The Beverly Hills version of the Real Housewives series has always struck me as the platinum standard of the franchise.  Sure, the women from New York own spacious mansions in the Hamptons that come complete with tennis courts and perfectly manicured sprawling lawns, and the women from New Jersey live in homes stuffed with the largest Baroque-style of furniture ever measured by modern man.  Not to be outdone, the ladies from the O.C., who first brought this televised aspirational version of Dante’s hell into our living rooms, have the largest breast implants of all the women combined, but those distinctions simply do not matter.  Because it is the group whose zip code is 90210 or 90210-adjacent who bring the real glam to those of us who watch the program while wearing sweatpants.

It seems important that I tell you that I have watched every single episode of every single season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I haven’t been able to fully commit to the other incarnations of the Housewives phenomenon, one that I firmly believe began as a fever dream in the mind of a flu-ridden Andy Cohen, but the Beverly Hills ladies have always had my undivided attention. 

I’d love to tell you that it is the women’s collective intelligence that causes me to be an avid viewer or that their unparalleled acts of philanthropy are what draw me in.  I’d like to say that.  And I suppose I could say that, but I’d be lying because the biggest reason that I love The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills is because of the unbelievable closets these women have. Those who are now in control of the universe – the people who work at Bravo headquarters, not the United Nations – perfectly understand the lure of thousands of Jimmy Choos arranged by color and rows of Birkins as far as the eye can see, and the reason I know that these producers realize the importance of those magnificent closets (which I’d willingly move into and happily spend the next decade surviving on the sustenance afforded by the breath mints the women left behind in the bottom of their purses) is because we see more scenes that involve those closets than scenes with the women’s husbands.

There’s just something glossy and calming about watching people exist in the ever-present sun, especially as temperatures here in the east are taking a nose-dive.  I sit bundled up in a hoodie and watch the women as they sip wine on perfectly sunny patios and as they traipse through phenomenal gardens resplendent with colorful flowers and as they go hiking along the beach where they then stop to gossip about the poor housewife who tragically chose to go to a Pilates class instead of on the hike because her absence means the hikers get to talk shit about her while they rehydrate.  There also seems to be less raging anger between the cast of this show than on the other versions of the series.  Sure, some of them have had real issues, but since many of their faces are stuffed to the brim with Restylane, their expressions don’t change when they get angry and, as I’m kind of a pacifist, the quiet and unwrinkled fury quite appeals to me.

The players on this show are competing for prizes, though they would never admit it.  See, there are symbolic ribbons handed out for LEAST DELUSIONAL HOUSEWIFE, MOST WEALTHY HOUSEWIFE, LEAST LIKELY TO ENTER REHAB HOUSEWIFE, CONGRATULATIONS: YOUR HUSBAND HASN’T CHEATED ON YOU HOUSEWIFE, and YOU’VE BEEN SELECTED ABOVE ALL THE OTHERS TO COMPETE ON DANCING WITH THE STARS HOUSEWIFE.  And the hands-down winner of all of the awards is one of the original Beverly Hills ladies, Lisa Vanderpump, a woman who during the opening credits of the first season spoke the bold and haughty tagline, “In Beverly Hills, it’s all who you know – and I know everybody.”  And I swear that the first time I heard her say it, I applauded her stylish swagger from my sofa.

The other original housewives are Kim and Kyle Richards, two former child stars whose other sister is Paris Hilton’s mother.  Even if these women were able to solve the world’s greatest issues – finding cures for diseases, protecting freedom of speech forever, removing the caloric content from Ben & Jerry’s – I would still probably dislike them because of the Hilton connection of which they are so proud.  Kim, the blonde sister, is a recovering alcoholic who speaks in a shaky voice and has no storyline except for the fact that she is attached to her adult children in a way I find mildly questionable and she has a pit bull who snacked on her niece (sadly, not Paris) during the off-season.  And seriously, that’s all I can really say about Kim.  But her sister, Kyle?  Well, settle in, friends – I’ve got a lot to say about Kyle. 

Kyle Richards claims to be blissfully married to one of the most successful realtors in the country and she drops references to her wealth about nine times an episode.  She’s the kind of nouveau riche woman who has her manicurist apply the Chanel logo to her nails and, as I’ve said before, I have the sinking suspicion that she rocks pubic hair that is also carved into the Chanel logo.  She is passive aggressive to the extreme, pretending that she’s friends with everybody but making sure to plant suspicions in everyone’s mind before sitting back and pretending to look concerned at parties where the women she has helped manipulate into anger begin fighting in her midst.  She’s not stupid by any stretch of the imagination, but she strikes me as the kind of person who can only fully be happy for you if something even better just happened to her. 

