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.
I really enjoyed writing those recaps in the past. While some casual readers may view recap writing as easy or formulaic, it’s actually quite a challenge to find new and fully accurate ways of describing a completely self-involved lady creature like Luann, a being who manages to always – always! – make absolutely everything about herself. It never mattered whose vagina was hemorrhaging in front of her or whose father was in the hospital; Luann could do math very quickly in her head and come up with some arrogant algorithm that allowed her to equate that Bethenny calling her a gigantic whore was way more a life or death situation than some castmate’s father in ICU who could potentially croak imminently. Her refusal to ever think about anyone else was fascinating in a here-comes-the-apocalypse kind of way so the former Countess was always fun to describe because rarely in real life does one come face to face with such flagrant selfishness. It was also sometimes a bit of a hoot to sit back on my sofa late at night, my laptop balanced on one knee and the latest hefty edition of the DSM manual balanced on the other while I tried to officially uncover exactly which strand of psychotic ailment is ravaging Ramona Singer from the inside out. After much research and honing my while-I-never-got-higher-than-a-C-in-any-Science-class-I’m-still-analytical-as-hell-and-I-pay-closer-attention-to-this-show-than-even-Jason-Hoppy’s-lawyers-do opinion, I've decided Ramona is plagued by a messy bouillabaisse of a psyche ruled by borderline intellectual functioning, mutating cognitive disorders, grandiose delusions, standard narcissism, and some sort of existential mania that occurs when you go to sleep at night wondering if you actually exist if a camera is not recording every single one of your snores.
So yes, I had some good times recapping the New York City ladies and their allegations about cocaine usage and their never-ceasing product placement – even the blood that leaked from Bethenny’s uterus last season was SkinnyGirl red – and exploring the piles of evidence that Luann’s fiancé has indeed felt up every woman over the age of forty-five who has ever wandered down a tree-lined street on the Upper East Side. And there were certain episodes that were kind of exciting in a completely perverse sort of way. Remember when Bethenny told Luann that she had photographic evidence of Tom cheating and her hand shook like she was a trauma victim as she poured herself a SkinnyGirl vodka while Luann dry-heaved in the bathroom? That right there was excellent TV! Remember how adorable it was when Dorinda’s sister showed up to the house in the Berkshires dressed as Santa Claus and walked in to see Jules playing Twister by herself and Bethenny was in the kitchen screaming “You fuck everybody!” at Luann? If that tableau doesn’t scream Christmas, I don’t know what does.
You know what else was the kind of profound televised moment that caused me to press pause on my DVR, pick up the phone, and immediately call every woman I know to tell each one that she is beautiful and wonderful and bright and, most importantly, fucking normal? It was when a raging fury went roiling through Sonja’s entire body – along with what I’m guessing was a minor infection caused by washing one’s underthings in the bidet of a home where only brown water flows – about being left out of that particular weekend of underworld hell that transpired in the Berkshires. Even after she heard about the hours of crazy that went down and even after she saw footage that was actually time-stamped to accurately chronicle the misery and even after viewing every single insult spit Luann’s way by Bethenny, Sonja was still furious she’d been left out. So what that Bethenny would have verbally maimed her and then shoved what was left of her spleen and her Gstaad fantasies into a blender so she could frappe the hell out of it and then bottle that shit and call it The SkinnyGirl Smoothie, a groundbreaking beverage where just one shot of the stuff would cause you to believe that you also used to go clubbing with John-John Kennedy, Jr.? Not being invited to be screamed at in Dorinda’s kitchen was way worse according to the broken Ms. Morgan.
