'Real World: Portland' Premiere Channels Taylor Swift's '22'

For most of us, being a 20-something is anything but glamorous. Taylor Swift is not penning upbeat pop songs about being 28. But MTV’s The Real World manages to avoid the cynicism, self-pity, or bitterness that could come with its age by putting together a new cast of young 20-somethings, each bright and eager to play along with the show. From Jessica, the small town girl looking to “figure out who Jessica is,” to Johnny, who introduces himself with a self-conscious line of questioning (“Is she cute? Is she gonna like me? Is she gonna talk a lot? What is she thinking about me?”), the roommates of The Real World: Portland are poised to show all of us what it feels like to be “happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time.”

This note of sincerity in everything is maybe the only worthwhile bit of last night’s premiere, especially to returning fans of the show. On their first night together, the roommates hit the usual notes: they size each other up, they high-five over their shared experiences with alcoholic fathers, and they giggle over their matching underwear. But they also joke, without a hint of irony, “It’s not like I’m going to fall in love in three months.”

Jessica coos, “I didn’t expect to be so friendly with someone here!”, as she wears a thong bikini, censored with a bird decal lifted straight out of Portlandia.

There is a glimpse of what will happen when “they start getting real,” but only for a few moments. When Anastasia learns that the boys have been ranking their female roommates by the appeal of their butts, the dinner conversation suddenly swings to gender roles and objectification (“It’s the difference between the females and the males!”). There’s even an interesting complication when the other girls rush to proclaim how little they care about these rankings. Unfortunately and predictably, the show soon moves on from all of this to a standard night out and a run-of-the-mill screaming match. The roommates are left fuming over ugly girls, drunk boys, and spilled wine instead of sexism.

Overall, the premiere hints at an entertaining yet predictable season ahead. By the end of the hour, Johnny’s knack for rapid-fire questions has made a dent in Averey’s emotional walls, so another roller coaster romance is in store (“How do you know you like someone when you barely know them?”). It also looks like Portland will provide some great local color, already gifting us with a lovely scene between Jordan and a young, married, white woman as she tries to explain her open relationship outside of a burlesque bar. On top of this, MTV’s promotional materials already show that there will be a slight change in the cast of these new BFFs. Altogether, it promises to be fun “miserable and magical” season.