Neil, 24, is one of the seven new cast members/roomates who plant themselves into the fashionable, faux-Medieval digs in London's Notting Hill district. Along with studying at Oxford, Neil is the spiky-locked vocalist who fronts a rock band.
At one of the group's performances, the Englishman decides to one up an obnoxious fan in the audience by planting a wet one on the rowdy's lips. Just as Neil tries to kiss the guy, his tongue is nearly bitten off by the man.
That bloody trauma, which required 15 stitches, is one of the more dramatic moments in a season rife with the potential for culture clash. A trio of Americans (Kat, Mike and Jay), an Australian (Jacinda), a German (Lars) and two Brits (Neil, Sharon) make up perhaps the most likeable, telegenic bunch to have appeared on the show.
The basic concept of the program of tossing a group of young people into a single apartment met with huge success last season when scab-covered bicycle messenger Puck became a break-out star before his coarse ways peeved everyone in the household. Once he was booted from the show, the health of Pedro Zamora, who died in November 1994, became the program's focal point.
"The Real World" sports a veneer of reality, but critics of the show have called into question how such a sharp-looking cast whose every move is filmed could ever be considered "real." When was the last time a roommate had even a zit?
"Actually, Rachel last season had a real struggle with acne," said Bunim, a former "As the World Turns" producer. "Look, this is television, and they have to be appealing looking, but we're not looking for seven models or people who are ready for the cover of Details or YM. Yes, Jacinda is a cover girl and the others are just nice-looking people. They do have to be shot from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to bed."
In the opening, hour-long episode, we learn that the threat of cultures butting heads will top the list of potential conflicts in the 22-show season - even though the American Kat and British Neil appear headed for a romance. For starters, Mike, a 21-year-old race car driver from St. Louis, displays his Midwestern brand of wide-eyed befuddlement upon learning there is no ranch dressing or any of his favorite breakfast cereals in Britain.
"We're happy to say that this cast tolerated each other pretty well," Bunim said. "There was a lot of growth in the group. Neil started out with a lot of cynicism about Americans. And I think he disliked Mike in the beginning, but they really got to like one another in the end."
While the cast had adventures - such as a safari to Kenya - the emphasis this season was on little developments rather than the big, issues-related conflicts, Bunim said.
"They're smaller stories of people trying to define who they are and what their goals are," she said. "They're realizing their dreams and that there are impediments, and a lot of stories come out of that."
THE REAL WORLD. MTV, 10 tonight.