In the densest layers of the muck-and-scum-filled reality television ecosystem, a few Bravolebrities have risen like deranged phoenixes to the tippy top. They bob there proudly upon the fungus-ridden slimy surface and take comfort in the asinine belief that the only thing that matters is that strangers know their name. The creatures currently crowding that swamp include:
I’m not sure I can ever go back. Logic and emotion have finally teamed up – they’ve formed a no-nonsense coalition in the anti-bullshit portion of my soul – and together they've managed to pry open my eyes and pound the message into even the farthest recesses of my brain, a message that assures me that my decision to not write weekly recaps of The Real Housewives of New York City this season was the wisest choice I’ve made since I’ve gone full-Paleo.
Big Little Lies was remarkable television. Did you watch it? That series felt to me like a fucking Super Bowl that gloriously spanned seven blissful weeks. It had everything I long for in my entertainment – everything. Phenomenally layered performances by actresses at the tippy tops of their game? Check. Sweeping pans of treacherous bluffs that simultaneously read as luxurious and bitingly haunting? Check. Wardrobe that captured each character’s essence, from the floral fit and flare dresses on Madeline to the power suit dug from the depths of her closet and her soul on Celeste to the diaphanous dress probably made out of hemp that still couldn’t hide the sculpted and sinewy yoga body on Bonnie? Check. A soundtrack that had me whipping out my phone every ten minutes like someone had set an egg timer so I could Pandora the hell out of the show and add every single tune to my playlist causing me to later belt out the words you bloody motherfucking asshole as I planked on my living room floor and then hum the absolutely perfect and totally melodic theme song when I applied conditioner to my hair in the shower? Check. A mystery I couldn’t hold out on so I bought the book and read it in less than a day and knew who the killer was and still applauded when the actual crime finally went down that Sunday evening on HBO? Fucking check.
Having to remove Big Little Lies from my DVR almost caused me to bawl my eyes out, but at the same time I’m into the limited series trend that’s happening right now. Some of the finest writing is being done for television and many of our most gifted actors will appear on shows that are guaranteed to last for only a season so they can delve deep into a character, get nominated for an Emmy, and then move on to doing something else they’re passionate about. This is not to say that I don’t harbor hopes that the rumors about a second season of Big Little Lies are true. Had a forest been in the vicinity of my home, there’s a slight chance I would have been compelled to walk there and light a candle during one warm twilight in an effort to sway the powers that be to greenlight season two immediately. Then again, all those Smokey the Bear commercials that used to air on Saturday mornings when I was little and up watching The Smurfs have sunk in deep so no matter how badly I want to hear Madeline tell someone to go fuck himself on the head one more time, the truth is I’d never strike a match while standing in the depths of the wilderness.
And so I moved on from Big Little Lies. Notice, my friends, how I didn’t say I moved up from the show because down to the depths of hellish TV did I slide to get myself a new fix and that slide took me as far away from compelling twisty storylines set on the gorgeous Monterey coast as is humanly possible and instead to the boozy streets of Charleston where I landed with a thud in the land of Southern Charm. I’ve written about Southern Charm once before. During a brief bout with a miserable cold, I stayed in bed for a few days and watched every single episode from every single season and I got hooked and wrote about my reactions in a piece entitled Prince Charming is a Fucking Pig. (Speaking of which, heeeeey, T-Rav!) Anyhoo, my newest descent into the world of these monsters is not about being even more critical of a man who looks alarmingly like a deflated Shar Pei and longs for the days already gone by when a particular pair of magic khakis managed to get him instantly laid. No, this particular piece is about the ladies of Southern Charm who, in my eyes, will only fully redeem themselves when they band together and break into Thomas’ house in the dead of the blackest night to steal those khakis and then torch them under a full moon while Cameran twirls in gleeful circles around the fire because she’s finally fulfilled her destiny to be the whitest witch of all time.
For a long stretch of time, nothing brought the sting of anxiety to my life quite like the possibility of an ending. It almost didn’t matter what the ending encapsulated or if it was an ending that needed to come about in the first place; whether I had to bid adieu to a place or a person, I’d find myself all sorts of out of sorts. In the aftermath of one of those endings, I’d often spend the pitch-black hours of night when the normal people were asleep staring at the tippy tops of the trees outside my bedroom window and I’d quietly pray that maybe one day someone would invent a contraption that would allow me to unzip my skin and shimmy it off so I could finally know what it meant to feel free and then I’d glance over at the clock and see it was already after four and I’d flip my pillow to the cool side and wonder if everyone sometimes has nights like these.
