THE BLOG
07/04/2010 04:05 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Does Post-Katrina New Orleans Fit the TV Screen?

Real World producer Jonathan Murray spoke to Salon last week about the new season of the MTV show's cast living in New Orleans. The choice of city has grabbed some attention. Murray said that while they wanted to return to New Orleans sooner after Katrina, they "didn't want to be a burden to the city. We waited until we felt that the city was back together enough that we wouldn't be a problem; we would be an asset."

But some critics aren't buying it. Murray's argument that the show is providing both relief and excitement for the recovering city - the cast will work with social groups to help get the city rebuild. Some, like the Boston Herald's Mark A. Perigard, believe this project is actually exploitative. After last season's Real World failures to revitalize the show around the Washington, D.C. setting, the show opted for the opposite and reliable approach, Perigard says. If you want an accurate portrayal of New Orleans' struggles and progress, "viewers just might as well watch reruns of HBO's Treme." Perigard believes that this formula won't pay off for the network, and that "like a lot of 20-somethings, Real World could use a break, maybe a gap year to go find itself."

While Treme was a hit among critics, it failed to impress and energize fans. Joshua Alston says at Newsweek:

I've joked with friends who ask me what I think of the show that it's the cable-drama version of being chided for not having donated to the Red Cross after Katrina. In Treme, characters will say, explicitly, that NEW ORLEANS MATTERS--in a way that may not break the fourth wall, but certainly chips away at it.

If Treme outwardly sent a strong message about New Orleans after Katrina, The Real World tries more implicitly to convey the "wet blanket over the Mardi Gras frivolity that once characterized it." In most seasons, the setting for the show makes nary a difference; the drama comes from inside the house, not what's outside the doors. "But when the chosen city is New Orleans," says Alston, "the city's recovery should play some part in it. But, based on the premiere episode, the show comes up short." Alston concludes that the best depictions of the post-Katrina city have been, to this point, in the form of documentaries, not television programs.

The New Orleanses that Treme and The Real World illustrate are metaphorically miles apart from one another. Yet both have thus far failed to serve their missions to highlight the city in a legitimate and provocative way. Yet, perhaps the issue here is not in the production choices at all, but in the mission itself. After Katrina hit in 2005, national attention landed on the devastation. Over the past five years, the city has not left the country's consciousness. When the Saints won the Super Bowl in February, it was largely perceived as a symbol of vindication; it was welcomed and celebrated by an entire nation, even non-football fans. We'd seen New Orleans get back to the top.

Yet, it seems now, after that major win, a malady may have followed: New Orleans fatigue.