Then there’s Brandi.  Oh, dear.  Brandi is currently in her third season on this show, and when she first hobbled onscreen with crutches all the way back in season two, I really liked Brandi.  She came across as somewhat suspicious about people in general and she was aware that she was on the show in the first place because of the flimsy notoriety she received by being cheated on by her husband, who is now married to Leann Rimes.  She looked like she was trying to make friends but she didn’t suffer fools easily, and when she was attacked by the others, she stood her ground and she fought back.  She also formed an unlikely alliance with Queen Lisa, and that Lisa all but sponsored her made me believe that Brandi was one of the Good Ones.  Sadly, in the last year or so, Brandi has either lost her mind or has shown us exactly who she has always been.  She waged war against her former friend and told the world that Lisa had once been bankrupt and that she was responsible for starting all kinds of rumors about the other women, even though there appeared to be no recorded proof, which is odd when you’re talking about people who wear a microphone more often than they wear deodorant.  These days, Brandi can be accurately described as a woman who swills wine with gusto and then makes ridiculous and crass comments that someone who was once either afraid of her or who wanted to fuck her told her were funny.  Last week she tossed wine in Eileen’s face in an effort to get her to get Eileen to act out the scene she had performed on the set of The Young and the Restless earlier that day.  At best, it was the move of a lunatic.  At worst, it was the move of a lunatic.

Yolanda is Brandi’s biggest champion, but it’s not really all that clear to me why she’s supporting someone who is self-destructing for our televised pleasure.  Married to the creepy David Foster – a man with far more Grammy Awards than Bruce Springsteen, a fact that makes me shout blasphemy towards the heavens – she is the mother of two gorgeous girls who are models and a son who never appears on camera but whom she swears exists.  Yolanda supports her daughters’ endeavors by smiling widely in their direction and taking carbs out of their mouths anytime they even think about swallowing one.  Yolanda enjoys lemon cleanses, throwing parties where every guest must bow at the piano alter of her husband, and plotting the death of the inventor of the bagel.

Eileen, the wine victim, is one of the new girls this season.  Eileen has a long resume as a soap actress and I spent a lot of time in college running home from my Nutrition class so I wouldn’t miss her on Days of Our Lives, which might be why I only got a C in Nutrition.  On this show, she comes off as calm and happily married and perhaps too lucid to last long on a franchise where your contract is renewed if you show evidence of being slightly demonic.

The last of the cast members is Lisa Rinna, also new to the show this year.  Lisa R was also on Days of Our Lives during what I consider the show’s glory days, and she’s had a pretty good showing on the Housewives so far.  She’s all tousled hair and gigantic lips and smudged kohl eyeliner and she does something odd:  she smiles when other people look happy.  She’s buddies with Queen Lisa, she thinks Brandi is out of her fucking mind, and she seems like a fun addition to the group.  She’s also the kind of friend who will wipe the wine from your retinas when the crazy lady across the table hurls it as the beginning of an improvisational activity that nobody else realizes is taking place.

As the last episode skidded to a close, Lisa R. and Eileen huddled closely together to discuss possible escape routes for when they might find themselves sharing the same airspace as Brandi in the future; Kim had nothing to say about anything; Yolanda – wearing a lovely outfit in the color of Smurf Blue – gazed adoringly at her icky husband; Lisa V. subtly checked her diamond-encrusted watch and wondered when she could politely get the hell out of Yolanda’s Malibu hillside paradise and get home to the husband and the dogs who adore her; Brandi sweated her makeup off and proceeded to slur the words “finger-banging” in the presence of people far more sober than she has ever been; and Kyle stroked her too-long mane of hair and felt her ovaries shrivel up in anticipation of the worst thing that could ever happen to a parent in the whole wide world:  having a daughter leave for college.

Yes, on tonight’s show, Kyle’s eighteen year old goes to college, but the way this woman reacts, you’d think she was shipping her child off to fight a bloody war in a faraway land for an army that does not permit letters home, phone calls, weaponry, or hair extensions.  In my entire life, I don’t think I have ever seen an adult woman fall to pieces in the hysterical manner that Kyle did, though I’m not all that surprised (and you shouldn’t be either) that Kyle effectively made her child’s big day all about herself.  Bravo, Kyle!  You win the award for HOUSEWIFE WITH OFFSPRING MOST LIKELY TO END UP IN THERAPY.  Maybe your kids can carpool to therapy with Brandi’s kids.  Don’t worry; one of them will have the Uber app.

Here’s the thing about Kyle that kills me: she knows better.  She’s not warped by addiction or by poverty or by any real kind of trauma.  She clearly has it in her to behave in a manner that is not best defined as selfish and showy, but I think that maybe she is carrying some kind of unfortunate genetic makeup that is tightly coiled within her DNA that yields the result that she can only feel alive when a camera is aimed at her face.  And when that lens is within sniffing distance, she can’t focus on anything other than herself.  It’s not that she’s a bad mother; she appears involved and loving, but it’s as though she has lived a life where every single day since she was a fetus someone told her that she should be a star and when there was no literal audience watching her, she became lost in some sort of existential crisis that made her wonder things like, “If I cry in private, will those tears be real and salty?”  So everything she does now has to be big to get the reaction and attention of others that serves to validate her feelings – and during this episode her need for validation outweighs holding her shit together for her daughter.

Turns out that the crux of this episode is all about parents and their children, and while I prefer a theme that involves candy or bondage better, it’s nice that the editors compiled all the common footage together to create a cohesive story.  So let’s deal with the storylines that are defined by the parent/child dynamic first.

