The last thing one expects from any of the Real Housewives series is sincerity. Thus the four-minute mourning segment tacked onto the start of the second-season premiere of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills to address the recent suicide of Russell Armstrong was as hopeless an attempt at good taste as suggesting to Taylor, Camille, Kyle, Kim, and Lisa that they might want to go easier on the surgical enhancement and the ostentatious jewelry.
All of the women except for widow Taylor were gathered together. They said Russell’s death was “heartbreaking,” that they never saw “any sign of this,” and Kim offered generously that Taylor “wasn’t aware of the financial mess [Russell] was in.” Kyle added helpfully, “It was his choice,” and then, “For me, it’s very hard to move forward.” Then The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills moved forward anyway.
Mercifully snipped from the hour was a segment sent out to reviewers before Russell’s suicide: a girls’ trip to the depressing Los Angeles fixture Trashy Lingerie, a store where synthetic fabric goes to prostitute itself. There, Taylor said she was making some purchases “to spice up my love life,” to “increase the intimacy.” You were lucky you were spared this.
Did the suicide of Russell Armstrong, husband of Real Housewife of Beverly Hills Taylor, hang heavily over this episode? Of course; that was inevitable. What wasn’t was the fact that Russell’s death was the only thing that made the hour remotely bearable. When, at a dinner party thrown by Adrienne, Lisa’s husband Ken told Taylor, “If I had to go to a therapist to make my marriage better, I’d feel weak,” it was finally possible to watch this show and think something other than “Well, that was an idiotic comment.” Watching how upset Taylor became, you could wonder how much of that was genuine emotion and how much was worked up for the camera crew. You could wonder if Ken, looking at this footage now, feels any remorse for his dismissal of “weak” people, since that group now includes a dead man. You could wonder whether Russell had seen any of this as rough footage before he took his life. What I’m getting at here is that Russell Armstrong’s death had at least one effect upon the world: It brought this reality show into the real world, for a few seconds at least.
After Russell Armstrong’s suicide, there was talk in the press about canceling the new season before it started. Of course it shouldn’t be canceled. I wish I could say that the Real Housewives franchise is played out — every time I check out one of these city brands, it doesn’t matter, they’re all doing the same amount of shrieking and spending, trumping up arguments and behaving like brats. But there’s still a large audience for these shows. Fine; neither you nor I have to watch them every week. But we also shouldn’t expect that these women who behave so nonstop selfishly are going to change, even in the face of tragedy. (Lack of change: It’s one reason why for all the “drama,” there’s no real — i.e., Aristotelian — drama in this genre.)
As Regis Philbin asked so succinctly this morning on Live With Regis & Kelly, addressing Camille, Lisa, and Kyle:
“What is good about appearing on this show?”