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'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' recap: Couch wars

February 7, 2012 |  1:34 pm

To lead with the glaringly obvious, “Leave them wanting more” is not part of the Real Housewives philosophy. While Bravo busies itself pumping out more shows, seasons, spinoffs and stars, the ladies themselves engage in bejeweled fights, set off on vacations or hold tea parties, spinning bespoke drama when there is none to be had.

But lack of drama was not, of course, the problem with this season. Here we were overrun with it, of a kind so serious it leaked into real-world courts, clinics and graveyards. And perhaps that’s the problem. Reunion shows, with their glitter and gossip, are basically an opportunity for fans to attend the party themselves, troublemaking through their proxy, @BravoAndy. But this party, with its issues of suicide, rehab and black-eyed wives, might be a little too much reality for even Bravo’s most dedicated celebrator.

On this leg of the three-part series, Brandi, the demi-cup-wearing demi-Housewife, was brought in for her say, and, one imagines, to lighten up the joint. Her first order of business was get a viewer-validated apology for Kyle and Kim’s “mean girl” antics when she joined the show and then to bolster Lisa, who came in for some hard hits about her supposedly sharp tongue. (This led, eventually, to Taylor’s confession that, because there are no English people in Oklahoma, it took her some time to understand Lisa’s humor. I think there's still irony in Oklahoma, but maybe I’m mistaken.)

Camille then came under fire from viewers for being, this season, way too likable, and, therefore, too boring. @BravoAndy, reminding viewers that Camille had been splashed across the cover of Life & Style magazine with a headline that called her the "Most Hated Housewife," pressed her to admit that maybe, just maybe, she’d altered her behavior in response. Camille demurred, and, because I am as vulnerable to media spin as anyone, I believed her, especially because I'd be a better person with Kelsey Grammar out of my house in exchange for a six-pack, to say nothing of $50 million.

As the show crested over the half-hour mark, Brandi went for the jugular. Suggesting it was in less than good taste for Taylor to churn out an opus on her abusive husband before his headstone was up, Brandi accused the Okie of being a bad mother and reality-show-er. This devolved into a predictable back-and-forth in which Taylor detailed her reasons for not leaving Russell, Brandi looked dubious and Kyle reminded Brandi that she'd slashed her own wayward ex’s tires. (“It was my motorcycle too,” Brandi offered, in an interesting defense.) Taylor might have trumped with her tragedy card until she took it too far, suggested that, had she not quickly published her memoir, in which she talks about domestic abuse, even more women would die — and then began listing the rates at which they might expire. With those metrics, who needs Amazon ratings?

But this, of course, brought us to the disturbing question of the entire season: Does the show reflect reality or create it? Kyle, as the conversation turned to Kim, offered the interesting news that she’d suggested her sister be on the show in order to “make her more responsible.” Taylor had previously said she joined the show because she thought it might temper Russell’s behavior. Kelsey Grammar, Camille told us, claims he urged his wife to be on the show in order to better carry on an affair with his then-mistress.

We’ve certainly witnessed the show warp marriages, strain families and put jobs in jeopardy, but no cast members had, before now, admitted to any ulterior motive for appearing other than being — in their own minds, at least — fabulous.

But now, the TiVo has turned. Apparently, we're not here to enjoy the Housewives’ antics. We, simply through the sheer power of our eyeballs, are meant to ward off alcoholism, spousal abuse and any number of domestic ills. Which is, of course, more bonkers than a million-dollar lollipop holder. But I can see Bravo executives scratching their heads at this pretty pass, in which they’re no longer using the Housewives, but the Housewives are using them — and, in turn, us.

What happens, after all, when you cut away from Camille’s new boyfriend’s pecs and the 25K glasses can't hide the glare? Maybe that’s why this reunion show is three hours long. It’s not that Bravo is reveling in all the ignominy. It's that it's making sure we, and the Housewives, know Bravo, not the ladies, is in charge.


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— Lizzie Skurnick

Photo: "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" cast members (clockwise from top left): Lisa Vanderpump, Adrienne Maloof, Taylor Armstrong, Kim Richards, Brandi Granville, Dana Wilkey, Kyle Richards and Camille Grammer. Credit: Richard McLaren / Bravo.