Category: Real Housewives of Beverly Hills

'Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' recap: Do the shuffle

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Shifting alliances, of course, are a seminal part of the "Housewives" experience. (Atlanta's Nene Leakes and Kim Zolciak's five-year feud-to-friendship has been particularly impressive.)

But though the staid Bev Hills crew generally restricts itself to friendships that morph over the course of a season, not an episode, last night's switcheroo turned Axis powers into Allies.

The war itself was, of course, over parties--what else?--this time the highly contested hen 'do for Pandora's engagement versus Adrienne's impromptu get-together, which just so happened to be across the street, at Adrienne's own hotel, the Palms. On that side, we found Adrienne, Camille and Dana whooping it up in private suites, dining privately, bowling in private lanes, then dancing, most suggestively, with, pretty much, each other. On Lisa's side, the new alliance was between the lady herself and Taylor, who was filling in for Kyle, who'd absented herself to plan for her own White Party and do a photo shoot for her book. (That’s Switzerland, for those still interested in my metaphor.)

Let the dance-off begin! While Brandi and Camille twisted suggestively on one side, a lap-dance contest over Chippendales dancers cemented the trust between the new compadres, Lisa and Taylor.

This brings me to a note that spans the entire "Housewives" franchise, but seems most pronounced in California--possibly because of its no-fault divorce law. The show, of course, is called "Real Housewives," but I've never seen so many solo ladies in my life, dressed in what seems an assortment of spangly gowns for non-events with non-partners, and nary a good time to be found.

At the Palms dinner, Camille decried the million-dollar lollipop holder Dana pulled out, stating gently to the camera that she could think of a better use of a million dollars. True--but I could think of a better use of these million parties. I'm all for lives of jazz and abandon (could a Fitzgerald fan be anything less?) but where the Housewives get it wrong is that they've forgotten that parties are life's dessert, not the main course.

A brief refresher, ceaseless revelers. Parties, in pretty much every culture known to man throughout time, serve a few key purposes: to celebrate events, introduce people to others, spark romances, and serve as a release from workday tedium. Is it surprising that Lisa and Adrienne -- who work, have husbands with whom they communicate, and families that are greater than props for Mommy -- always seem most able to actually celebrate something, whether meeting their team's fans or planning a million-dollar wedding?

Not so the others. During the last season of Orange County, my trusty and tolerant fellow viewer began to refuse to even watch the show for its camp appeal, philosophically rattled by the specter of blinged-out ladies headed to obscure events in flimsy, soon-to-be foreclosed houses in that too-bright sunshine, certain the joyless gatherings fueled by maxed-out AmExes somehow heralded the end of civilization.

Our Beverly Hills ladies are not so bad -- their houses are more than paid for, and the bling, I'm pretty sure, is real. But their cocktail-fueled nights lack an essential element of mystery, since the only thing that can happen is a breakdown or a friend breakup, interactions that can only alter with the pitch of the yelling.

So, maybe it's time to invite those Chippendales dancers to every event. Sure, they're shallow, coarse, vaguely disgusting, and complete fantasies. But in the world of the "Real Housewives" celebratory circuit, that might actually be a start.

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"The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills": Botoxic

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-- Lizzie Skurnick

Twitter.com/lizziesku

Late Night: Taylor Armstrong talks about abuse, husband's suicide

Taylor armstrong
On Monday's episode of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills," Taylor Armstong, whose estranged husband Russell committed suicide in August, suffered the latest in a string of emotional breakdowns that have erupted all season long.

Afterward, she stopped by "Watch What Happens Live" for a post-meltdown debriefing with Bravo mascot Andy Cohen. It was a decidedly somber interview on what's typically a boisterous, irreverent talk show.

Armstrong admitted that it was difficult to watch the episode. "I see a woman who was out of control ... about to go off the deep end," she said. "My biggest fears were unraveling. For me it was as though I lived my life for quite a long time with a boiling pot I was holding a lid on top of, and it was starting to boil over."

She also explained her seemingly irrational anger toward Camille Grammer, who brought up the subject of Armstrong's abusive marriage on camera, after the two women had discussed it in private. "For me admitting that I was being abused on national television was something that I didn't think would ever happen," she said.

The interview also provided an opportunity for Armstrong to plug her book, "Hiding From Reality." Breaking into tears, she told Cohen that she hopes that by sharing her own long personal history with abuse, she might be able to help other women "break the cycle."

"The cycle of violence in domestic violence is so hard to understand and I wanted people to see me for who I really am," she said. "And to understand that this started at a very young age for me, I ended up in this situation because of my own flaws and my own insecurities.”

Cohen asked Armstrong how her daughter, Kennedy, is coping in the wake of her father's suicide. "We each have good days and bad days, but we have amazing friends and loved ones around us, and we have great psychological support, so we're very fortunate," Armstrong replied.