When you’re someone – and I’m guessing many of us sadly fit into this category – who has experienced a profound loss exactly when it was least expected, I think you unconsciously spend much of your life mentally strategizing how you can keep such a shocking stab of pain from ever puncturing your soul again. From my own coping mechanism bag of tricks (it doubles nicely as a supple leather hobo), I’d often whip out the Think Ahead card. Of all the cards in my bag, it’s the most worn; the edges are so flimsy they’re practically translucent. While it’s purely metaphorical, should that card ever turn into something tangible with a tarot-style illustration, the image on my Think Ahead card would likely be that of a woman with hair so sleek you just know she sleeps with her flatiron and she’d be wearing Tom Ford sunglasses to cover up the crusty goop from that time she gouged out her own eyeballs because one day she finally realized she’d spent way too much time trying desperately to gaze into the future and she’d forgotten to enjoy living in the moment and painful blindness seemed like the best option because therapy would probably bring up all kinds of other shit.
Now listen: under no circumstances am I alleging that being a grand-scheme-of-things kind of girl is the very worst thing you can be. Thinking ahead and looking at the totality of a situation can be pragmatic – but can also be stunting. Part of what I’ve finally realized is that one of the toughest aspects of endings for me is having to face that I didn’t revel in the seconds or the years I’d spent in a place or with a person because I was always too concerned with figuring out how it all might nestle into the big picture, the one I kept changing by coloring outside the proverbial lines. And should there be anyone out there reading this and thinking I’m also like that! I want you to know that you are not alone, that there are legitimate reasons for your behavior – and then I want you to go outside and throw your head back and scream in the direction of the stars that you will stop living this way because doing so may temporarily make you feel safe, but in actuality there is no way to maintain a total control over a life you invite other people into and besides, what with all these recent threats from North Korea, maybe the only thing we should all be concentrating on is stockpiling canned goods.
I understand now that I’ve made certain endings far more tragic than they needed to be, especially when it turns out there was not really all that much to mourn in the first place. And with this fresh and optimistic mindset firmly in place, I feel more than ready to wave goodbye to this season of Vanderpump Rules. I’ll miss certain things, of course. Monday evenings just won’t be the same without my practice of checking the bracket that hangs on my refrigerator to see if this is the week I wagered Kristen would finally be dragged away to an asylum. It will be strange for a Tuesday to arrive without knowing for sure who Stassi is currently plotting against or exactly when Schwartz plans to arrive at Sandoval’s apartment in the dead of night so he can implore his truest love to run far away with him to a place where his new wife (who smells vaguely of stale tequila whenever she exhales or tells him that he’s wrong) will never be able to locate him. What I will not miss, however, is everything else and I think it’s because, much like Katie’s breath, this show is starting to feel stale. I don’t care a bit if Jax marries Brittany – I just don’t want the wedding to be televised. And sweet though she clearly is, I also don’t much care that Brittany should know better than to marry a man who is such a proud moron. I don’t care if James is faithful to a girl I know nothing about and I really don’t care if he ever becomes famous for something other than being a douchebag who was born with an inferiority complex so staggering that it somehow morphed into a superiority complex. I don’t care if Lala ever reveals who her married boyfriend is – and I swear I’m not just saying that because I signed a NDA after frolicking with her in a bathtub – and even less of me cares about watching Stassi go on first dates or wondering exactly what must be clinically wrong with a man for him to consider marrying Kristen. Who these people get along with is pretty much set by now and who they hate will probably never change and Jax will always be a sweaty liar and Schwartz will only stand up for himself if Sandoval cries enough tears and Ariana will never think Stassi is anything but a power-craving jerk and Stassi will never accept that the totality of her televised behavior over the years has caused some people to want to have very little to do with her and James will still be peddling his PUMP compilation CD while Kristen and Katie and Stassi shout in unison that they are not mean girls and if anyone has the audacity to claim otherwise, they will stalk that person’s social media until their collective enemy hightails it to Death Valley because living amongst the ruins of the Manson Family seems a far more appealing option than convincing this three-headed beast of anything that vaguely resembles logic. I suppose what I’m trying to say here is that I truly want to thank the powers that be for not making this a year-round series and I hope when it does return, a few new people are part of the cast because these storylines just aren’t all that compelling anymore. That said, I’ve got some stipulations about these potential new cast members and I’m willing to offer to personally deep throat someone in a power position over at Bravo in an effort to guarantee that chick GG will never become a Vanderpump Rules regular because anyone willing to sleep with James Kennedy to get on TV is far better suited for Intervention – or a sanitarium.