Yolanda is also bringing her daughter to college, though Bella is going to school in New York City, not Arizona like Kyle’s kid.  Bella will be modeling while also taking classes, and the apartment her mother procures for her is seriously stunning.  There’s all hardwood floors and poster beds and furniture in a minimalist style and, as Yolanda discussed sofas and console tables with the interior decorator, I flashed back to an image of my own mother helping me set up yaffa blocks in my freshman year dorm room that was maybe the size of Bella’s new kitchen sink.  Bella comes off as a sweet and thoughtful girl, but a few episodes ago, she made the mistake of getting a DUI, something Yolanda dealt with pretty effectively.  She enforced punishments and illustrated a genuine fear that something terrible could happen to her child and I gained some more respect for Yolanda in the process.  Bella appears to be back on the straight and narrow and she wrote a loving card to her mother about her sorrow for her mistakes, and Yolanda appreciated her daughter’s candor while still feeling jittery.  But the thing is, as she discussed her anxiety about Bella continuing to make the right choices, she also had the self-awareness to acknowledge, “These are my insecurities, not Bella’s,” and all of the normal women across this great land hopefully clapped their hands for Yolanda and then contemplated whether shock therapy or shaving her head would work better to get Kyle to act less selfish on a daily basis.

My favorite Housewife, Lisa V., did not have much to do this episode other than meet with her son Max to discuss his work ethic.  Lisa is all for her kids working hard and learning about the restaurants her family owns by doing every job there, including washing dishes.  She deals with Max with affection and with a little caution and with tough love and I can’t stop myself from wishing this family the best.

Eileen roasted broccoli and ate dinner with her husband and her stepsons and discussed the difficulty of navigating the stepparent relationship, though it strikes me that she’s done pretty well in that area.  The rapport between Eileen and those kids looks calm and breezy and everybody at the kitchen table smiled as they ate dinner and the sun set over the shores of Malibu perfectly, as though Mother Nature wanted to acknowledge that Eileen is not a total asshole.

Speaking of assholes, Brandi didn’t do too badly for herself this week, but I also didn’t see her even touch a wine glass and I’m about to go out on a limb and declare that Brandi’s horrific typical behavior is directly tied to her alcohol intake.  Earth shattering connections I’m making, huh?  But last night, a sober Brandi and her insanely perfect legs met with her lawyer (I can’t help but be suspicious of a lawyer who wants to meet on camera, but perhaps that’s just me) about financial issues with her ex-husband involving things like child support.  And it was at that second, as Brandi shared the fiscal relationship she has with her ex with the world, that I had yet another flashback into my own life.  I remembered being about seven years old and that my mother once said to me, “Ask you father for the child support check,” and knowing definitively even then that no seven year old should ever hear or ask such a question.  And I thought about how all parents make mistakes as they navigate confusing and scary waters, but my mother would have never agreed to make her mistakes on camera, and I almost called and thanked her for not veering into Scary Brandi territory.  Later, Brandi and her friends (including Kim, in her only appearance of the episode) walked past a bunch of dogs who barked from inside of a crate (Free the Pups!) and then piled onto her bed and watched the premiere episode of the reality show starring her ex-husband and his wife.  I’m frankly shocked that Brandi didn’t need to do a keg stand before witnessing such a thing, but she sat there and allowed her friends to say helpful things like, “They keep saying your name!”  And then Brandi did an interview where she called Leann Rimes, her kids’ stepmother, a cunt-try singer, an insult that I’d admit was pretty clever, but I’ve heard Brandi say it a million times before and at some point, girlfriend has got to let go of a smidgen of her anger.  The only downside of doing so is moving forward in life.

As the other women navigated children leaving home and how to properly roast a vegetable, Lisa R drove to a set to briefly act in a film her husband, Harry Hamlin, was in.  On the way to the set, Lisa did the kind of vocal exercises I always imagined people like Meryl Streep or Sir Ian McKellen did, but I was kind of shocked to see the former star of Melrose Place engage in any form of an acting craft.  On set, she was met my the film’s director, Penn Jillette, a well-known magician who is so good at magic, he has managed to turn himself into a hybrid creature that looks like a combination of Gene Simmons and Wavy Gravy, and I watched his presence onscreen with my fingers shielding my eyes because a sight like that could settle into my psyche forever and I’m already afraid of normal things like mice and unicorns.  

On the set, Lisa behaved cheerfully, professionally, and was kind of game for anything, and though I actually laughed out loud when, at the end of her scene, she did the kind of hand gesture and bow that Valerie Cherish did on The Comeback, I’ll still come right out and say that I like this woman and I think she’s a great addition to the show.

This episode was, for me, the most boring one in a long time, but things are looking up!  The coming attractions show Brandi tossing Kyle down some stairs and Kim – a woman I find so uninteresting that I couldn’t even get into her during her alcohol-ridden crazy days – lose her shit on Lisa R and then continue to behave in a manner that very kind people might call “loopy.”  From the brief footage Bravo blessed us with as a parting gift preview, we are meant to infer that next week Kim will either have lost her sobriety or what is left of her mind.  Join me next week to find out which one has gone permanently missing!