For most of the interview, Armstrong spoke with the studied vocabulary of someone who's obviously been spending a lot of time in therapy. But she did drop at least one bombshell, admitting to Cohen that her daughter was with her the night she found her husband's body. "She knew something was bad. The first thing she said was, 'Did Daddy do something dumb?'" Armstrong recalled.

Understandably, the 5-year-old is still struggling to come to terms with her father's death. "We talk about it a lot.... It hasn't been easy."

 

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— Meredith Blake
twitter.com/MeredithBlake

Photo: Taylor Armstrong on "Real Housewives." Credit: Evans Vestal Ward/Bravo.

'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' recap: Botoxic

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A brief survey: Which is a worse faux pas? Choosing gold over silver for a wedding table's place settings? Refusing a brief hit of Botox while your mother-in-law gets a touchup? Or pitching a hissy fit worthy of "Valley of the Dolls," "The Women," "Mommy Dearest" and just a hint of "La Cage Aux Folles" at an intime party of an acquaintance with whom you are not even close?

You will forgive me for the pun, but the knives were out on this episode of Bev Hills, in which Lisa debated wedding napkins (pink or white) from the splendiforous table options of Celebrity Wedding Planner to the Stars Kevin Lee; Kyle demurred Mr. Maloof's touch-up offer of a nice shot or two at her mother-in-law's face lift checkup; and Taylor, at Brandi's first party ... can I even explain what Taylor did? Words fail. Taylor did this:

Words still fail. But OK. Fans will quibble, of course, over whether Deedee raised the volume by rising to defend Camille; whether Taylor's situation is a mitigating factor; and, especially, after Taylor had done everything but plunge a dagger in her breast, whether Brandi made things worse by busting in and asking Taylor to leave.

Here's my thought: Though party spats have become de rigeur (and, I imagine, producer-mandated) over the entire Housewife Galactic Empire, Taylor, as any 5-year-old could tell you, started this one, loudly maintaining at the bar she was grateful for her REAL friends, not certain OTHER people. Even when that certain other person -- Camille! Camille! -- had not only been texting to apologize for what was not even a crime (why is forcing someone to confront the abuse they've told you about verboten?), but offered another apology directly at the party, which Taylor, in outraged impatience, declared to the cameras she was not "feeling."

What she was feeling, however, was the right to to pitch an insane, screaming fit (encouraged, I imagine, by Kyle’s snipe at Brandi's if-you've-got-it-flaunt-it see-through gown.)

Of course, a brief spat is acceptable -- like two birds raising their plumage threateningly, nipping, and then withdrawing -- but Taylor had an actual breakdown that necessitated her party companions' pulling her away from the railing, and then holding her back physically as she hurled invectives at anyone within the blast radius.

Here's my thinking again: Such a breakdown, which is very different from a simple fight, is something the conscious mind should either be able to control, or said conscious mind should be repaired to a safe place. That's something Taylor's less-close companions have always advocated for vociferously, while seeming-friend Kyle seems content to treat Taylor's increasingly disturbing explosions as pure expressions of a betrayed victim -- the better, I'm sure, to cast light on her ideal husband and children.

This could not, of course, go unnoticed on "Watch What Happens Live," and @BravoAndy had the lady herself on after the show to explain her behavior. (Gallantly, the question of the night was not "Should Taylor be hospitalized immediately?" but "Did DeeDee go to far?")

Not completely unlike the fallen politicians at news conferences in which they are called to account for their sins, Taylor had her talking points: "Domestic violence can seem very confusing to others"; her apologies: "Of course I'm grateful for the support of my friends"; her explanations: "I was worried that because Camille had stated the abuse publicly, it would get worse"; and a very sad admission: "When Kennedy and I found him, she asked, 'Did Daddy do something stupid?' "

Still, we, the viewers, are caught in a conundrum. Did Russell's abuse (let's leave poor DeeDee out of this) actually drive Taylor into an active state of insanity? Did Russell abuse Taylor at all? (After all, he's the one who's kaput, not her.) Would even a Real Housewives therapist allow a wife to stay with a known wife beater? (They're actually required to report it. I mean, also to not film sessions, but let’s not split hairs here.)

It seems almost certain that Taylor's appearance on the after show was necessitated by her forthcoming memoir, which will sell better to viewers if it seems to come from a woman who's gone from victim to victor rather than an unbalanced, caterwauling mess.

Still, for a reality show, the most disturbing part of the episode was how absolutely unorchestrated it must have been. Because, while we have seen the Housewives lose their tempers, integrity, empathy, grasp of grammar and, of course, dignity on several occasions, I don't think we've ever seen one actually lose her mind.

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-- Lizzie Skurnick

Twitter.com/lizzieskurnick

Photo: "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

'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' recap: Eventrapment

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Forget being a writer. I want to be an event planner, because I now see the job involves getting drunk with rich people on the libation of your choosing on their dime, launching a shoe line in which there is no need to showcase the shoes and, in general, burning money.

