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'Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' recap: Friends in tight spaces

September 13, 2011 | 11:51 am

Photo: Camille Grammer, Taylor Armstrong and Kyle Richards. Credit: Bill Ross / BravoThough it seems inconceivable for a show in which a 7,000-square-foot-house is affectionately termed 'small,' this week's "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" featured our favorite ladies -- used to swanning around in spaces with five-digit square footage, with outdoor expanses to match -- forced to share a glorified puddle jumper, squashed together for four hours in a stretch limo on cold Colorado roads and (in Kyle and Kim's case) bundled together in one very tense bed.

Last week, in a nod to the very sad real-life suicide of Russell Armstrong, ex-husband of housewife Taylor Armstrong, the producers led by assembling the ladies in a weepy post-series post-mortem at the Maloofs', where they all pledged to help Taylor during this difficult time. That out of the way, Bravo immediately returned to the start of the series' timeline, with the ladies jumping to the aid of Camille to console her over the necessary sale of her Beaver Creek spread after her divorce from Kelsey Grammer. (Lisa Vanderpump, no real-estate slouch herself, had the humor to acidly comment that Camille would soon be down to only two or three properties.)

The housewives-only jaunt is now a series standby with its own tropes and conventions, and this trip was no exception: overstuffed suitcases for two days of travel, high-octane confrontations in small vehicles, and the inevitable pairing-offs, reconciliations and awkward encounters that accompany six grown women stuck in what amounts to an extremely well-appointed slumber party.

Marooned with only a ski concierge for assistance, the housewives' true personalities quickly emerged -- in highly concentrated versions. Kim revealed herself to be a chatty Cathy, happy to make friends before the flight -- on Frontier! No private jet available, apparently -- even took off, then commence to punch the rump of a fellow passenger who professed to having Buns of Steel. Adrian, as usual, was game, punching along, listening to Taylor's miseries and even skiing with a busted leg.

Kyle, on the other hand, was a poker-faced troublemaker, breaking the companionable peace by quickly bringing up last week's dinner party to Lisa, where Mr. Jiggy intimated that Taylor was weak for going to therapy. Taylor, for her part, kept up a veneer of helplessness masking geothermal depths of rage, saying, "No one asked [Mr. Jiggy] for his opinion," then showering Mrs. Jiggy with a spray of supposedly playful snow on the slopes.

And Mrs. Jiggy -- aka Lisa Vanderpump, dubbed Mrs. VanderFabulous by Camille -- was the biggest surprise, seconded only by her host. Who knew the Englishwoman possessed stores of governess-like traits, including rounding up her tardy "girls," closing her eyes at their antics en route (I think I actually remember that scene from the train ride that leads off "The Secret Garden") and, in the case of Kim and Camille, trying to marry them off? Sealing the deal was the fur toque she sported for their time on the slopes, which she thought was the height of fashion, and her companions the depths of frump. Girls. A governess is nothing without her funny hat!

But the best surprise was the now-single Camille, who was funny and philosophical, a gently troublemaking host (did that spread really lack enough beds for all the women?), but also a generous one, whirling them out for dinners, hiring a teacher for the slower skiers, and generally looking fifty times younger and seeming fifty times more authentic (that rumored $50-million payout from Grammer probably helped), much like her New York analog, the similarly previously stuck-up, now-warm divorcee Countess Luann de Lesseps.

Which brings me to the quandary. We've now seen this exact trip, albeit in various circumstances, at least 20 if not more times across the "Housewives" franchise. (I kept expecting Sonja and Ramona, caftan-clad, to peek around a corner, pursued by Luann.)

Between you, me and the lamppost, I would be happy to watch it 20 more times, just as I would love to write a detailed fashion report noting the subtle gradations that separate, say, Kyle's furry vest from RHONJ's Melissa's one; Lisa's pastel array of bling from RHOOC's Gretchen's pink frenzy; and Maloof's surgically enhanced, haute-suburban glamour  from that of RHONY's Jill Zarin. (Readers, HALLOWEEN IS FAST APPROACHING! Get on it.)

Next week, if the promos are correct, will feature another standard event: The Crack-Up, best exemplified by Kelly Bensimon's jelly-bean breakdown but iterated as well in Nene's tour-bus stranglehold and Vicky Gunvalson's wine-tasting disintegration into tears. (Cracking up is all they DO on New Jersey. I can't separate one out.)

These are all well and good -- if mildly disturbing -- but the shots of Taylor retreating to a suitcase in the closet and weeping wildly at the dinner table next week have a deeply dark tinge, since we know what's coming isn't simply a friend breakdown or a divorce but an actual death.

After Armstrong's suicide, a flurry of press coverage questioned Bravo's culpability, and the network took back the shows for an edit, ostensibly to show respect and sympathy for the deceased. What kind of crack-ups are they going to show us as the weeks unfold? And what are we to make of the fact that they had to edit them at all?


'Real Housewives' suicide should have scrapped Season 2

Critic's Notebook: In the glare of reality TV, a harsh truth

No decision made on airing 'Real Housewives' counseling sessions

--Lizzie Skurnick

Photo: Camille Grammer, Taylor Armstrong and Kyle Richards. Credit: Bill Ross / Bravo