'Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' Premiere: What Critics Say
While one slams a scene in the Bravo series as a "creepy necro-party game," another lauds the "sensitive" cameras after Russell Armstrong's suicide.
Critics were mixed on Monday's Season 2 premiere of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills -- which was re-edited after Russell Armstrong's suicide and included a brief interview in which the cast addressed the death.
"The allure of the Real Housewives shows has been, in part, their celebration of the unreality of life — all those dinner party conversations that were just as manufactured and misguidedly narcissistic as the surgically altered faces, the carefully arranged décolletage, the anorexic arms that wreathed the table. But now we know that as these tableaux were constructed, as these little scenes were nursed into being, the petty tensions fed, the catty diatribes coddled, offstage a man was slowly moving toward self-destruction," writes Mary McNamara in the Los Angeles Times. "How can we now watch and think of anything else?"
McNamara points to a scene in which Lisa Vanderpump's husband, Ken, said he would feel "weak" if he entered marital therapy as Russell and Taylor were.
"It is impossible for even an impartial observer to not parse a scene like that for indications of what we all now know is to come, which not only turns the show into a creepy necro-party game, it shatters the suspension of disbelief required for these shows to succeed," she writes.
Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker writes that it was "inevitable" that Russell's suicide would play prominently in the premiere.
"What wasn’t was the fact that Russell’s death is the only thing that made the hour remotely bearable," he writes. "When, at a dinner party thrown by Adrienne, Lisa’s husband Ken tells 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," he adds. "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."
People's Tom Gliatto wasn't as harsh on the show.
"In general, the cameras were more sensitive about not dwelling on Taylor's tautly miserable face – the right decision, certainly – although she still came across with a sort of Cate Blanchett intensity," he writes.
"None of this resolves the new season's basic problem. Housewives is a confection, not a documentary project. It can incorporate a range of dramatic problems – including Camille Grammer's divorce – but Russell Armstrong's off-camera, post-filming, pre-season suicide remains like a storm system swirling above all these preposterously outfitted frenemies kissing and undercutting each other in the California sun…If there is ever to be rain, and there will be, it will be controlled like a sprinkler system."