Happy 20th Anniversary, Puck's Eviction Arc on 'The Real World'
Never before, and likely never since, has the disintegration of a 25-year-old's living situation been such landmark entertainment.
It's TV Anniversary Week at The Wire, and we're taking a special look at the inordinately prestigious crop of shows celebrating milestone anniversaries this fall. Today, we're looking at The Real World's San Francisco season, which dispatched with unruly housemate Puck in episodes airing in September 1994.
The Real World: San Francisco is still the greatest and most culturally relevant season of TV that venerable series has ever produced. (Honestly. Some smart, possibly obsessive person on the internet said so.) That season featured several arcs that will trigger your memories of the show – activist Republican Rachel and the push-pull between her Catholic upbringing and her pronounced "wild" streak; Judd and Pam's doofy non-courtship; that time Cory asked Mohammed's girlfriend if she was part-white — but the two most pronounced arcs were Pedro Zamora's life-and-death struggles with AIDS and roommate-from-hell Puck Rainey.
After ten episodes of fingering the peanut butter and fighting with Rachel and telling the AIDS-afflicted 22-year-old to quit playing the victim, the other six roommates pulled together long enough to decide that they didn't want to put up with it anymore, and (after an evening's worth of hand-wringing and debates over cohabitational due process) they asked him to leave.
A few fascinating/notable/funny things about this scene:
- Rachel's choker.
- Cory's oversized vest ... thing.
- Cory's sadness in general.
- Judd being 24 years old. When I watched this season live, I was 14 years old, and everybody felt like a total adult. I've become used to the concept of re-visiting TV from my youth and marveling at how much younger everyone seems now. But not Judd. Judd seemed like he was 42 back then, and he seems like he's 42 today. He was the sage of that group! The fuddy-duddy. HE'S TWENTY FOUR IN THIS CLIP. Think about your life right now. Think about your life at age 24. What did you know? What does any 24-year-old know? Precisely nothing!
- The requisite pool table / fish tank / Japanese doors aesthetic of the old-school Real World houses.
- The telephone from when you interned in the accounts-receivable department of the company your dad worked at that one summer. The one with the little post-it reminding your dumb 20-year-old ass (Cory's age in this clip!) to dial 9 to reach an outside line.
- The fact that something like this would NEVER happen on reality television today.
On that last point: Not only would the cast members have zero power to dictate their own living situation, much less perform an action that amounts to firing a fellow cast member from his own TV program, but there's no way Puck would even be allowed to leave the house during the meeting. If this happens today, the confrontation happens in the house, on camera, and ultimately the roommates would be powerless to evict anyone. There would be zero chance the producers would willingly allow a made-for-TV personality like Puck to just leave the show mid-season simply because the other indentured housemates said they didn't like living with him.
Ironically, the fact that Judd and company took advantage of Bunim-Murray's slow learning curve on this topic led to what is now considered one of the top two/three most memorable moments in the show's history.