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'Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' recap: 'Friends don't sue friends'

December 20, 2011 | 10:17 am

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There’s a point in every episode of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” where I find myself wondering, “Is it all worth it?” This week, as Kyle Richards swanned about, crying glamorously over the various feuds erupting at her annual White Party, I had to wonder why any sane, already wealthy person would subject themselves to the exquisite torture of starring in a reality TV series. The emotions may be real, but the scenarios are, more often than not, highly orchestrated and entirely voluntarily. So why do it?

I suppose that’s a little like asking the sun not to shine, isn’t it? The thing that I find perplexing -- and extremely fascinating -- about several of the ladies of Beverly Hills is how they can, at times, seem eminently rational despite the fact that they’re doing one of the least sensible things a person can do.

Take Adrienne, for instance. This season she’s emerged as the linchpin of the series, the sage housewife forever trying to broker peace between her more hot-headed friends. As the episode begins she sits down with Paul to discuss the litigious email Russell sent to Camille. “Friends don’t sue friends,” she says, shaking her head in dismay. At this point you might find yourself saying, “No duh,” but this, dear reader, is what qualifies as emotional intelligence in the world of the Real Housewives.

Meanwhile Kyle is in last-minute party-planning frenzy, running around looking studiously disheveled in a banana clip and a “NOH8” T-shirt (that Kyle: never afraid to take a stance). On top of the usual hostess anxieties, Kyle’s nervous about Kim bringing her mystery boyfriend, Ken, and the ongoing tension with Brandi. “What am I supposed to do, have 10 different white parties?” she asks, pretending like she thinks that’s an absurd idea.   

Little does she know that a much larger brouhaha is looming. While her hair is setting, Kyle gets a call from Adrienne, who briefs her on Russell’s Email of Doom. She and Paul are still coming to the party, but they may have to extricate themselves if things get too crazy. Now here’s one of those classic, “Real Housewives” moments of cognitive dissonance. It’s mature, in a way, for Adrienne to call Kyle and be upfront about her trepidation. But then I remember the only reason the White Party — or any of the other highly staged events that have taken place over the course of the season — exists is to be a forum for drama.

And, oh, the drama that unfolded!

Surely, it’s no coincidence that Taylor is the very last to arrive at the party. Wearing a frilly white dress and several thousand peacock feathers dangling from her ears, Taylor hops into the back of a waiting limo with Russell. (He’s coordinated perfectly with his bride, in a white shirt with peacock lining, a detail that I find weirdly tragic.) They’re both in an unusually cheerful mood, cooing over each other and pledging to dance the night away, and their optimism only heightens the impending embarrassment.

While the Armstrongs are taking what seems to be the world’s longest limo drive, Lisa, Adrienne and Kyle frantically discuss how to handle the situation. Each claims to have tried to contact Taylor to warn her about the situation, to no avail — a detail that, to me, suggests some kind of producer interception. The only choice, they decide, is to turn the Armstrongs away at the door. Now, having never thrown a party for 300 people, nor had a friend’s husband threaten to sue another friend for repeating his own wife’s allegations of domestic abuse, I am not the person to dole out advice in this particular situation. But it does strike me that Kyle and company could have just, you know, ignored Russell. 

But then we wouldn’t have been treated to the spectacle of the lead Housewives, floating across Kyle’s front lawn in their diaphanous white gowns, like the members of some glittery cult, to issue their “uninvation” to the Armstrongs. Taylor claims she never read Russell’s email, but she vents her anger at Kyle and Co., not at her husband. “We’ll just go fly back to Vegas,” she says bitterly.

Kyle, not quite able to let it go, climbs into the limo as Adrienne, Lisa and the hubbies gather ‘round the car door. Kyle says that Camille merely repeated what Taylor had told her, but Russell insists that Camille’s version of the incident was “exaggerated.” ( Did he just bruise her jaw, then?) No one, of course, will actually reiterate what it is that Russell is accused of doing, which makes the confrontation seem almost absurdly oblique. Paul is the most direct. “I believe Camille on this one,” he says. We may never know how much “The Real Housewives” contributed to Russell’s suicide, but what’s clear is that the producers aren’t posthumously glossing over his legacy.  

Kim’s frenetic finger-wagging is relegated to B-plot status this week, but her increasingly manic behavior is, if anything, only more uncomfortable to watch, knowing what we do about Russell’s fate. Kim’s been lying low most of the season, popping up occasionally for the odd, semi-public meltdown, only to go back into hiding. This week, she arrives at the White Party, addled as usual (dressed in a white pantsuit and draped with gold chains, she asks, inexplicably, if she looks like “a hippie”). She’s there for two reasons: to send a message to Kyle that she can date whomever she wants, and to pick a fight with Brandi. 

To her credit, Brandi mostly chooses to turn the other (taut, tanned) cheek. The optics of the showdown are striking: Tiny Kim whips her ponytail about furiously while Brandi stands there, literally and figuratively looking like the bigger person. (Seriously, is she 9 feet tall?) Now, here’s where I need to confess something: I sort of like Brandi. Yes, she’s a vain exhibitionist, but among “The Real Housewives," there are far worse sins. I admire her willingness to set aside all the euphemistic talk and speak openly about the possible origins of Kim’s erratic behavior. “I suspect that there’s some sort of substance abuse going on,” she says. A moment of clarity, courtesy of a woman who thinks Winston Churchill was an NBA player: Therein lies the curious appeal of “The Real Housewives.” 

Other thoughts:

--Not a good sign: Kim barely bats an eyelash after her daughter tells a “funny” story about how she fell asleep in the shower after taking too much NyQuil. 

--This week in celebrity doppelgangers: Kyle is obviously Crystal Gayle, while Kim’s daughter Whitney looks exactly like Mamie Gummer.

--Poor Dana. If she thinks groping Kim and taking “zany” pictures with Brandi is going to get her a permanent slot on this show, she’s really out of her depth.

--I’ll be stepping in to cover “Real Housewives” the next few weeks, while Lizzie is traveling. I’ll do my best to fill her (glittery, stiletto) shoes, but it’s a tall order.

--So far this season, I’ve found the subplot involving Lisa's wedding planner Kevin to be annoyingly contrived. (Bravo just loves casting fey ethnic types in supporting roles!) But this week I did get a kick out of the scene in which Lisa and Pandora tried out a potential wedding band. Lisa, who “loves Latino music,” breaks into tears and wipes her eyes on her daughter’s cardigan. Classic

RELATED:  

Taylor Armstrong talks to Andy Cohen about abuse, suicide

"The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" recap: Do the shuffle

Complete Show Tracker coverage of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills"

-- Meredith Blake 
Twitter.com/MeredithBlake

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