The demented groupthink behavior of the New York Housewives was at an all-time high last season, but something about the magnitude of their insanity didn’t bother me and I think it’s because I actually believed the crazy they were peddling. The anger and rage and unbridled fury emanating out of their mouths and pores seemed authentic, not the manufactured bullshit the Beverly Hills women have been shilling out for a few seasons now. I realize people who define themselves as celebrities because of a starring role on a reality show where they willfully brandish their lives to the masses while allowing editors to splice together storylines in a way that appears as diabolical as possible are perhaps not completely balanced in the first place, but the televised psychopath convention that appeared weekly on our screens last season struck me as legitimate. I mean, it’s clear Luann really was wandering around the streets of Manhattan telling every exhausted friend and not-paid-nearly-well-enough manicurist that she’d found her soulmate and it didn’t matter in the slightest if that soulmate had gone down on every person she’d ever met because Tom loved her and whichever lady's clitoris he’d rubbed counterclockwise in his BL (Before-Lu) days was a clitoris that definitely no longer mattered to him because her clitoris enthralled him now, much like that glowing orb recently appeared to enthrall our demonic President. And Sonja? She managed to turn a casual hookup into an imaginary fairytale that only ended when The Evil Queen and her humungous statement necklace oozed her way in and stole Sonja’s prince because it turns out princes love husky voices and an adeptness to squirt all over zillion thread count sheets. As for Bethenny, a woman we can usually rely on for a giggle courtesy of a snide comment, it seems an exposure to an anorexic destroyed her ability to be our comic relief. See, Bethenny turns frigid inside – like she’s a Wonder Twin holding a bucket of shaved ice after taking the form of a polar bear – the second anything or anyone reminds her of her mother and the childhood in which she as raised by rabid wolves. Therefore, the cold reaction Bethenny had to Jules and her eating disorder may have read as callous, but it was also legitimate. Never in the history of time has someone else’s thigh-gap traumatized another woman so completely, but I never thought Bethenny was playing up her anxiety for the cameras. I was quite sure she experienced a mini panic attack every time she attended a brunch where Jules provided bagels and lox and never ate a single thing, just as I was relatively certain that Luann would have married a used condom if it lived in a penthouse. Last season’s storylines were stunning in their depravity, but that depravity felt genuine.
It’s a brand new season now and not a single second of it is hooking me in. There have been weeks where I’ve slept straight through the show and eventually watched it two days later, an action I couldn’t have even imagined last year when every single installment upped the stakes. Last week, I sat on my couch and texted throughout the entire episode:
Newish friend: what r u watching?
Me: Charlie Rose
While I’ve often had to explain my television tastes and my proclivity for reality shows to people who rarely understand the lure of whatever mesmerizing waves Bravo shoots out into the stratosphere, knowing this person could switch over and check out my viewing habits made my decision to lie a very easy one – and I stand by it. Because had he flipped to Bravo, he would have seen a former socialite acting like it was totally normal to move into the dilapidated penthouse of a causal former friend and then head out to a bar with the woman and her absurd buddy so she could learn about the art of female seduction from a woman who starts each season with a brand new face. And that particular Beautique scene – the one where Tinsley picks up a cute boy named Chad and Sonja seethes “He’s not on the list” and Ramona strokes her hair and then pinches her own nipples until someone with a scrotum buys her a glass of wine just so she’ll stop pantomiming that she’s ovulating at that very second – is exactly why this show is no longer the event television it so recently was.
There's just not much to invest in anymore. Not for a second have I wondered or truly cared about Carole’s future with the hot chef she allows to squat at her place until she grows tired of his presence. I actually like Carole in as much as I can like any participant of one of these shows. I get that her waving away of peoples’ opinions during the weeks leading up to the election struck some as her behaving in a superior fashion, but for fuck’s sake, people – the woman was in rooms with Ramona Singer and Sonja Morgan! Her opinions probably were superior. And while I’d sooner have watched Human Centipede on a loop than stare at any footage that recounted that tragic night, I commend Carole for coming right out and sharing her political views because they actually mean something to her and she’s not afraid the Trump supporters who watch might turn on her the way someone like Ramona would fear. Can’t you just see Ramona sidling up to one of her fifty best girlfriends (the ones she can say anything to, including asking them questions about how their toddlers feel about how they appeared in softcore porn two decades ago) and leaning in to close-talk even more closely than usual to explain that she’s very well versed in all things politics, but she’s decided not to expound on what she believes in because it could impact the sale of her skincare products and her line of necklaces with dangling crucifixes?
It comes down to apathy for me. I don’t actually care which candidate Ramona voted for or why Tinsley is bunking in Sonja’s house or whether on not it’s borderline creepy that Luann’s grown daughter is being branded a flower girl at the upcoming wedding where there will be three costume changes for the bride and nobody Tom has recently gone down on will be invited to attend. Poor Dorinda really should have used last November trying to find the opportune moment to sidle up to the groom and give the guy a quick rim-job in some hotel bathroom. She had one chance to not have to throw on a pink gown she’ll never wear again, one chance to not have to appear in public wearing the same outfit as Luann’s twenty-seven other bridesmaids. She blew it when she should have blown Tom and then burned the pink dress in celebration.