I broke. And it’s embarrassing to admit just how fully I succumbed after repeating over and over that I would never go down that road of tarnished televised cobblestones. My only excuse is a virus took over my body for a couple of days and I became housebound and I needed entertainment that wouldn’t require me to expend even a smidgen of energy. I’d been planning on rewatching all of Twin Peaks, but I was terrified of the effect a dancing dwarf speaking backwards in a blood-red room could have on my already fragile being. So with my health in mind, I turned away from the Log Lady and investigators craving damn fine cups of coffee and instead scrolled through the On Demand menu and eventually settled on the very first ever episode of – wait for it – Southern Charm.
To give you some background, I’m not averse to reality television, something my faithful readers already know. For a few years now, I’ve covered several incarnations of The Real Housewives. I’ve swum through the murky water I’m certain Jax has peed in to write about Vanderpump Rules. I laughed my ass off as I chronicled the ridiculousness of twenty very young adults stranded on an island while searching for their production-approved soulmates on Are You the One? I was paid nicely to recap that and I almost blew the entire thing even before it started by writing in the first draft of my first recap that the premise of the show was “preposterous.” Turns out producers don’t much care for such a term, but since writers don’t much care for being critiqued, I used a synonym, got my point across, and cashed my check. I’d post to Facebook or Twitter that one of my new pieces was up and I kept receiving messages back that the show I really should be covering was the one about people cavorting through the streets and on the plantations of Charleston. I got this feedback so often that I finally publicly announced I would not be watching or recapping Southern Charm because I feared doing so would literally destroy whatever was left of my already blackened soul. But reader? I caved. Hard.
It was sweet, wasn’t it, when Katie ended the first installment of the seventy-three-part Vanderpump Rules reunion by apologizing to Lala for all the times she called her a dirty whore on national television? So what if Katie and her coven reiterated for months and months to everyone in America with basic cable or access to the internet that Lala sucks off married guys in exchange for cash and prizes? Bygones! I felt a flutter deep within my soul (okay, fine – maybe it was just a hunger pang) when Lala listened to the verbal mea culpa and then misted up with tears actually containing salt, proving once and for all she is not a walking blow-up doll, that the discharge that falls from her eyes is made from something other than lube. And it turns out all that needed to happen to get to Lala’s gooey center was for a person she has continually sworn doesn’t mean a single fucking thing to her to finally say something kind because, faux-bluster aside, it appears Lala is just a girl standing across from a career waitress asking that waitress to love her.
(And speaking of getting to Lala's gooey center, how many licks do you think it takes? My guess is it all depends on whether or not you have access to a jet.)
Don’t you just hate it when you’re contractually obligated to sit in a semicircle in the restaurant where you sometimes work – the one with klieg lights blasting from the ceiling that cause shadows to fall upon the platters of fried goat cheese balls that are served to customers hoping to have a pretend star sighting along with a meal – and you are forced to revisit battles that have either already been resolved or will never actually be resolved and you do it all while caked in makeup and wearing some outfit with a plunging neckline? Isn’t it just so irritating to listen to your entire wedding party reiterate all the reasons why they never thought the two of you would make it down the aisle, reasons that include the bride being a psychotic drunk and the groom dealing with periodic bouts of impotence? Might there be anything less palatable than hearing a friend – the one with that dire sweating problem, the one you cheated on your boyfriend with twice – answer questions about why he started a rumor about that time he found you going down on his girlfriend and the only thing that can possibly make you feel better is trying on someone else’s wedding ring since the fake one you sometimes trot out is currently at home in a drawer along with the voodoo dolls you constructed out of used tampons and corn husks that are meant to resemble two people sitting in that semicircle with you?
Our Vanderpumpers stand solemn and still in a makeshift enchanted forest. A golden light, the kind that only falls during that magic hour right before the dusk, illuminates the blissed-out looks on their faces. For once, there is no evident contention between any of them. For once, nobody is projecting blame or backhanding someone across the face while wearing a large spiky ring. They are, each and every one of them, steadfastly focused on the present; at this moment, they have silently agreed to forget the past and to not even contemplate the certain messiness of the future, the one that will begin as soon as the bride slips out of her dress that’s apparently been constructed from dingy doilies. The floaties they went tubing in just a few days ago will have to be deflated for the long trip home. The empty cans of Coors Light will get tossed into a recycling bin. See, nothing lasts forever – not a wedding, not even an edible made from the finest cocoa, granulated sugar, and weed one can locate in all of Los Angeles proper – and even though the Bravo editors have worked overtime (and have seriously earned their paychecks) to keep us fixated on this one perfect second in time, those of us who aren’t slightly stoned and standing on top of twigs in some forest cannot help but understand that, despite the evident joy radiating off our television screens, what we are shamelessly being sold here is nothing but a comforting narrative, one that is completely unfaithful to all the interlocking tales that have come before.
