I never thought that I could love/hate anyone, at least not any group of middle-aged fame whores, as much as I love "The Real Housewives of Orange County." For three seasons now, I have watched the "RHOC" flaunt yards of wrinkly, surgically-enhanced cleavage while wearing age-inappropriate rhinestone-encrusted tops, and I have loved every minute of it. I watch the show with a kind of anthropological fascination, almost as if I were paging through a National Geographic magazine, only with even more boob. I am simultaneously alienated and riveted by the housewives' lifestyle, with all its bizarre, tacky trappings--the hair extensions, the overly-Botoxed faces, the Pucci prints, the $300,000 pools, the offspring with made-up names, and last but not least, the blue cheese-stuffed-olive dirty martinis. So when the most recent season of the show ended with Lauri's ridiculous wedding (her 3rd) to her rich and chinless fiancé, George, I thought it just couldn't get any better. I knew I was going to miss the Housewives.
But Bravo knows their audience all too well, and quickly filled the hole left in my heart with a new set of not-so real, not exactly housewives: the "Real Housewives of New York City." I have to admit, I didn't think I would be susceptible to this incarnation of the show for a variety of reasons. Basically, I thought, eh, a bunch of socialites, how boooooring. Plus, I thought naively, the show could never have the same exotic factor as the Orange County version. It's my city, so there won't be the same kind of distance that allows me to disdain the OC ladies so gleefully. If I were to get all academic about it--and why shouldn't I?-- it wouldn't be as easy to look at the Housewives as the "other."
Fortunately for me, I could not have been more wrong about the New York Housewives.
There's Ramona, who looks like she was airlifted into New York City straight from Orange County, with all the blonde hair, loud tops and short skirts that entails. At first Ramona seemed sort of normal, but with each episode, it's becoming more painfully clear that Ramona is a very insecure woman. She's married to Mario, and you can tell they still do it all the time, but that he probably does it with the babysitter too. Ramona's tween daughter is deeply embarrassed by her mother's racy outfits and drunk-sorority-girl-on-Bourbon-Street behavior. At 12, she is without a doubt the smartest and most mature person on the show.
Speaking of teen daughters, there's also Jill, the Long Island Jew whose accent is almost as intense as her social aspirations. Jill has a 15-year-old daughter who seems sweet and unaffected, but whom she sends to fat camp-I mean "holistic" detox center--via a private plane. Jill is married to Bobby, and talks about the Hamptons like she invented them. "All our friends are there," she says about 20 times per episode. Jill has a serious axe to grind with Ramona, and in the latest episode, completely lost her sh!t when Ramona was seated in front of her at a fashion show. Savvy viewer that I am, I have a feeling some clever Bravo producers were behind that arrangement. God bless them.
Then there's Bethenny. Or as I like to call her, "Beth N.E.," whose inventively-spelled name might be the most interesting thing about her. Beth N.E. lives in a blandly ugly block of condos on the Upper East Side, and dates a bald guy with three kids. She cooks a lot, and talks about Martha Stewart even more. Her apartment looks exactly like every apartment I have ever been in on the Upper East Side. It's perfectly nice, but I have no idea why she is on this show, except for the obvious fact that she desperately wants to be. The first two episodes, I found her painfully boring, but I have hope for Beth N.E., especially after she called Alex's husband gay (I'll get to that later). She could be the dark horse of the show.
Not boring at all is LuAnn, who is both the most terrifying and the most stereotypical WASP ice queen of on the show. She has a touch of Janice Dickinson about her, and it seems that, like Janice, she is probably going to be the show's requisite bitch. LuAnn is married to some dude whose family bought a royal title back in the day, and because of this she insists, without a hint of irony or self-deprecation, on referring to her husband simply as "the Count," not Fred or Willard or Enrique or whatever his name is. LuAnn also speaks with an alarming amount of pride about how much she overworks her maid, Roseanna, who seems to spend about 14 hours a day cleaning up puppy poop and carrying bags in and out of Countess LuAnn's numerous residences. She is tight with Jill, and the two of them prey on sad Ramona like a pair of ravenous ferrets or really trashy Edith Wharton characters.
Last, and in absolutely no way least (other than her weight), is Alex. Where do I begin? Well, at the risk of slander, I am going to say that Alex is the woman with the eating disorder and the gay husband. When I heard that there was going to be a Brooklyn couple on the show, I had visions of a pre-tragedy Heath and Michelle: a fabulous yet down-to-earth, vaguely Bohemian couple living the highlife in an envy-inducing brownstone they bought 10 years ago, and now fill with chlorine-free diapers and clothes from Steven Alan.
Instead, we got something far more interesting. Alex and her husband, Simon, met on an "international dating" site, which makes sense since they are both hugely pretentious Francophiles. She's originally from Kansas, and he's from Australia, but he has affected a mysterious pan-global accent; if people really spoke Esperanto, I bet this is what their accent would be. He manages a small hotel and she is a visual merchandiser, but somehow they can afford six-figure shopping sprees at Roberto Cavalli, not to mention a $2.2 million townhouse in Cobble Hill. Being a hard-hitting journalist, I looked up the establishment, the Hotel Chandler, thinking maybe it was some lush hidden gem in Murray Hill. The main page featured a cartoon duck holding a bouquet of flowers, which, adorable thought it may be, does not immediately scream "expensive" or "luxurious" to me. But what do I know? The jury is still out.
As much as I enjoy the other Housewives, what I really want is a reality show devoted entirely to Alex and Simon's relationship, because, my friends, that sh!t's crazy. As Beth N.E. pointed out in the most recent episode, it is a deeply co-dependent relationship, in spite of (or maybe because of) the fact that Simon doesn't seem like the straightest of men. Alex and Simon consult each other on everything, no matter how inane, or where the other person is. Witness the latest episode, when Simon texts Alex about what color boot he should wear. I can't tell who is in charge, because their personalities seem to have merged so completely. Witness the first episode, when in a scene that Bravo has played more or less non-stop, Simon and Alex frolic on the beach in St. Barthe's, wearing his-and-hers thongs and thus proving the old adage, "the family that wears butt floss together, stays together."
The only downside to the new series is that it makes me worry a bit about the Orange County version. Part of the fun of the OC show is allowing myself to believe, despite my better judgment, that there is an alternate universe not all that far away, a land where all girls over the age of 13 get hair extensions, and everyone lives in pseudo-Tuscan McMansions with their children, Chynah, McKeltey, and Slatington. Even though this possibility terrifies me, I kind of want it to be real. Same goes for ghosts, alien abductions, and the Loch Ness Monster. But watching the New York Housewives, it's clear that while they are brilliantly cast, these women aren't representative of the New York I know, nor are they representative of "New York society," whatever that means. Thank God on both counts.
Follow Meredith Blake on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@meredithblake