As far as I see it, the biggest problem plaguing this season is that the seeds for stories seem to have been planted and then fertilized with horseshit and almost none of it is compelling. Will Bethenny reconcile with Ramona? Might Carole stay with her boyfriend or reupholster her tiger-print sofa, the one that looks like it was mauled by a streak of actual tigers after they were denied food and then shown episodes exclusively from The Munchausen Season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills on a loop? What are the odds Sonja will get serious about the guy she calls “Frenchy” and will their union be made official before or after her townhouse is inspected for asbestos? Will Bethenny move again so she can kick off her new Bravo series with some bubble-wrap and simultaneously provide more room for her child, her two idiotically-named new puppies, and the staff who surround her on a minute to minute basis so she can always have a chorus of people reiterating she’s right about absolutely everything? Unlike the seeds of conflict sowed with perverse care in prior seasons, not one of the stories poking its way through the symbolic soil interests me. Like, if I saw some random guy tromping over all the teeny storyline flowers, I wouldn’t say a word, not even when he pulled out his dick and pissed all over them because maybe urine would end up making just one of these conflicts interesting. Maybe if it’s revealed that Tom once peed all over Sonja in the throes of ecstasy and she saved it in a jar and keeps his pee in her basement beside all those cases of Wesson cooking oil, this season could be redeemed.
Then there are the cameos by people I think the majority of viewers have already decided to either feel ambivalent about or hate with a passion because they’re walking scum. I don’t care if John the Dry Cleaner uses a tulle gown from the Elizabethan Age that he just removed a hemlock stain from to form a bed for a puppy that was whelped during a blackout; the guy will always ick me out something severe. He’s proven himself a sloppy drunk, a probable drug user, and a fervent proponent of public displays of affection that cause me to Lysol my television screen lest anything in his spittle be contagious. And though it’s sort of impossible not to like Avery or at least not be stunned silent that she’s turned out normal after having a twitchy monster with mutating personality disorders for a mother, seeing Avery also means seeing Ramona and while I’m not certain about many things in my life, I would stake almost anything on the fact that my brain will explode and go dribbling out of my ears while I’m wearing something brand new and white if I ever hear Ramona announce just one more time that Avery’s sorority sisters really think of her as a friend. No, Ramona, they don’t, and I’ve grown sick and tired of the way people poo-poo this woman’s raging insanity and wave their hands with a giggle while they explain, “That’s just Ramona!” because unhinged people aren’t actually all that adorable in the long-run and this particular psychopath has been on my television for long enough.
As for the others who show up now and again in this season’s sanitized Housewives’ Universe, there are a few who are kind of sweet. Adam seems lovely and I’ll bet he can do phenomenal things with a cauliflower crust, but there’s not much more to him than being gluten-free eye-candy. And Tom? Regardless of the mountains of rumors swirling about his total lack of fidelity, we know Luann ends up marrying the guy and that the wedding was magical and all the best people showed up, like the photographer for People and Satan, who arrived with Jill Zarin as his plus-one. It could have been interesting when Candace Bushnell made an appearance, but it seems she was just there so Dorinda could taunt Sonja about having vaginal rejuvenation and being a giant asshole in front of an audience. Besides, Sonja barely reacted to anything heaved her way. She just kept eating dinner because girlfriend is not about not to give up a free meal prepared in a kitchen where the water flows from the sink crisp and clear.
That very dinner scene and its aftermath was when I first started to get annoyed with this show, when I first started to disengage. Sonja and Dorinda made up the next day! And the reason for this quick reconciliation was that Sonja decided Dorinda just needed to blow off some steam and sure, Dorinda spoke of Sonja in hideous terms at a dinner table while everyone was wearing a microphone, but Sonja was okay with all of that. I understand the concept of forgiveness; in some ways I’m a fucking master at it. But having someone trash you in the press the way Sonja did to Dorinda or having someone annihilate you in front of a crowd like Dorinda did as a form of revenge is not the sort of thing one so easily gets over except if some producer is hovering, threatening to yank away your golden apple unless you make nice and take a group trip with your most recent harasser. The relationships between these women simply do not read as organic anymore, nor do the scenarios we’re being sold. I resent that Bravo and members of this cast expect us to believe that a woman like Tinsley can’t get herself a hotel room or an apartment of her own and instead lives with a person who instructs her to steal artificial sweetener from restaurants and never bring a man home. Not for a second do I believe Bethenny and Luann and Ramona would ever show up at the same bar if cameras weren’t present. And I wonder about what else these women are willing to sacrifice. Will it be the health of their love lives or their sanities in general just so they never have to find out the answer to this age-old question: If one Housewife screams that her coworker is a filthy whore in a forest, will anyone hear it unless they’re being filmed as it happens?
Nell Kalter teaches Film and Media at a school in New York. She is the author of the books THAT YEAR and STUDENT, both available on amazon.com in paperback and for your Kindle. Her Twitter is @nell_kalter