Every once in a very rare and wonderful while, two people who are exactly right for one another manage to meet on this expansive and overly-populated spinning blue and green marble we call Earth and eventually they will stand together beneath an altar and get married in front of their family and their friends and everyone witnessing this spectacular union will understand that they are taking in the sight of something truly special that will last forever.
This is not one of those times.
On the surface – like, the tippy top layer of that surface – the Schwartz/Maloney wedding has everything that should make The Big Day perfect. Clear weather? Check. Dogs who refrain from shitting as they make their way down the aisle? Check. Candy already set up at the reception beside ten thousand dollars worth of flowers that almost caused the groom to have a seizure? Check. Extra dish towel invites on hand to mop up the puddles of blood just in case this is the night Kristen decides to slit Sandoval’s throat or Jax realizes who he has become and reacts by smashing his face clear into a mirror to destroy the monster staring back at him? Check. A bridal party comprised of people who hate one another and have slept with one another and have called one another fat and psychotic and whorish and stupid? Check!
I'm a huge fan of horror movies and I have been for as long as a can remember. When I was younger, it was about the testing of boundaries, of feeling briefly brave for not being the fourth grader at the slumber party having a total freak-out in the bottom of a sleeping bag. (I was the one who refused to go into a dark bathroom to call forth Bloody Mary, though. I was brave, not fucking insane.) Those sleepover nights occurred during the Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, Michael Meyers years, when the sequels climbed high into the double digits and every movie was exactly the same. I came to realize that the couple who'd just had sex during a blackout they were sure had been caused by the wind – on a calm, still night no less – would end up getting sliced in four even before the wet spot crusted over. I knew the not-so-classically-feminine girl with the unisex name like Alex or Sydney would be the one who would live because she noticed all the danger signs (minor things like the power suddenly cutting out for no reason or rivulets of plasma dripping down the walls) that the others so flagrantly ignored. I began to understand how viewer identification is formed not only through dialogue, but by which character is granted the most reaction shots and I'd congratulate myself for figuring out who the survivor would be even while everyone onscreen was still temporarily breathing.
It was during college that I took an upper-level course in Film Theory as part of my major. The professor chose a screening schedule comprised entirely of horror films and I was plunged into the dripping red world of Dario Argento. Suspiria scarred me from ever wanting to be near a ballerina, but it was Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with characters who were carved into like they were loins of pork that made the biggest impression. The setup – the action before the carnage set in – was what I liked the most. As the film that ushered the slasher genre as we now know it into the nightmares of our collective consciousness, Texas Chainsaw illustrated the stylistic and story conventions that are still employed today.
You know the deal. A group of older teenagers or post-college young adults arrive at some remote location expecting to have the time of their lives. The bland banter they share in the SUV on the way to wherever they’ll end up dying reveals their relationships and explains exactly why we will feel absolutely no sense of loss when a machete slices their spleens right out later on. Those eventual victims have no gaze, no awareness that the obvious signs of danger they're looking straight at will bring about their destruction and the viewer – fully aware of each and every danger sign – disavows a connection with them on the spot because it’s just not all that pleasant to identify with fucking idiots. The one who survives will be the girl who didn't run around naked, the one who never believed the scraping against the car hood was caused by some errant branch. She sees what we see and she says what we'd say and she screams when we'd scream. She's the only fully developed character in the entire movie while the others are so moronic that we just count down the minutes until they become carcasses.
Allow me to be clear here: I do not wish carcassdom on any Vanderpumper. For one, despite these lengthy recaps, I'm not invested in them enough to expend energy wishing that they kick it permanently. For another, who would I make terrible fun of if Jax and James and Kristen ceased to exist? (I know – I could just turn my attention to Southern Charm, a show a bunch of people have told me to recap. I've never seen it and that choice is purely a defense mechanism to protect what's left of my rotting sanity an exposure to reality television has caused.) Still, watching the tragic and terrifying buildup to Katie and Schwartz's wedding day has left me feeling like I'm shuddering my way through the first half of a horror movie where we're encountered with people we know are doomed and the fact that the entire thing will be taking place in the woods only strengthens the analogy.