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'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' recap: False alarms

February 14, 2012 | 12:36 pm

Is it over yet?

That’s all I can say for this bloated, unwieldy, TMI season of "The Real Housewives," which was long on cava and cat fights, but also spousal abuse and alcoholism -- leaving viewers, cast members and, most important, the Bravo network, a bit flummoxed about how to swallow it all.

By the time last night’s third installment of the RHOBH reunion aired, its highlights had already been promo’d so much, it was difficult to distinguish them from the earlier installments, if not the season itself. But here we go.

Taylor told the terrible story of her first beating at Russell’s hands, when he knocked her jaw out of its socket and put her friends in the hospital -- thus leaving Russell room to threaten to sue Camille, who'd said on-air Russell had “broken” Taylor's jaw. Brandi reiterated her desire to get intimate with Lisa's husband, Ken. Dana, the Lost Housewife, with new, smooth extensions and excessive bronzer, was hauled onstage to laugh gamely at her own bragging, which she countered by wearing heels emblazoned with a familiar epithet.

But it's telling that Bravo didn’t put up a video of Taylor’s horrible confessional, and instead put up a video of Mauricio’s pecs to lighten the mood -- which I’m just putting up for the sake of journalism, of course:
But that was merely the palate-cleanser for Kim. In a separate location, joined only by @BravoAndy and her sister, she sat under flattering lighting and told the story of her rehab and recovery. Less gaunt but possibly more affectless, she gave us the somewhat self-evident insight that celebrity and privacy don’t mix.

@BravoAndy took that one with a straight face. But, throughout the chest- and soul-baring, all I could think of was, rehabbed and recovered, what will the network do now?

For a clue, I think we can look to @BravoAndy’s show, “Watch What Happens Live," which recently went from once a week to every weeknight. It’s the after-show in which @BravoAndy has revealed himself as the Dick Cavett of our age, one who gives a space for celebrities to show that many of them are in fact intelligent, witty and talented. (See Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos, below.) It neatly manages the trick of poking fun at the foibles of the Bravo’s own casts -- with the head of the network the chief provocateur.

“Watch What Happens Live,” which got its juice from dishing on Housewives, now may herald a return to the clever from the craven for that series as well.

After all, the great fun of "The Real Housewives" franchise in the first place was to see how cleverly producers managed to poke fun at their casts’ inflated sense of self-importance -- which was even more delicious for the fact that the cast seemed unaware or unconcerned that any poking fun was taking place.

Witness Sheree Whitfield’s seminal “Whatever Happened to Customer Service”:

And to see what I predict will be the new direction, you only need look toward the Atlanta Housewives and the new New York cast.

In Atlanta, in addition to a bunch of people acting like babies, we have a bunch of actual babies -- Kim and Phaedra’s -- as well as new career directions for the ladies that are more interesting than the infighting of yesteryear. There’s Nene’s new role on “Glee,” Phaedra’s move toward mortuary, Kandi’s continuing series of hits, Kim’s new role as wife (and nicer person), and Sheree’s. ... Well, Sheree always looks nice. 

"The Real Housewives of New York" has also cast off the dead weight. Now, there are three better-pedigreed cast members reportedly positioned to join Ramona and Sonja (Ramonja, pace @BravoAndy): Carole Radziwill, journalist and Jackie O. descendant; Aviva Drescher, high-powered Wall Street wife; and Heather Thomson, successful founder of Yummy Mummy shapewear line. (Burn, Jill!)

This isn’t to say that Bravo is going to entirely drop its formula. After all, the OC ladies are still there in all their raccoon-eyed, foreclosed-upon glory -- though as new divorcees all, they’ve also got story lines I’m happy to see. But it does seem the network is taking the franchise in the same direction it took itself years ago, when it went from a moribund cable channel of B-list re-runs to an avatar of reality programming.

Then, its genius was to create shows about people that created things -- Top Chef, Project Runway -- in which viewers tuned in to see not only drama but tests of skill.

Obviously, the Real Housewives are not going to start being able to actually sing. But for Bravo to continue on the path that led them to Taylor and Kim will yield rewards flatter, if you’ll forgive me the analogy, than Kim’s false pregnancy. We don’t need another season that self-detonates, nor another as tedious as last season's Jersey, in which half the cast members didn’t even attend the reunion.  

Now, I predict a bit more real "reality," if you will. We’ll see charity events for actual charities, poopy diapers that husbands actually change, shoes you can find in stores, fortunes you can count at a bank and, most important, houses not actually on the verge of foreclosure.

After all, poking fun is one thing. But I trust @BravoAndy to know when a bubble has burst.


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

— 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