The second season of Bravo's snazziest Housewives show began last night, though I'm really not sure it should have.
So how do we talk about this, huh? I mean obviously we know the basics: Taylor Armstrong's husband committed suicide a couple of weeks ago and it was a terrible thing. Of course it was a terrible thing, it could be nothing but a terrible thing. Bravo was then faced with a decision: does it air the season as is, or edit it, or not show it outright? Everyone kinda had an opinion, with the looky-loos saying it should go full steam ahead, the worrywarts saying they should heavily edit, and the grumps and naysayers and moral purists saying they shouldn't air it all. I tended, do tend, to fall somewhere between naysayer and worrywart, so I'm not quite sure. Well, rather, I wasn't quite sure. Now I am. They should have buried this season and left bad enough alone.
I found last night to be entirely gross and ghoulish. Bravo had previously announced that it would air a sit-down chat with some of the wives to cover the tragic suicide and sort of position the show, context-wise, in terms of what we know now and stuff. And I guess they did, I mean they did air a scene shot last week that featured everyone but Taylor sitting around talking about Russell's suicide. But man if it managed to make the situation even grosser. The whole thrust of scene wasn't the women (and a couple of their husbands) talking about the thing and how they can help Taylor and, I don't know, maybe getting a little meta about "What should we do about the show?" No, instead it was them sitting around trying to absolve themselves of guilt and talking about how the culture of money in "this town" really weighs on people and does real damage, all while filming a television show ABOUT THIS TOWN AND ITS CULTURE OF MONEY. Kyle tried to act all sage and dismayed about the terrible state of Beverly Hills, while continuing to perpetuate the very thing she was shaking her head about. It was nasty and stupid and I don't know why, if this was how it was going to go, Bravo even bothered with the whole post-mortem, for lack of a more sensitive phrase. And as for the absolving of guilt thing, of course this isn't their fault. It was something that had to do with real life and real stuff and no amount of self-importance will ever smoosh Lisa or Camille or any of the other lizards into that situation. So for these assholes to sit there and act as if they could possibly be important enough to have affected a man's decision to kill himself was insanely, and I really mean insane in the clinical way, narcissistic and awful. "I really think now is the time for all the ladies to rally and do what they can," someone, I think Lisa, said. Yes, now is the time to use your shitty fake reality friendships to rescue the survivors of a terrible tragedy so everyone can look good on camera.
I'm really not trying to moralize about What This Suicide Means or draw any big pictures of the state of reality television after this death. I'm only trying to say that when these shows do occasionally lap up on the shores of real life, they often prove startlingly inept at being remotely human or sympathetic. The stark shallowness and materialism is laid pretty bare under the lights of the real world, and that Bravo thought itself capable of graciously handling this particular situation in any way that didn't involve scrapping the whole thing says to me that, perhaps, this whole stupid experiment has gotten out of hand. No, Bravo, and no, Housewives. This is not your territory. Certainly not your area of expertise. The effort is embarrassing, the bungled attempt is ugly. The mad grab for eyeballs two weeks after a man hanged himself is tacky and tone deaf. You should have waited. Y'know, maybe put that grinding desire for attention on hold for just a little bit, just so the dust cloud can settle a bit and we can all feel like being silly again. Or rather so we, the audience, can feel like we're ready to watch these ladies be silly again. Having Kyle say "Well, life goes on..." and then launching directly into the sparkly, bubbly meat of the actual episode is not going to cut it. Yes, life does move on, but not always that quickly.
This is all to say that I'm just not sure how much I want to recap this episode. Or this season, maybe. It doesn't seem funny anymore. And last night's episode — which mostly involved a dinner party at Adrienne's — featured a surprising amount of Taylor. I was genuinely surprised that the editors kept so much of her in. Not just Taylor being Taylor, but Taylor talking, in particular, about her marital struggles with her husband. Normally we'd maybe wonder what was going on with them and then nod our heads and say "Saw that coming..." when Taylor filed for divorce or whatever, but no, now we have to nod our heads and say what, exactly? "Yup. He's going to hang himself later. That man she's talking about at this dinner party. He's dead now. He killed himself." That is not fun, guys. And it's not fun watching the editors do the quick work of making Lisa this season's villain, with her husband Ken saying to Taylor that he, as a man, thinks going to therapy is a sign of weakness, just after Taylor told everyone that she and Russell were in couples therapy. That doesn't seem wicked or bitchy or anything like that, it just feels sad and grim. And I don't like these shows to do sad and grim. No one should like these shows doing sad and grim. A little wistfulness here and there, sure. A little ache and pain and embarrassing struggle, of course. But sad and grim, dark and black and tragic? No, I do not want to watch that happen.
And while it's mostly the Taylor stuff that sticks out like a mangled piece of metal, there's another thing. Kim. Why is Kim back on this show? I mean why is this tired, drunken, emaciated old crab back on this television show after everything that happened last season and, under cover of vagueness, during the reunion? It's just so dumb and pathetic and depressing to see her showing up to take her licks again. Who cares that she was humiliated and damaged and nearly lost her sister last season! She's still on TV, right?? Any press is good press, even if that press is complete strangers diagnosing your addiction problems and pushing you further into the deep and scary pit of depression and self-injuring abandon. Ugh it was such a bummer to see her slouched in her dinner chair last night. Not that I expected her to learn anything or change anything. I knew she'd be back. But her being back speaks to the exploitative nature of this show a bit too loudly for my taste. Ultimately we don't really want to see what's behind that curtain, because it's real and frightening and means actual things to actual people (four children, among them) in the outside world. But here's Bravo showing it to us anyway, encouraging Kim along, throwing her to the wolves (that's us) because why not, she said she wants to after all, and who is anyone to stop her?
I'm sorry this is, actually, becoming a treatise about why we shouldn't watch these shows, but maybe we shouldn't watch these shows? Not that any of this is really our fault, again it'd be a bit high on ourselves to put ourselves in positions of such prominence, but maybe all the little digs and jokes and analyses etc. that's spread out across the internet and elsewhere do all bundle up and create one small percentage of what seems to do these people in. Look at the way last night that Adrienne rolled her eyes and hissed and started a fight in front of her friends because her husband was joking around. I couldn't help but think, gee, I bet she used to love his dumb jokes, his mischievous teasing and whatnot. But now that she's on the television and she wants to look sophisticated and classy and everything, that shit will not stand. So now she's sniping at him and barking at him and embarrassing herself and him so she can look good to a bunch of strangers. Here she is sacrificing a marriage (it looked liked in the previews that she starts having marital problems) for some vague, intangible idea of herself. That's pretty fucking depressing! It's pretty rotten that this is how this whole doom machine really does work. These cameras do enter people's lives, and affect people's lives, and alter a course forever. It's a trite and cliche observation to make in 2011, I know, but didn't, somehow, the Housewives always seem just slightly above it or immune to it? Like maybe they were protected by enough wealth and regional obscurity that they'd make fools of themselves on TV, yes, but then regular life would continue on as relatively normal? Well, maybe that was just me who thought that, and I guess I'm seeing now that that was, duh, pretty incorrect. This whole thing has leaked its poison into these people's lives and that's now the world they live in.
Anyway, that's all for today. I don't want to get into the specifics of the episode because I don't really want to give it that much credit. I'm sure I'll be back to Maloofing and whatnot next week, though it's going to be tricky to do. Taylor was fun to write about last year, but now all the jokes and imagined storylines are just going to spiral down and end in a real suicide, a real body hanging from a rope, a real kid without a dad, a real scar on a family. I'm always complaining about how these Real Housewives aren't actual housewives. But now, huh, here I am complaining that they are, in fact, actually real.