This episode was another party face-off, this time between Andrienne Maloof's new shoe line and Lisa Vanderpump's planning for daughter Pandora's wedding. The two women, formerly close, have been at odds lately, this time because Adrienne was hurt that Lisa isn't holding Pandora's bachelor party at her Las Vegas spread but, rather, at the competing establishment across the street.

I've just realized yet another advantage of being an event planner for the rich and fractious: They save all their grievances up for their friends. We saw this also in the spectacle of Taylor's therapy, which took place in the presence of a nice man who seemed terrified to be on camera but had put on a very nice bespoke suit for the event.

I used to think that both the subject -- and the therapist, obviously -- who agreed to put what is by law and practice private, inviolate and intimate on camera were missing the point. But after seeing this session, I'm wondering if the only way reality stars can be genuine is to stick cameras in every intimate moment.

Taylor, in a neutral-face palette for the occasion, linked fingers with Russell, and Russell himself was forthcoming -- may I even venture, happy -- as he extolled how therapy had helped strengthen their union. While Taylor still slumped dramatically in her chair as if issuing breathy goodbyes from her deathbed, Russell copped to being absent and neglectful. And for the first time, Taylor let us see her strong feelings for Russell, albeit feelings too obsessive and desperate to be called "love." ("When he's good to me, it's the best -- and when he's bad to me, it's the worst.") 

Brief digression here: I kind of like Russell. I have no idea whether the Bravo producers are showcasing the late businessman in an attempt to bump up the drama about Taylor's accusations or to be evenhanded. (Note the therapist asking, with Hulk-like echoes, "And when you get angry? What happens ... when you get angry?") But all I see is a man who is clearly making a genuine effort to be social and emotional on behalf of his wife when neither is in his nature, in contrast to Taylor, who drops hints about his physical abuse when it suits, then poses for family photos when it doesn't. (Note: I have no idea whether, like the Hulk, Russell in fact reverted to a rageful wife-beater once the cameras were off. But of all the "characters" on the show, he seems most artless in the art of self-presentation.)

Speaking of self-presentation, it was a hoot for the ladies to see that Adrienne, who'd assembled the crew to showcase her new shoe line, debuted it along with the designs of a (fabulous, I might add) shmatterati given to long gowns. This meant we merely saw the peek of a heel in waves of chiffon, like the sprig of mint on a bowl of tiramisu, instead of the entire shoe. (@BravoAndy showed the actual line on "Watch What Happens Live," prompting the comment: "I think it's hard to pull off both an ankle strap and an ornament.) The gleeful Lisa went so far as to tell Miss “Mal-hoof” to watch out for the forthcoming “Vander-pump” -- a quip she's probably been saving for ages.

There were also rumblings of a new alliance between Camille and Brandi, who share, as Camille says, "a similar situation." Brandi "tells it like it is," the Grammer heiress said affectionately. (Though still too much for Kyle's "taste," in a pun I can't explain in a family paper.)

As we've seen on the very popular Atlanta "Housewives," the consequences of "telling it like it is" -- divorce, adultery, hair-pulling, child-support fights -- are far more real and engaging than, say, Caroline Manzo dispensing advice on the radio to relatives who are kind enough to call in.

On the Bev Hills show, the great question of this season is whether Russell was a wife-beater, and why, of course, he took his own life. Of course, we'll probably never know the answers. But though I'm interested to see more of  the ladies "tell it like it is," I'm most interested, in Taylor’s case, how Bravo does.

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-- Lizzie Skurnick

Twitter.com/lizzieskurnick

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

'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' recap: War parties

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"I don't want just 'ahhhh.' I want 'WOW!"

Wise words on any occasion, but these sentiments, uttered by Kevin Lee, wedding planner to the stars, could have stood in as the ethos of this entire episode, in which client Lisa approved $115 invitations for the wedding of daughter Pandora, Taylor threw a 200-plus-person fete for 5-year-old daughter Kennedy, Camille baldly confronted Taylor's hypocrisy over the remnants of Lisa's tea party, and Adrienne chided Lisa for choosing a competing venue in Las Vegas for Pandora's (200-person? Did I hear that right? Please tell me that was the wedding) bachelorette 'do.

I've long complained about the trumped-up events -- fashion shows, charity galas, safaris, one-hit wonders -- on most other "Housewives" shows, which are designed to  put forth the idea that these women do something besides inject their faces. But refreshingly, the ladies of Bev Hills, I believe, are entirely in earnest. "Real Housewives of Atlanta's" Nene and "Jersey's" Teresa Giudice became their family's breadwinners after the housing crash crashed their husbands' real-estate ventures. But Beverly Hills' richest are supported by the far more stable market of entertainment, and entertain they do.

That doesn't mean, however, that these entertainments are any fun. We launched with the stresses occasioned by Kennedy's birthday, which seemed to have something to do with the 20 children's tables not arriving. (Because God knows, children don't sit on the grass.) The event took place on a horse farm, complete with a bouncy house, a concert by an alleged "American Idol" alum, "Vance," and a cake with a burro-sized edible horse atop, where generally the sugary bride and groom would go.

