feel like Homecoming was filmed more for the cast than the audience. As mentioned several times throughout the six episodes, that group of people probably never thought they would be in the same house again (nevermind 30 years later) and probably will never be again. Norm describes the experience as giving him both closure and inspiration which makes sense for them. As a viewer, my favorite parts were the side-by-side footage of 1992 and 2021 and watching them then and now. I also liked Heather’s daily list of “what I know” and “what I learned.”
So are the six episodes worth watching? Yes and no. There are many fun moments that remind the audience how the more things change the more they stay the same. But there are also scenes and conversations that go on and on and seem more contrived. As stated earlier, it feels like this was filmed more for the cast than the audience and maybe that’s ok. Reunions are designed for nostalgia and maybe moving forward as well.
- Eric tests positive for Covid and has to sequester himself in a hotel room a few blocks away from the loft – a huge missed opportunity for the show.
- The looks of devastation on the faces of the other cast members when he appears on a screen rather than walking through the door is real.
- Following a heated discussion about race, Becky packs her bags and walks out. Next thing the viewers know, the group is down to five.
- While discussions about race are clearly important, necessary, and relevant, Kevin seems to go out of his way to start conversations about race to repeatedly remind people that he is an activist. He also uses the show to let people know about his recently published book which is annoying – there are other ways to do that.