I think the problem with this season is how the cast is poorly striking a balance between being normal and being abnormal. Having a threesome with your new roommates on the night you move in is abnormal. Being torn between the opportunity of new love and the stability of a current relationship is normal. Losing a girl to your buddy is normal. Having that girl and your buddy make out on your lap is abnormal. Normal behavior rarely translates to good TV. The Osbournes are not normal. Nor were the Brady Bunch or any other legitimate sitcom cast. These are mostly abnormal people in an abnormal environment dealing with very normal predicaments. Most specifically, the very normal predicament of the "will-they-won't-they" theme. Throughout the last two seasons, in both BTNY and Chicago, we were inundated with this theme: will Kevin succumb to Lori's feminine wiles? Will Lori get over it? Is Kyle just using Keri for her body? Will Keri realize that she shouldn't be barking up a taken man's tree?
Bo-ring. This season, sadly, we have to endure two budding relationships at once. After Trishelle dropped the refreshingly normal Frank like a pack of hot birth control pills, she clung steadily to Steven's jock until he drunkenly confessed his love for her, at which time he had to backpedal out of it by explaining he meant he loved her like he loves the sky and shit like that. Meanwhile, Irulan, the whiny "tough chick" whose open relationship with her home boyfriend allows her certain sexual freedoms so long as they are unspoken; and Alton, the whiny "tough guy" whose realization that his love for a girl who is already in a relationship leaves him no choice to park his cock in the ass of anyone who walks by him (TM Puck). This, of course, upsets Irulan, who finds it tremendously hypocritical for someone to say they love someone and then crawl into bed with someone else. The two have a talk, solve everything, snuggle in bed all night, and then are awoken by a phone call from Irulan's boyfriend for whom she springs out of Alton's bed to babytalk her love to. Clever. And yet, shockingly normal.
This type of crap is not the type of crap we are looking for from the Real World. I don't really care to see the type of nudity that Brynn brings us in her neverending attempt to validate her own good looks. I want to see the type of nudity that Aneesa brought to us last season in her neverending attempt to prove to the world that naked is beautiful, even when you are wiping your own butt. We want less vapid and questionably gay Steven; and more vapid and questionably gay Stephen.
Thank the gods of Reality Television that we have Arissa. She embraces and packages everything we hate about Real Worlders and presents it in such a way that makes us cringe on our couches. She does not suffer from the "I'm Arissa just being Arissa and if you're not down with Arissa, Arissa isn't down" syndrome but she has enough of the others to more than make up for it. I was feeling the Arissa hate for the first ten or so episodes until I realized she is the only one left who makes this show watchable (apart from Frank if only his raging normalcy didn't keep him offscreen 95% of the time). I should have known how good she was going to be when in the first episode, she realized that she and Irulan, who she had met earlier in the day were soulmates and meant to be friends and would be friends forever.
Every week, Arissa confronts some sort of social situation that the majority of us have been prepared for since we were freshmen in high school, yet claims she is unfamiliar with how to deal with it because "she wasn't raised to be". Like when 7 people live in the same space, someone is bound to have sex in that space. Arissa wasn't raised to have people getting it on in a shared space. Arissa consequently makes a fool out of herself busily accusing everyone of contaminating their suite, cries, confesses her deep and undying love for her roommates, and then decides it's time for her to reevaluate her life choices and change. Or when they went on a teambuilding seminar, Arissa burst into tears when asked to do the "stand on stepstool and fall back into the arms of your coworkers" event because she wasn't raised to trust people (forget that it was only three steps and she weighs about 57lbs.). The teambuilding seminar becomes the pivotal moment of her life during which she learned more about herself than any other, cries, confesses her deep and undying love for her roommates, and then decides it's time for her to reevaluate her life choices and change. Even last night, when the crew was sent to Australia, she held a bird and realized that no matter what she does, the world will keep on truckin' and probably come out okay. She then cries, confesses her deep and undying love for her roommates, and then decides it's time for her to reevaluate her life choices and change.
Arissa has an unshakable devotion to stirring up shit. She is fast to jump to any conclusion, even if it means accusing Frank and the girl he met that evening who were merely sitting in a room chatting and maybe making out that they were having sex and contaminating the room. She takes it upon herself to scream "if anyone is having sex in there show some respect for your roommates and get out" (added points for overuse of "respect"), and open the door only to have it slammed closed in her face, knocking her on the forehead in the process. Once the situation was rationally explained to her, she demurred, cried, and realized it was time to change and stop trying to cause problems. She's quick to dole out advice to a heartbroken roommate, be it Irulan or Trishelle, or at least, remind said roommate of how terrible their situation is and how they should take an aggressive stance to fix it. She enjoys keeping harmless tidbits secret from the parties involved, making a huge deal out of keeping the secret, and then revealing the tidbit with flourish.
Unlike many of the other recent cast members, Arissa seems to have no knowledge or prior exposure to the show that she has volunteered to participate in for six months. Many cast members compare themselves to past members, explaining how they will fulfil the role put forth by the former cast member: "I'm like Rachel mixed with Genesis with a touch of Melissa, because I'm a catholic republican lesbian who comes from a mixed family". Arissa either has no idea or choses to ignore the fact that each and every cast member is a walking stereotype: one of say a dozen types of people that when put in combination with one another will make for good TV. In one of the first episodes, Frank breaks down the fourth wall by calling her "the bitchy black chick in the house". Arissa explodes with the necessary fury at the mention of the word "bitch" that we have come to expect from the bitchy black chicks in shows past, accuses Frank of being a racist and judging her without knowing enough about her. I hate to break it to you Arissa, but you *are* the bitchy black chick, Personality #4, placed in the house to kirk out at anyone who says "bitch" or "black". Frank, on the other hand, is the naive honky guy, Personality #8, placed in the house to get his foot shoved in his mouth by Personality #4 whenever he casually uses the words "bitch" or "black". If you think otherwise, you are on the wrong show, honey. Frank didn't call her "a black bitch". He pointed out which stereotype she is there to represent, assuming some sort of shared knowledge about the situation at hand. She either believes or wants to believe that MTV chose her to be on the show because of her unique personality and new approach to things or because she's a good person. While this blissful oblivion may make for a few uncomfortable scenes, her unwillingness to accept that there is very little that is "real" about the Real World, no matter how much anyone may want to "keep it real" is reminiscent of the glory days.
I have heard mixed messages about the fate of this season. Some sources say that Bunim-Murray Productions believe this is the best and most interesting cast they have had in ten years. Other sources say that the originally slated 33 episodes have been trimmed down to about 25. What I think now the problem is, is that there is a little bit of Arissa in all of the cast members, but the producers have not allowed them to blossom in the way Arissa has. Maybe she made it just too hard to edit out.