And perhaps it was this unfortunate resemblance that made it all but impossible for the other ladies present to dwell on the exigencies of Taylor's marriage, which combine a bright public face with tragic private confessions, the two of which can apparently never meet in the light of day.

Next we arrived at Stage 1 of the choices for Pandora's bachelorette party, bridesmaids' gowns, and wedding invites. Those Vanderpump gals like 'em some blinged-out pink, and that's what they got: a candy-cloud confection with a diamond center for the bridesmaids to sport, and a $115-dollar rose-bedecked box for the wedding invites, which last Lisa was hard-pressed to refuse, since it matched the twinkly pink gown she was wearing completely. 

Do you get tired watching all of these parties? I get tired. It's all well and good to make a showing for a happy event, but when the show is for a guest barely potty-trained, like Kennedy, or involves a string of luxurious affairs, like Pandora's, one wonders how the aftermath can ever hold up. Taylor, is this appropriate preparation for Kennedy at age 6, which, in my memory, involved a lot of penmanship and quizzes on geography? Lisa, can any marriage require a string of celebrations longer than a Rolling Stones reunion tour? What's going to happen the minute Pandora rolls over and smells her husband's morning breath? There's no $115 tube of toothpaste for that.

When the economy was booming, such excesses seem harmless. But one cannot help but see the Marie Antoinette-esque cavorting as a blatant show of disregard in an economy in which people are stressing out over how to put food on the table for their children, not how to provide 20 tables for a child's birthday party. Even if you're not a socialist, at this point pure logic might direct the ladies to -- pun intended, Taylor -- rein it in. After all, someone needs to afford the cable to watch you all. Even if you're only telling us what kind of cake you'll eat.

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-- Lizzie Skurnick

Twitter.com/lizzieskurnick

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

'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' recap: Designing men

Recapping the latest episode of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills
I have a bold new suggestion for Bravo's producers. Instead of increasingly spreading out tempestuous gatherings over two, three and even four shows, why not just make the entire season one agonizing party, the better to be hashed out and re-created by Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos on "Watch What Happens Live"?

This is essentially what has happened in this season's "Bev Hills" anyway, with the only difference being the venue and the parties attacked, like a special catfight edition of Clue. (Who attacked the woman on crutches in the drawing room with a champagne flute?)

We began with Taylor's breakdown (and the general hilarity over Lisa's hat) at the ski retreat. Next, the women smirked at a one-wedged Brandy at Kyle's charity event. Brandy's son peed on Lisa's lawn at the barbecue, Brandy confronted Kyle at the spa party, Dana's games party devolved into an argument over whether it was worse to be a slut than a meth addict, and Pandora's engagement party went off with only the minor hitch that Russell, this season's ghostly villain, was not invited.

It was this last indignity that probably served as the trigger for this week's carb-fueled conflagration, in which Lisa held a tea party and confronted Taylor -- quite politely, I might add -- for excluding her from a lunch the day before, which freed up Taylor to express a year's worth of ire.

We're all familiar with denial and projection, of course (save, obviously, Taylor's therapist), but it was still jarring to see Taylor, whose marriage is on the rocks, attempt to rally the troops to confess how much they all hate Lisa, like a new girl on the playground who hasn't yet conceived of the notion of strategy. Oh, poor girl: The women all talk about one another behind their backs (if you can, again, call anything telecast to millions of people "behind their backs"), but it's also quite clear what roles they play in the playgroup, and why. Lisa, Adrienne, Kyle are the generous alphas, secure in house and home. Camille: $50-million divorce payout. (It's its own category, yes?) Dana and Brandy: newcomers on rocky ground. And Taylor and Kim? They can't get their houses in order, so they can’t fit into the pecking order of the group.

It's striking how much the men in their lives seem to determine the women's position in the groups, but I don't think it's because of anything as regressive as the husband's wealth determining the highest position. No, it seems rather that the women's choices in partners seem to reflect their sense of self-worth, and Misters Giggy, Maloof and Mauricio -- supportive, mild, tolerable, in lurv -- are reflections of their own spouses' acumen.

Which is why it's unsurprising that, after Taylor left in an unsatisfied huff, the conversation turned immediately not to whether Lisa was the villain, but how much Russell was. We can all understand Adrienne tolerating Mr. Maloof hilariously trying to order dinner for her, because, you know, Adrienne doesn't let him. But Taylor putting up with Russell breaking her jaw -- but hating on Lisa for having an iPad screensaver of herself -- is something even the most supportive women can't comprehend. "We've been protecting you," they all chorused when Taylor came back and expressed amazement that Lisa hadn't been duly chastised. But not, it seems, from Lisa -- but from the knowledge of what she kept saying about her husband.

And while the ladies tried to figure out how much they needed to intervene, Taylor spent her interlude talking to Mr. Maloof, who'd wandered up to find his wife for a call, to the gates. She presented her jaw and he felt every side, nodding sympathetically at Taylor's outrage while telling her she might need a little filler on her other side. If this isn't a wake-up call, I don't know what is. Whatever's happening in your life, when the most supportive man there is the one who sticks needles in your face, you've got a problem.

