'The Hotwives Of Orlando': TV Review
Hulu expands its slate of original programming with a series devoted to calling out the absurdities of Bravo's "Real Housewives" media franchise.
Like Yahoo Screen's Burning Love, which lampooned ABC's The Bachelor, Hulu's The Hotwives of Orlando skewers the Bravo's Real Housewives stronghold by more or less playing it straight. Both reality series have so many easy-to-recognize formulas that a satire only needs to approach the series with the slightest of tweaks, and then let the absurdity of the material speak for itself.
In Hotwives, viewers are introduced to six women who represent different types (and even specific personalities) from the Housewives series: Tawny St. John (Casey Wilson) cheats with her personal trainer (Joey McIntyre) while pretending her husband (Stephen Tobolowsky) is dying, and runs a charity that gives high heels to dogs; Shauna Maducci (Danielle Schneider, who co-wrote the series), is a hot-headed, foul-mouthed over-spender on the verge of bankruptcy; Phenomenon "Phe Phe" Reed (Tymberlee Hill), is an outspoken entrepreneur (lawyer, foot model, aspiring taxidermist) who enjoys talking in the third person; Veronica Von Vandervon (Andrea Savage), a self-proclaimed "cougar" who thrives on sexual innuendo; Crystal Simmons (Angela Kinsey), is a conservative Christian wife whose husband controls her every move; and finally, Amanda Simmons (Kristen Schaal) is Crystal's drug-addled, former child star sister.
Schneider and writing partner Dannah Phirman (who appears as the "friend" that's always hanging around, but isn't a Hotwife) perfectly capture the tone and touchstones of the Housewives franchise, from the exact directing and editing style (right down to the music) to the obsessions with money, looks and catfights. Though no specific knowledge of The Real Housewives is necessary to enjoy Hotwives' parody (like Crystal's assertion, "I don't read the Bible, because TJ says women can't interpret it the way men can. Because it's written in Jewish"), the best jokes are reserved for those who get the references. Phe Phe has a recurring catchphrase, "I'm just being Phe Phe! I gotta speak my mind!" where she shields herself after saying something mean or trouble-making to the other women. The repetition of "I don't want any drama about it. So I'm going to confront her tonight," by all of the women is also a constant.
In previews for upcoming episodes (seven in all, the finale being the Reunion Special -- of course), there's plenty of wig-snatching, boozing and high-pitched fights, but nothing resonates as much as the characters' hatred of being told to "calm down."
"That's something you say when you want to fight," Phe says to Shauna. It's the kickstarter of multiple kerfuffles in the first two episodes, culminating with a back-alley fight with an prostitute (naturally). And of course, there are also plenty of digs regarding central Florida, ("do you want to go big, or do you want to go back to Kissimmee?") and its own suburban culture of wealth. "Orlando has some of the best whore couture in the country," Shauna says knowingly. "Maybe even the world."
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The men of the series also fit the stereotypes of husbands featured on the Housewives franchise, including over-controlling TJ (Seth Morris; "how am I supposed to know what she's doing if I can't see her?") and professional athlete Rodney (Jerry Minor), who is actually just a mascot. But the best meta-inclusion is Paul Scheer as Matty Green (in an Andy Cohen role), who hosts the fake after-show Cool Down, the content of which he outlines during the Hotwives' credits. Guests include Donald Rumsfeld and Christiane Amanpour, he says. "And we'll play a drinking game where we find out why we really invaded Iraq."
Hotwives is knowing and funny, and a great showcase for many talented comedians who both star in it and appear as guests (like Horatio Sanz as a pimp who teaches the husbands that "97 percent of pimping is bookkeeping," and "Quick Books is for little bitches"). And sometimes, particularly when Schneider is in the spotlight, the marriage of parody and realism make it feel almost like true Housewife spinoff.
Like Netflix and other online content providers, Hulu (working with Paramount Digital Entertainment) is clearly looking to expand its catalogue of original programming (that goes beyond reruns of series that already aired across the pond, great as they are), though the specificity of Hotwives, like Burning Love (which later leapt from online to find syndication on E!) may only ultimately appeal to a cult following of viewers who not only know these reality shows, but hold them in contempt. Then again, as Shauna says, "this isn't about grudges, this is about friends hanging out together, being whores."