Reflections on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills

I never cared for any of the other Real Housewives series—they all blended together into a salad of idle famewhores playing up their insufferability for the cameras—but the Beverly Hills edition got its hooks into me immediately. Yes, these women were idle famewhores as well, but they were also ungodly rich, and there were some compelling, not-canned dynamics playing out between them.

Kim and Kyle Richards, aka Paris Hilton’s aunts, are the Patty and Selma of the series—two constantly bickering and resentful sisters, who will nevertheless be joined at the hip until the day they die. Then there's Taylor Armstrong, an Amazonian creature from the jungles of Oklahoma. Taylor is friend to all, save Kim, with whom she shares a bond of deep, mutual hatred; she's married to Russell, a quiet villain who can barely conceal his disdain for his aging trophy bride.

There are two gals you would be friends with: Adrienne Maloof, a filthy rich, Lebanese-American businesswoman with a deliciously gaudy sense of luxury who's married to a good-natured, if nauseating, plastic surgeon. And then of course there's the mostly delightful Lisa Vanderpump, a British restaurateur-hobbiest with a wicked wit and a bleeding heart for purse-sized canines and orphaned housegays.

Last, and many would argue least, is Camille Grammer, the now ex-wife of Kelsey Grammer—who during filming was performing eight times a week in La Cage aux Folles on Broadway, and probably more than eight times a week on the stewardess with whom he was having an affair.

Those were the main players, and watching their lives tangle weekly became something of an obsession of mine. The central conflict of the season was between Kyle and Camille, and it was over a conversation that occurred off-camera. Depending on whose side you took, Kyle had either suggested that Camille, sans Kelsey, was unworthy of being followed by a camera crew; or that Camille, overly sensitive because of her dissolving marriage, had misinterpreted Kyle’s innocent questions as judgment of her diminished value as a human being. That vortex of vicious cattiness and profound insecurity managed to suck everyone in—save Adrienne, who prides herself on being the group's level-headed problem-solver.

The show quickly became a series of attempts to reconcile Kyle (whose husband is the Grammers' realtor) and Camille, all of which failed spectacularly. Most memorable was a dinner at Camille’s gargantuan Malibu estate—truly something out of a depressing fairy tale—in which her bizarre psychic friend puffed menacingly on an electronic cigarette while pledging to Kyle that she would die loveless and alone. As olive branch-trading goes, that meal was about as successful as the ‘93 Palestinian-Israeli Peace Accords.

The season ended, in a true jaw-dropper of an episode, at a birthday party for Taylor, where Russell delivered perhaps the saddest, coldest birthday speech of all time. Then Taylor got into it with an inebriated Kim after Lisa encouraged her to do so. Kyle jumped in, and it was Kim versus Kyle with the rest of the women waving dollar bills in the air and shouting, “Peck her eyes out! Go for the gullet!” The episode ended in the back of a stretch limo, with Kyle accusing Kim of being an ungrateful drunk before lunging at her throat.

Last night was the reunion show. Whoo-boy. You could inject the tension in that room with a syringe-ful of Restalyn. The five women gathered in the opulent lobby of a historic hotel in L.A. to answer viewer questions, as read off cue cards by Bravo’s exec-turned-on-air-talent Andy Cohen. How Cohen has not yet been the recipient of a Louis Vuitton screwdriver to the eye is beyond me, but I have to hand it to the guy—he’s got balls. He opened with a question about their plastic surgery, and not a particularly kind one. Did you know you could get lip implants? I guess I’m naive. I thought you just injected stuff in there. But no, apparently you can get full-on implants, and Taylor has them, and she refuses to submit to more surgery to take them out, even though people tell her all the time how freakishly inflated her lips look.

Then Cohen moved on to Camille, perhaps laying it on a bit thick when he read all the horrible things that have been said about her in print. “You’re awful. You’re terrible. You’re evil. You’re hateful. You’re Hitler in a wig.” Okay, Cohen. Back off. You aren’t exactly Gandhi, yourself. And the camera just trained on her while she watched a montage of her marriage crumbling steadily, a string of increasingly humiliating incidents leading up to the final dissolution. I don’t care how much of a pampered brat she is—that sh*t is sad, and watching her having to relive it was rough. Even Adrienne was reduced to tears. The mood lightened with prying questions about Camille's settlement; I think we can safely say it's somewhere in the $40-$50 million vicinity.

There were two heavyweight bouts—Kim vs. Taylor, and Camille vs. Kyle. Both were good, clean fights that went several rounds. Kim won in a TKO over Taylor’s threat to take her “in the alley and go all Oklahoma on her ass,” or something to that effect, which kind of undermined her work for a battered women’s charity. Kyle, meanwhile, reduced Camille to a fine pulp—though it was Cohen who finished her off by noting something along the lines of, “They say insecure people are always the ones who get most upset by the word ‘insecure.’” I’m pretty sure no one has ever said that in the history of mankind, but poor Camille seemed to accept it as fact.

In the second part, which airs next week, we get Lisa and her husband’s enraged tirade against Cedric, their sleezy French houseguest of a SOLID YEAR. Should be good.

Comments (1)
Jan 29, 2011
Wow, your summation is brief and brilliant. I was sucked in as well, though I've never been drawn to shows before about the wealthy who achieve fame for no other reason. The other shows bore me to death, and the raunchy behavior of RHWONJ was a total turn off (I made it about halfway through one episode).
This show does, however, focus on one segment of the wealthier set that says something less than flattering about them. Mind you, not all people with money want anything more than to enjoy the bounty. Most of them, as far as I've seen, are content with just that, and why wouldn't they be? The women on this show, with the exception, I think, of Adrienne, look to be working under the mantra of "What's the point of being rich if you can't rub people's faces in it?"
I'm certain they are far more extravagant in front of the cameras, and that is for our benefit. The $60,000 birthday party for Taylor's four year old daughter? Well, how else was she going to get most of an episode focused on her? She's not a nice person, and comes across as whiny, boring and, yes, a little facially deformed. Camille Grammar was the girl to hate going in, but my money's now on Taylor who has managed to turn herself into the show's new villain, stealing Camille's thunder. More fights, more angered viewers...more camera time. And the sisters? Oh, com' on. Obviously there have been issues between these two for years. Apparently it was Kyle, who was involved in casting the show, who thought it would be a good idea to try and work out years of sibling psychotics on national tv. The perfect venue for outing your sister about her drinking and through in a little limo smackdown to boot. Love the article, and the writing. I'll look you up after part two.

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