At some point yesterday during the heavy cloudiness that set in right about midafternoon, I heard a heavy sound begin to blare in the distance. I initially thought I must have been hearing rumbles of thunder, but now I know that the sound was really a thousand and one champagne corks being popped in unison across the land because of the announcement that Kim Richards will no longer be a full-time Housewife on the next season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. And as she has never managed to be a full-time human being either, I’m going to forge ahead and say that Bravo has finally made the right call.
Do I sound harsh and maybe kind of cruel? Yes.
Am I entitled to have an opinion that has been cultivated after watching something with the self-awareness of half of an amoeba skulk across my television screen for the last bunch of years? Fuck yes.
I found myself on the phone last night with someone and I announced the news that I was asked to recap the upcoming season of The Real Housewives of Orange County for Reality Steve’s site and that I was thrilled to be asked, but I hate the women on that show and that hatred runs really deep and it even kind of burns and probably feels the way Tamara does when she’s got herself yet another bad case of gonorrhea. When you’re someone who watches some of these shows and you’re talking with someone who doesn’t, it’s hard to explain the differentiation between the cast members and the cities within the franchise, but those who do watch understand and accept that distinctions can clearly be made and viewers can draw some lines in the sand and sometimes those lines can be formed into letters that end up spelling out sentences such as, “I’m fucking out.”
I watch the New York and the Beverly Hills Housewives faithfully and I always have, except for that one season of New York where a waxer named Cindy bedazzled wealthy vaginas during the day and spent her evenings fighting with women who definitely deserved to be fought with, but all I could think about when I saw one of those fights transpire was, “Cindy! What large teeth you have!” and I knew it was time to take a Housewives sabbatical. There was just something cruel about the women and about that season in general and it made New York as a place come off as both vapid and dingy and I felt a weariness growing inside of me just from watching it. The women on the show then were patently unlikable, and there’s a huge difference between being “unlikeable” and being “dark.” I like dark entertainment. As far as movie and television characters go, often I think that the more damaged and twisted the character, the better. I’m sometimes like that with people in real life too – but only until I come to my scattered senses, and I’m pleased to announce that I finally have.
There was probably no darker season of the Housewives than the one in Beverly Hills that would eventually end with the suicide of one of the husbands and with posthumous allegations of brutal spousal abuse. We waded through episode after episode of a show shot many months before it aired and we had all read exactly what happened to the guy most of us very easily hated – and every single time the dead man who was still alive then appeared onscreen, I couldn’t help but stare at his neck because I knew that in just a few months it would be strangled by a homemade noose and it was sad and all that he died, but every single televised moment he participated in made him come off like an absolute monster. His wife – a woman with the largest lip implants a drunk plastic surgeon has ever performed as a result of a dare suggested by a sociopath – was also rather revolting a presence, and it was difficult for me to feel completely badly for someone who chose to go on television and to expose her young daughter to the masses when her home life was in terrifying and violent shambles. I know she says now that being on the show saved her life because, had she not been on camera all the time, she thinks her husband would have abused her far more viciously. I call total bullshit on that. Maybe it turned out that being on the show helped her out in a way she hadn’t expected and that there was something fortunate about it, but I will believe forever that the reason she went on the show in the first place was because she wanted attention and exposure and because four people in her hometown once told her at a bowling alley one night when she was sixteen that she looked like she could be a movie star.
Let’s just call things for what they really are in the name of reality.
But darkness and corpses aside, I was still able to watch that season and to like the show because, while I think some of those women teeter on the edge of delusional, I don’t think too many of them are inherently stupid and I feel the same way about the New York Housewives. It’s gotten a little muddled over the years with the addition of cast members like Brandi Glanville, an alleged homosapien whose continual behavior is so vile that I once called her “Satan’s sphincter” and “regret held together by cherry flavored lube” – and that was me showing restraint. Also heightening things has been the trend for Housewives to turn their televised personas into brands, and the result has been that women who are kind of famous for nothing begin to take themselves far too seriously for adults who stand in a huddle and grip something like an apple during the opening credit sequence for a show that airs on basic cable. But in spite of all that, I will still maintain that the Housewives from those locations are actually kind of smart and some of them are even quite wise and a few are really very funny and genuine friendships have developed between a bunch of them that allows you to almost feel a warmth emitting from the screen. That’s not at all to say that many of these women don’t often behave in ways that can be read as clinically insane when one is supposed to be a member of a society that has actual rules of decorum and that someone like Ramona Singer has not tested my levels of patience even when I’m in a different zip code than she is, but I find that there’s enough silly stuff and fabulous and sprawling closets splayed across my television set for me to just kind of shrug and smile.
It’s the New Jersey and the Atlanta Housewives I can’t watch consistently anymore. I once did and every now and again I backslide into their mcmansions out of sheer boredom or an incapacitating insomnia and I’ll stare with my mouth open for a little while, but I don’t really enjoy myself. As far as I see things, those Housewives provide a carefully edited demonstration of what happens when stupid people are given money for being assholes. It is watching asinine fights between asinine people in houses with the largest and ugliest furniture I have ever seen. It is staring at husbands who should have been spayed at birth as they get involved in the arguments their wives are having with their friends and it is those husbands screaming horrible and sexist insults into the face of another woman. It is the craziest mother-in-law that has ever existed outside of a David Lynch movie, but this one is real. It is people so consumed with a questionable heaping of self-importance that they stand up and do things like randomly twirl and then write songs about twirling.
It is about me questioning the validity of the inherent goodness in humankind and coming up empty.
It is about me being furious that this show is continuously thrown into yet another season of production while a really good script I wrote might never even land on someone’s desk at a network.
