Facing the camera, from left: Lisa Vanderpump, Taylor Armstrong and Kyle Richards in the latest incarnation of this Bravo franchise, which has its premiere on Thursday night.
Homogenized landscapes no longer shock. Americans have become used to retail sprawl, those swaths of stores — T. J. Maxx, Starbucks, the Gap, Bed Bath & Beyond — that sprout up all over without local roots or regard for regional differences.
But it is still remarkable that no matter where it looks, Bravo finds interchangeable groups of affluent housewives — well-groomed, ill-mannered women who volunteer to drink, squabble and spend in exchange for reality-show recognition. The country may be made up of identical strip malls; Bravo has a franchise on identical strip molls.
” The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills “is set on the aspirational edge of show business, a few swimming pools and movie contracts away from A-list Hollywood. Yet there is little discernible difference among these doyennes of self-indulgence and their sisters in Washington; New Jersey; New York; Atlanta; or Orange County, Calif. Their gated communities are ticky-tacky, and the mansions all look the same: huge, shiny and new, with lots of white carpet, walk-in closets and crystal chandeliers.
And the women — collagen-plumped, Botox-stretched and Pilates-sculptured — look so alike that it’s difficult to tell one Beverly Hills housewife from another, let alone from other housewives in New Jersey or New York. There’s a reason so many women of means are willing to adopt a look and follow a script: reality-show heroines are rewarded with book deals, record contracts and the kind of social entree that money alone can’t buy.
Beverly Hills is a desirable reality-show location, but it’s hard to imagine that it could top the most recent variation on the theme, “The Real Housewives of D.C.,” in which real news bled into the artificially enhanced reality of the format. The social-climbing Salahis, Tareq and Michaele, were key members of the cast, everybody’s worst best friends, and their misadventures, from crashing a White House state dinner to pleading the Fifth at a Congressional hearing, were woven into the narrative arc. Words, and sometimes crockery and tables, fly on all these shows. But in Washington there was the extra frisson of a real-life national security breach.
So it is a credit to the casting scouts of Bravo that they managed to sign up a crew of women every bit as uninhibited and ostentatious as their predecessors. As is now almost de rigueur, at least one marriage won’t last. This sextet includes Camille Grammer, who begins the season as the wife of the “Frasier” star Kelsey Grammer and ends it headed for divorce. She has two children and four nannies.
There is a pair of sisters, the child actresses Kim Richards and Kyle Richards, who both had roles in the 1975 Disney movie “Escape to Witch Mountain.” They have reality television in their blood; their half sister is Kathy Hilton, mother of Paris and Nicky.
The British-born housewife Lisa Vanderpump has a husband, many tiny dogs, several restaurants and Cedric, a live-in trainer-houseguest. Adrienne Maloof is married to a plastic surgeon but helps run the Maloof family business, which includes the Sacramento Kings, the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas and the Maloof Money Cup skateboard competition.
Taylor Armstrong is married to an investment banker and is the most vocally and visibly insecure housewife in the group. She allows the cameras in as a plastic surgeon (Adrienne’s husband, Dr. Paul Nassif) shoots filler into her temples, which then swell into puffy lumps. Taylor should have known better: her looks are arresting, but her plumped lips are alarming, not bee-stung so much as stingray-stung.
“My husband is masculine; there is no blurring that issue,” she tells the camera. “Oh, Lord, he’s going to leave me for a 20-year-old.”
It is unlikely that any of these women will make headlines by gate-crashing. The Academy Awards must have tighter security than the White House. It doesn’t matter. Beverly Hills is the nominal setting, but the real milieu is Bravo.
THE REAL HOUSEWIVES
of Beverly Hills
Bravo, Thursday nights at 10, Eastern and Pacific times; 9, Central time.
Produced for Bravo by Evolution Media. Douglas Ross, Greg Stewart, Kathleen French, Dave Rupel and Alex Baskin, executive producers; Toni Gallagher, co-executive producer.
ALESSANDRA STANLEY: New York Times