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-- Lizzie Skurnick

Twitter.com/lizzieskurnick

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

'Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' recap: Medium Lips

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You gotta love the Bev Housewives. No charity events, purse designing, or thread-trailing fashion lines for them this season. No, when the grueling work of ski vacations, lunching and cake-choosing is done, except for Adrienne and Lisa, they simply lie down and get Botox. 

Nonsurgical mini-treatment tryouts and a seance were the order of the day, the first courtesy of Mr. Maloof, who apparently has no end of friends willing to be injected with unknown substances. Kyle’s muffin top was the subject of a laser treatment that actually involved melting the fat, which raised uncomfortable parallels with last episode’s roast chicken, also at Adrienne’s house. Taylor continued with her vain (and by this, I mean in vain) project of filling in the lines of her dessicated punim. And Kim, who looks refreshingly untreated to my innocent eyes, finally consented to getting a minor prick to her lips.



This last was good for viewers, because even though it involved yet another unbearable close-up of the torture that keeps ladies who lunch, well, bizarrely plasticine, we finally learned why Kim seems drunk. It’s not wine, apparently, but the staggering cocktail of Trazedone, Topomax, and Lexapro that has reduced her to someone who seems like she’s drinking a lot of Ramona’s Pinot Grigio. That a cocktail this massive is the kind of thing you only give to someone who’s been ingesting way too much of something wasn’t mentioned, though Mr. Maloof, to his credit, did suggest to Kim that she discuss with her psychiatrist that her eyes were often half-closed.

In the chamber of fillers, we also had yet another disembodied visitation from Russell, who had sent Lisa, who was on the premises to nose around, an email detailing that he and Taylor were very much in love, and that his business was up 900%. Lisa presented it to Kyle in perplexity; Kyle neglected to mention Taylor’s abject suspicions that Lisa had leaked negative rumors to Us Weekly. (Brief digression: why the ladies refrain from mentioning things that will shortly be beamed to millions, I will never know.)  As we know now that his business was in shambles, and previews reveal are about to reveal his marriage was, too, the email has an odd piquancy, a note that the man was trying to keep things together, albeit increasingly, like Taylor’s face, in vain.

Speaking of the odd piquancy of communications from the now-dead, the latter half of the show was consumed with a seance in which a fake-cigarette-less lady revealed, through the voices of dead forebears, that Adrienne was hard-working, Camille should celebrate her divorce, Taylor needed to worry about dark influences and Lisa's grandmother was happy Lisa had taken her in before she died. LADIES. May I remind you again. YOU ARE FAMOUS AND YOUR LIVES ARE BEAMED TO MILLIONS, THEN DISSECTED ON THE WEB. I can give you a psychic reading, no problem.

Kyle -- that muffin-top thing is not going to work. BOOM. And as @BravoAndy would say, Mazel.

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— Lizzie Skurnick

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

'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' recap: Underground parties

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Was it with a particularly ghoulish tongue in cheek that on Monday night, All Hallows Eve, Bravo producers chose to show us, for the first time, the show's real-life walking dead?

I'm speaking, of course, of Taylor's now-departed husband Russell Armstrong, who tragically committed suicide this summer. But Monday evening, he was quite in the flesh, making his chain-rattling debut this season as the flesh-and-blood host at what looked like a very awkward couples dinner party with Kyle and Mauricio.

The implicit purpose of the party was to pump the Richards/Umasky duo to find if Lisa VanderPump was responsible for that day's Us item which claimed the couple was separating. In true Kyle and Mauricio form, the pair deflected the inquiry by kissing and nipping affectionately through the first course of cioppino, while the Armstrongs, false smiles firmly in place, tried their best to get it on film that, that day, at least, they were the very picture of a happy, still-married couple.

But it was masks all around. First, there were the Moroccan-themed dancers -- and one very floppy mermaid -- at Mohamed's engagement party for Lisa's daughter Pandora. There was the very real fright mask -- one rivaling Jason's -- sported by Kyle's mother-in-law after Mr. Maloof gave her a mini-facelift. (It looked pretty maxi.) There was the "Western-themed" party Taylor began planning for daughter Kennedy, an intimate gathering for 200 with a $1,000 horse-shaped cake. And, most provocatively, there was the revelation of Kim's boyfriend, a troll-like figure (I say this with affection, camera-man) she's apparently been hiding under a bridge.

But the greatest mask of all is Taylor's, and I'm always trying to figure out if the costume is her own or of the producers' choosing. At best, she appears a woman driven to distraction by her abusive, distant husband, doing her best to keep up a brave face while simultaneously breaking down -- one whose problems could probably all be solved by a little less party planning and a real-life J-O-B.

