The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills

Motiveless bitchery in the perfect sunshine.

Taylor Armstrong on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

Please join me in bearing to contemplate The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (Bravo, Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET), wherein nonprofessional actresses of a certain age enact playlets on the themes of conspicuous consumption, marital tension, and motiveless bitchery. The latest of a venerable franchise of docu-soaps, it opens, like its predecessors, with a voiceover giving the audience the lay of the promised land. “Everything might look perfect, but it’s not,” says one of these dames. It is always a delight to hear a reality-TV star paraphrasing Phaedrus. * Non semper ea sunt quae videntur—“Things are not always what they seem.” But you’ve been to Beverly Hills, yes? You know that it looks perfect only in that it looks exactly as it does in the movies, always a discouraging sign. The old wolves lunching at the Beverly Wilshire wear gold chains in their grey chest hair, and the bronze birds walking Rodeo Drive wear their chests like golden calves. On the other hand, the blue crab roll at Sushi Dokoro Kirala is to die for.

The voiceover purrs forward: “This town runs on status.” This remark inspires a sincere query: Are there any towns that don’t run on status? Bodie? Chernobyl? Maybe—maybeLego Town? Evading such questions, the RH of BH intro speeds to a comment on evanescence and an assertion of supremacy: “It can all go away in an instant, but if you can play the game, there’s nowhere better to live.” Come off it. What of Santa Monica? Malibu? Lego Castle?

Now the wives. Well, the wives. Yes, the wives. Blargh, the wives. While the earlier Real Housewives introduced a central cast of five, the R.H. of B.H. starts us off with six, probably because its castmates are, on average, 17 percent less compelling this time around.

We begin with a creature named, as if this were a Pynchon novel, Lisa VanderPump. Her house is “kind of designed like a French château.” Kind of. Though it is not strictly necessary for a Real Housewife to be in a possession of a husband, Lisa is, though he seems necessary only as a source of funds. Filling us in on the flimsiness of their bond, she snickers airily. Because Lisa has a British accent, I presume that she is aware of purloining the following one-liner from Les Dawson: “My husband calls me a sex object. He says every time he wants sex, I object.” Her domestic life instead revolves around Jiggy (a Pomeranian seen sprawling poolside on its own four poster bed) and Cedric (a “permanent houseguest” seen working out with his hostess while they wear matching pink tank tops). Delighted by Cedric’s verve—”At the moment, I’m OK here, and I think I’ll stay for a bit”—I have begun working on a pitch for The Fresh Sponges of Bel Air.

Across the street, in a house kind of like a beastly palais, lives Adrienne, who is an owner of the Sacramento Kings and the wife of a plastic surgeon. Maybe it was he who honed her nose to such a sharpness that it can cut through hot margarine. She seems nice. Next comes Camille, the wife of Kelsey Grammer. “It’s time for me to come out of my husband’s shadow and shine,” she declares. This she does, not unlike a distress flare or, given her recent estrangement from the actor, an exit sign. Now let us behold Taylor, the most openly pathetic figure and thus the least unentertaining. “I’ve always had a feeling since I was really small that there was something bigger for me,” she says. Taylor is obviously referring to her lips, which suggest a Julia Roberts-themed dirigible. Paralyzed by the fear that her husband will leave her for a 20-year-old, she is paralyzing her face in kind.

Then we have the sister act of Kim and Kyle, former child actresses, each of whom appeared in Escape to Witch Mountain. Kim racked up further credits on The Love Boat, Magnum, P.I., and CHiPs(“Ponch, I’ve hurt so many people!”), a resume she believes qualifies her as an “icon,” which is cute. I much prefer Kyle, impressed that she has gracefully aged into a luxury-shopper deft at negotiating quid pro quos with the man holding the purse strings. “Let’s make a deal,” says her husband, crying uncle. “For every $1,000 you spend, I play an hour of golf.”

To judge by preview clips, tonight’s episode addresses matters of independence and its opposite, with Kim fretting nonsensically that her daughter wants to spend the summer in Houston with her ex-husband and Adrienne shooting daggers at her clingy husband as he sloppily eats a chopped salad. Well, the salad looks good. Underwhelming the senses, this escape to Wench Mountain is insufficiently escapist. The moments of self-delusions prove dolorous, the stretches of self-absorption dull. I would hate to think that the Real Housewives franchise has exhausted itself. Until now, it has been diverting, and—if I may drop some more Phaedrus on you—the mind ought sometimes to be diverted that it may return to better thinking.

Correction, October 21, 2010: Due to an error introduced by the editor, Phaedrus was originally presented as the Platonic dialogue, not the Roman fabulist. Return to the corrected sentence.

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