“Bad Girls Club” visits GirlBar

The “put eight strangers in a house like lab rats in a cage” formula in the American reality show genre originated with The Real World: New York in 1992 and has since directly or indirectly spawned a variety of reality shows using the same or similar formula.

As the years go by, and the shows become more numerous and varied, there seems to be a race to see which house of eight strangers can contain the most sociopathic, amoral or just plain bizarre specimens of hominids without turning off the public by crossing the line from edgy sideshow entertainment to just plain revolting (or prompting the FCC to step in and slap networks with fines resulting from wardrobe malfunctions).

As the progeny of The Real World, these shows contain the same basic genetic material, although a few of the descendants further down on the family tree may have consumed a bit of lead paint along the way. They are the distant cousins who live in a ramshackle house in the woods with a rusted 1953 Dodge propped up by cinderblocks on the front lawn. They are the relatives you say you dread seeing during family reunions, but secretly you hope that they show up, ignore all sense of decorum, and curse out the priggish aunt in front of an entire room.

In polite company, you show disdain for their existence and consider them an embarrassment, yet deep down inside, you understand that they are still family, and the kid in you is a bit jealous that they get to shun social conventions and do whatever the hell they want.

In short, we are drawn to the mutant three-eyed progeny of The Real World for the following two, somewhat conflicting, reasons: (1) We get to gawk at and feel superior to the cast members of these shows, yet (2) we are a bit envious that the cast members get to indulge in their unfettered Freudian id without having to deal with those annoying civilizing forces like the ego and the super ego. Television ratings reflect this inconvenient truth.

Eighteen years after The Real World first made its mark on television, one such descendant is Bad Girls Club on Oxygen, now in its fourth season. It is, in fact, a direct descendant of The Real World, because Bunim/Murray Productions produces both of them.