But at worst, her life is an arid, desperate attempt at appearing normal -- one constantly undermined by her desire to be the victim. She reaps all the rewards of her lavish marriage (later revealed to be, at least fiscally, bankrupt) like private chefs and 40K birthday parties, while planting rumors about her husband's alleged abuse. When confronted, whether about her thinness or her hysteria, she'll deflect, but it doesn't stop her from dissolving into drama -- or starvation -- on a dime. She's that most maddening of friends: the one who wants to have her 1K cake and eat it too.

Taylor stands in stark contrast to Lisa, whose life positively brims with genuine familial love and good cheer, especially now, with ripe daughter Pandora's impending marriage to a doe-eyed fiance. She's got Ken, her devoted husband, and Max, her sweaty son with the charming half-English, half-American accent. (Pandora's got it too, and I will master it, one day.) Striding across her YMCA-sized bathroom in a fluffy pink robe, Lisa barks orders at various friends and family to attend the party that night, puts on a dress matching her daughter's, then presents her, before they depart, with a diamond heart. Ken gifts the fiance with his own 32K watch. Both couples, unlike Taylor, don't only have all the love in the world. They have time.

There's a saying that we wear our real selves on Halloween, and it's the rest of the year that we're in costume. If so, we've got an excellent set of Bravo Rorschachs. On "Watch What Happens Live's" Halloween special following the show, Andy came, of course, as Jiggy. Chris March appeared as an enormous Lisa Vanderpump, replete in purple chiffon, while the lady herself called in via Skype as a purple Playboy Bunny from Villa Blanca. Gail Simmons, of "Just Desserts," was an excellent "Flipping Out's" Zoila (complete with accent), while Teresas, of course, abounded.

But amid all the pomp for the dressing contest of turtle Tramona, there was a spectre no one dared to revive. Russell Armstrong has been the invisible, if very present, ghost looming over the entire season, and Monday night, he wasn't just a guest. He was the unspoken guest of honor.

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— Lizzie Skurnick

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

'Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' recap: Face-off

"Real Housewives of Beverly Hills"

As the biblical proverb says, after pursuing one's enemies and smiting them at the hindmost, one should slap on a robe and partake in a Hydro-Light Facial.

Or, at least, such are the beliefs of one Adrienne Maloof, who interrupted what was likely a grueling week of shopping and lunching for the Housewives to invite the girls over for a relaxing spa day — which just happened to be located in the sprawling, staffed quarters of a complete facility installed in the basement of Adrienne's bazillion-square-foot home.

The rich are different from you and me, and one of the ways they are different in Beverly Hill is that, while many of us struggle to maintain our drip-coffee machines, they outfit their homes with entire businesses for their convenience. (Granted, if your house is that big, finding your way out of it so you can participate in the commerce of the actual world is probably too much of a chore.)

But Adrienne's spa — which renders all other Housewives' battalions of devoted stylists and hairdressers just so many Scrunchies — wasn't the only elaborate underworld in the episode. Lisa's friend Mohamed, who is planning an engagement party for her daughter Pandora that will feature in the next episode, has placed what seems to be the entire country of Morocco in his basement. His warren of tiled rooms and "I Dream of Jeannie"-esque tufted cushions lacks only its own "Arab Spring" protesters.

But back to the spa. Even the bejeweled and bespackled Housewives were impressed by Adrienne's set-up (Lisa: "So she just happened to have this across the street and never told me!"), but they quickly adjusted to the fleet of tables and red-velvet cupcakes. The Richards sisters even sneaked off in their Maloof-issued robes for some time on the children's trampoline.

The true tension came from Brandi, who has replaced Camille as the blond to browbeat. Brandi is hipper, younger, taller, thinner and glowier, with higher-level modeling experience (though I'd advise her to lay off the procedures — she's getting Joker-face). She's foul-mouthed and lacking a filter, curiously sending the other ladies, who had previously battled over whose Playboy spread was most appropriate, to such lengths as spelling out the "B" word — presumably to assure viewers that not only do their sons not pee on the lawn, but that they are actually to the manor born.

Thus, what was supposed to be a relaxing day became a taxing day. Kim loudly proclaimed across the room that she would not even speak to Brandi, while Adrienne interrupted Kyle's massage to ask if she'd make a peace offering to speak to her at all. Brandi's intimation that Kim was using drugs edged out all other faux pas in an evening of gaming and defaming.

But among this panel of strangely attired judges, Brandi, admirably, held her own. She apologized to Kyle but also pointed out, correctly, that she was being ganged up on yet again and held to a higher standard than Kim and Kyle, who'd set the tone by saying they didn't want to be on her team and making snide remarks throughout — pretty rude for anyone holding herself up as an avatar of politesse.

After Kyle haughtily received the apology on behalf of her sister and took her leave, Taylor gently praised Brandi for offering the apology. "That was over the top," Taylor remonstrated, duck lips pursing. Speaking for millions of viewers who've watched Kim deteriorate through two seasons, Brandi didn't step down. "But ... was it?" she asked.

