Picks and Pans Main: Tube

updated 02/12/1996 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/12/1996 01:00AM

PEOPLE REALLY STOP BEING POLITE AT the reunion of MTV's video-vérité The Real World (Sat., Feb. 17, 1 p.m. ET). Obnoxious Puck Rainey is still ranting at the roommates who showed him the door. Multicultural cast members, who were thrown together in awesomely decorated houses in New York City (1992), Los Angeles ('93), San Francisco ('94) and London ('95), revive old hostilities and talk frankly about how it feels to have their lives filmed for TV The 90-minute show is tense, exciting and raw.

What makes The Real World, which will air its fifth season in June, so riveting? As the roommates argue, bond and change, you too become part of the household, taking sides in every conflict, with all the intimacy and none of the risk. The program attracts more than 40,000 applications per year; it's easier to get into Yale. Imitations range from the Disney Channel's starry-eyed documentary Hollywood Lives to NBC's Friends. Although the MTV show is broadcast in 34 countries, there are also local versions in Germany, Italy and Sweden. "People respond to the stories," says Judd Winick '94, now a professional cartoonist. "It could work on the moon."

The San Francisco series broke new ground in confronting terminal illness with HIV-positive housemate Pedro Zamora, who died of AIDS in November 1994 at the age of 22. Greeting his friends with a breezy, Cuban-accented "Lucy, I'm home!" Pedro became, as President Clinton said at a memorial, "a member of all our families" and inspired audiences worldwide with his bravery and charm. Puck, his outrageous nemesis, appalled and fascinated viewers with crude tirades, scabs and snot-rockets and staged an epic showdown with Pedro's values. Combining the subtlety of Beavis and the talent of Butt-head, Puck never doubted his own hype. "I'm in the inner circle," he brags at the reunion. As if.

For the upcoming season in Miami ("great for bikinis," snaps medical student Pam Ling '94), The Real World will give cast members cash to start a business. I hope it won't be a coffee bar. Meanwhile the show's producers Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jon Murray are working on a two-hour NBC special about a real high school reunion of friends who shared a traumatic experience. I skip my own class reunions, but this one should be a lot more interesting. I plan to be watching.

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