But I think what maybe annoys me the most about the Jersey crazies and the Atlanta lunatics is also what has always bothered me about Kim Richards: all of them are absolutely joyless. In four or five seasons, I don’t think I have ever seen Kim smile in a way where the emotion reached her eyes and I don’t believe she has the ability to legitimately be happy for anybody. I’m really thinking about it now, running the events of all of those episodes – God, so many episodes – through my head and I’m remembering kids going off to the prom and parties with the other Housewives and vacations to Hawaii and a conversation she had while crouched next to a trashcan with a squirrel and pretending to train her dog not to eviscerate her houseguests upon arrival and stories about her childhood lost somewhere on the Disney lot, but I cannot remember even a millisecond of happiness glistening beneath the woman’s pores.
I get that she is not a happy person and I fully understand that some events in her life have been supremely tragic and that she is still in the full-blown throes of addiction, so none of us should really expect joy to be Kim’s dominant emotion, but then here’s this question: why the fuck would I want to watch her on this show? There are series like Intervention and Couple’s Therapy – narrative-based reality shows like The Real Housewives – where misery is supposed to be a key ingredient because you’re intentionally following people who are slogging through some of the toughest times of their lives and, for some reason, they’re choosing to do it on television, but at least there’s a rationale behind the pain and a proper context for it in the show’s framing. And on competition-based reality shows like Survivor and The Biggest Loser, there’s a shitload of unhappiness and discomfort, which is obviously going to happen while you’re stranded somewhere and you’re starving and you have to contemplate the nutritional value of bark or some exercise guru is standing next to you and shouting that you’ll definitely die from morbid obesity if you don’t complete this last set of crunches. So yes – there’s a real place for desolation and despondency within the reality television landscape, but I don’t think The Real Housewives was ever meant to be part of that gloomy terrain.
I remember that when the Atlanta series first started, NeNe was my favorite. She was loud and kind of loopy and she said bold things about herself that she followed with a self-effacing giggle and she still had it in her then to look chastened and even embarrassed for a personal misstep. That NeNe is dead and whoever sprung forth in its place is a spiteful hybrid creature that was born without empathy or humility or the ability to select a good wig. And she is also unable to hide her utter contempt for the show that made her famous, believing she has outgrown the others – the ones who exist so far beneath her – and in the few episodes of the series that I have recently seen, she looks like she’d rather be getting a catheter shoved up her urethra without a painkiller than deign to go to dinner with people who were actually once her friends.
Who the fuck wants to watch that?
Look, I might be the critical sort, but I was also definitely born with that look-towards-the-gutter instinct and it has been deeply ingrained within me and that’s probably why I wanted to watch The Real Housewives of New Jersey again after being unwavering in choosing not to watch it for so many years. I wanted to see how it would pan out as Theresa and her dreadful husband prepared for prison. I’m not proud that I wanted to see such a thing, but I will admit that it was my precise sleazy goal – and I believe my soul has been punished for it. I certainly didn’t expect to see any joy on Theresa’s face as it set in that she was going to land in jail and have to leave her daughters with a man so awful that he almost doesn’t seem real, but what really came through to me was how desperate these people were for money and that’s the main reason they were on the show last season and if their desperation had a scent it would be that of a whale dying on the hottest day of the year while a surfer who only eats fistfuls of asparagus peed on the dying mammal for sport.
I can see people getting ready to disagree with me and saying that this is a franchise about “real life” and sometimes real life does not involve copious amounts of joy – and that’s true. But this was a franchise that started as aspirational escapism. The women lived in larger homes than most of us live in. Their hair was blonder and their tits were bigger and their cars were always shiny in the streaming rays of sunlight. And that’s the show I signed up to watch. Want to throw in some conflict because life will always be rife with some measure of conflict? Go for it. Cast a woman like Shannon on the O.C. Housewives, a woman who is married to a man I legitimately think has worked out a detailed plan for how to kill her, because at least she has some moments of giddy silliness and she is down to try anything and she shows up when it’s time to film. I mean, personally I might not want her to be my mother and I might question her choice to work through a troubled marriage while wearing a microphone, but that’s an issue for reality television in general. But at least she can bring some happiness to a show that was never meant to be a companion piece to Homeland.
Kim Richards, in my opinion, has never once said something funny. She has never said anything that made me think, “Hmm, that’s an interesting perspective.” She has never once worn an item of clothing I have coveted. She does not interact with her children in a way that reads as anything to me but preternaturally bizarre. She only shows up to events on camera sometimes. She writes her post-show blogs never. She is still completely beholden to all she experienced in the past and she has absolutely no real desire to get over any of it and, even if she did, she completely lacks the tools necessary to actually deal with that which is real, including her own complicity in her own pain. She can barely form an entire sentence and the ones she does manage to choke out are usually constructed of poorly told lies and quarter-truths. She is shocking in her continued lack of self-awareness and the conflict she creates has no real stake because of course Kim is the one in the wrong. She has so rarely done anything on the show that has been completely right.
Does Bravo have the responsibility for making sure that this woman, who has been a barely-functioning alcoholic for decades, stays sober? Nope. They hired a woman who never disclosed that she had an illness and they have put up with more than their fair share of shit as a result. All that’s happened is that the general public now views a person who has a legitimate sickness as a total laughingstock – and a mean laughingstock at that – and the only thing that could collectively surprise any of us at this point would be for her to get and forever remain sober and learn how to have a disagreement without pointing a gnarled finger into another woman’s face.
So bravo, Bravo. Letting go of a walking embodiment of joylessness was a very shrewd move. Perhaps now you should have meetings about possibly cutting loose the Housewives who are prone to violence and bordering on being maniacally psychotic so that it’s actually possible to imagine a world where one day soon, Kim Richards and Theresa Giudice and all of the Atlanta Housewives will just be a very bad memory.