As those who hit "Watch What Happens Live" after the show know, Kyle called in to apologize to Brandi live on the air — oh, that Kyle, always spinning — and both ladies agreed that lots more happened in the season to mitigate that first explosion, and that they were in a better place now. No matter. As Andy sported Dana's 25K sunglasses and read the results of the night's poll, the viewership was clear. "Should Brandi have apologized to Kim?" Majority: no.

No calls yet from LeAnn.

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'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' recap: Grass houses

'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' recap: 25K-colored glasses

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

— Lizzie Skurnick

twitter.com/lizzieskurnick

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

'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' recap: Grass houses

'Real Housewives of Beverly Hills'

It seems churlish to begin what should be a simple recap with gossip, scandal and innuendo, but because all of the above came last night from the mouth of network czar @BravoAndy on the post-show rundown "Watch What Happens Live," it seems nigh irresponsible not to mention it. OK, HERE GOES: Apparently Taylor Armstrong, who, as we watch her in the series, is about to be confronted with the horrors of her marriage, is IRL *possibly* dating one of the most eligible bachelors of Bravo's "Most Eligible Dallas."

THERE YOU GO. Don't hog-tie the messenger.

OK, back to the Housewife "reality." There, Taylor is still married, and, in the beginning of this week's show, playing referee between Kyle and Brandi, which is to say keeping them from punching each other. (The answer to last week's question of whether it's smart or stupid to assault a girl with crutches: Just hide the crutches.) Where we left off last week, new girl Brandi, 'buked and scorned quite rudely during the (ironic, I hope) game of Celebrity from Dana's party, was finally reduced to tears — tears of rage. "Why aren't we talking about the fact that your sister is on crystal meth?" she hurled at Kim. I cannot repeat most of reply, but suffice it to say, it was not that Kyle and Kim actually spell it Krystal Meth. 

Meanwhile, over in Lisa-land, we are wedding planning full-speed-ahead for daughter Pandora, which will obviously be my daughter's name, too, though it suits Brandi a bit better. The Bev Housewives have of late been in default of the franchise's contractual agreement to always have a resident gay (the loss of Cedric was a blow), but Lisa came back in force with the person of Mr. Lee, a mullet-headed, gold-bespectacled manic, manic wedding planner who in any other geographic region would be deemed a maniac but in Beverly Hills is a genius. 

As they strolled through Lisa's "back garden," which we hoi polloi would understand better as "a glorious expanse we are lucky to view in reruns of 'The Sound of Music,' if ever," Lee suggested building a church on the greenly heaven, lighting candles everywhere, and inviting enough guests to justify the million-dollar expense he apparently feels necessary to budget for the wedding. Lisa, take my word for it: When you have a garden like that, 10 cases of Prosecco, cocktail weiners, a few Target sconces, and a fleet of folding chairs from IKEA are pretty much all that's required. (And I am available, btw.)

Meanwhile, Kyle remained obsessed with Brandi's refusal to remonstrate her son for peeing on the grass at Adrienne Maloof's. As an aunt of two boys, I can speak from experience that mostly what you do when boys happily pee on the grass is die laughing. I can also say that it seems to indicate good breeding that the child at least understood he was not to pee in the pool.

However, I think Kyle’s obsession, now about four scenes' worth, with the infraction actually comes from a far different source (no pun intended). On this show, we finally learned the genus of the accusation — "You stole my house!” — Kim hurled at her sister last season. (Kyle replied by calling Kim a liar and an alchoholic, but who’s counting?) Apparently a lovely house was left to the three Richards sisters. Kyle’s story is she bought Kim and her other sister out; Kim’s that she withdrew 20K from the equity. Kyle sweetly told the cameras as they frolicked in its rooms the house is “just as much Kim’s as hers,” though one imagines Kim's real-estate broker husband Mauricio's deed attests otherwise.

However, the girls are having a hard time getting past it. So perhaps Kim should take her at her word. If the house it just as much hers as her sister's, Kyle, at least in this case, should have no objection to Kim peeing on the lawn.

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'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' recap: Brandi Sour

'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' recap: 25K-colored glasses

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

— Lizzie Skurnick
Twitter.com/lizzieskurnick

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

'Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' recap: Brandi Sour

Rhobh

Sometimes, a "Housewives" episode unfolds like a paper flower, each plot point the delicate petal of an elegant bloom. And sometimes, it’s 40 minutes of spinning that might as well be blank film reel until a juicy fight explodes and makes it all worth it.

This week’s "Beverly Hills" episode was (rubs hands gleefully) the latter. To be fair, I think Lisa Vanderpump’s daughter, Pandora, got engaged at some point, but I’m pretty convinced the producers just asked them to do it to use up some air time.

The fight in question took place at would-be Housewife Dana’s “games” party, where the throw-pillow-sized meringues, foamy mixed drinks and absence of the ever-calming Adrienne Maloof combined into nuclear-style fission between new Housewife Brandi Glanville and the Richards sisters, who formed an unlikely alliance against the giantess.

The party began with — well, let’s just stop calling it a party, actually — Kyle and Brandi assembling in Dana’s sitting room, pointedly looking everywhere but at each other as they peered at the vaulted ceilings and the daunting game-themed candy buffet. They were joined, not nearly shortly enough, by Camille and Taylor, who, on teetering heels, were as disabled as the be-crutched Brandi on Dana’s shiny, barren floors. 

But the fun had not yet begun. Ladies, mark ye well: The Housewives may have 75,000-square-foot houses and tens of Louboutins, but if you were one of them you too would have just had to spend a night in Dana’s echoing, empty house, marooned for an evening of barely formed chit-chat with near-strangers with only a pawn-shaped mini-cupcake for sustenance. 

And it might have remained a stultifying evening of the sugar-buzzed and slightly bombed had not Kim Richards — neither sweetly not slightly buzzed — shown up. 

Over two seasons, Kim's spacey antics have gone from charming to deeply alarming quicker than Kyle could scream, “You’re a drunk and an alcoholic!” to her, as she did last season, while reaching for her sister's throat. But from Monday night you'd never have known they'd had a fight. Kim entered Dana’s home, greeted her host enthusiastically as “Pam,” then retired immediately to the bathroom, where her sister chased her down like a rodeo vaquera to fix her makeup. Kim, eyes rolling like a spooked horse, confessed she had neither slept nor eaten in a week. “Is this liquid liner? You don’t bring liquid liner outside the house,” Kyle answered, wondering, perhaps, if sister was planning to drink that, too.

But instead of staging an intervention, the lackadaisical Ladies Temperance Union turned on Brandi. Last week, at Adrienne's BBQ, the entire gaggle had professed alarm at Glanville's PG-13 mouth, doing everything but whipping out white tea gloves to swoon as she dropped bombs that Adrienne would have tossed off without a thought.

But Adrienne Maloof's a gazillionaire, while Brandi is, in her own words, a D-list divorcee. When all the ladies were settled matriarchs with children, no one had anyone to get all Bethenny on. Now, the Richards sisters acted like the child actresses they were, saying they didn't want to play on Brandi's team and that they didn't like her (literally!), then freezing her out with in-jokes.

But Brandi gave back as good as she got, genuinely annoyed at the sisters' behavior, but bemused at the number of times Kim had staggered into the bathroom over the course of the evening. “I’m kind of worried about my team,” she told Camille, when Kyle and Kim were off doing another secret mission. “Number one, they don’t like me, and number 2, they’re not lucid.”    

Which was precisely the observation she shared with the two when they finally returned. While the Housewives are great at sharing — if by "sharing" you mean politely talking behind someone's back until a huge fight erupts, then inviting the fightee to lunch, then talking about the lunch behind the person's back later — they're not used to someone pointing out the obvious. "You're sister's wasted," Brandi spat out. 

Suffice it to say the Richards sisters had a much bigger problem with THAT word than the one Brandi shocked everyone with last week. We haven't yet seen the second half of this explosion. Bravo's saving the part where they actually go at each other physically for next week. (Poll question for @BravoAndy: Attacking a woman with crutches: smart or stupid?) Either way, though, so far, I'm a little more disturbed by whatever's going into Kim's mouth than what's coming out of Brandi's.

RELATED:

'Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' recap: 25K-colored glasses

'Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' recap: Baggage handlers

Complete coverage of 'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills'

— Lizzie Skurnick

Twitter/lizzieskurnick

Photo: "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" cast. Credit: Richard McLaren / Bravo

'Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' recap: $25K-colored glasses

'Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' recap: BBQ at Adrienne Maloof's house

I like watching the Housewives snipe at each others’ qualifications. It’s like seeing a group of backpack-clad, retainer-wearing middle-schoolers argue over who’d make the best Miley, or a bunch of armchair jockeys scream orders at the wide-screen as if LeBron were simply waiting for them to show up.

This week, in Beverly Hills Housewife-land, opportunities were Threat Level Doozy. First, a new friend to Tyler and Kyle -- Dana -- blew the lid off the Housewives’ lavish lifestyle by confessing that her sunglasses cost $25K. New Housewife Brandi Glanville diagnosed (correctly, as it turns out) Taylor’s skeletal physique as “The Divorce Diet,” much to Kyle’s consternation. And, finally, Lisa had the temerity to appear for five minutes on CNN to comment on Kate and William’s royal wedding — at the behest, I might add, of Kyle and Kim’s own agent.

These issues all came to a head at a barbecue thrown by Adrienne Maloof, who, to digress briefly, I increasingly want to make my best friend. It’s not her private jet, or her private chef, or her private basketball team. It’s that she’ll order her husband around one minute and pick the dog poop from his shoes the next; make fun of his chubby hubby physique, then tell everyone to lay off; and (related) knows how to serve a monster barbecue: Put the kids in a blow-up jumpy castle and lay out enough food to feed a starving army of anyone but Housewives.

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