Like the shiny veneer on a dangly set of fake-gold chandelier earrings, the glossy sheen of production values is beginning to wear thin on the Real Housewives of New York City. As viewers, we are increasingly treated to the ugly underside of the show — the thin wires of interpersonal tension, bad editing, and product promotion that create the frame upon which this glittery show is painted. For some reason, in last night's episode, every time one of the ladies referred to "our group" or "our circle" it became too painfully obvious how fake the whole thing was. These gals fucking hate each other, and we know it, and every time we're required to think of them as a cohesive unit we're reminded that they're only together because of the reality cameras. "Ramona Singer's a star," Sonja Morgan tells Cindy Barshop, meaning in the world of society. But she's patently not a star in society, a gassy galaxy that has very few, if any "stars." Cindy, who is new and not sure this whole thing is a good idea, can't reconcile this glaring reference to real reality. She tries to clarify. "In her world," she says. Sonja just smirks. "In your world, now." It was an ugly moment.
Other flecks of jarring reality were scattered throughout the episode. For example, it wasn't weird that Cindy and Kelly were walking through Central Park in ridiculous shoes, with no bags, and no visible pockets. But when Jill showed up appearing to take an actual walk, with her dog and a poopie bag and a purse to carry her stuff, suddenly the other two seemed like clowns on a promenade. (Also, how fake was that run-in? The reality cameras even caught a paparazzi running across the screen.)
The producers nearly redeemed themselves by capturing brief moments of actual, non-scripted reality. Like when Ramona asked LuAnn honestly, seemingly thinking the cameras were off her, "Wasn't that the weirdest party you've ever been to in your life?" Yes, Ramona, it was a weird party, but all of your parties are weird because producers make you have them and invite people you hate.
And then later, there was a sad sort of honest scene when Sonja, Kelly, and LuAnn learned how to cook in the toaster oven because they'd all been left by their older, richer husbands. Of course, it was ruined in short order when Sonja called the cooking method "easy and no cleanup" at the very moment the cameras caught Michael in the kitchen behind her, cleaning up.
The cake was taken, as they say, when Alex and Jill wrote private grievances to one another and then burned them, to symbolically clear the air. It was dorky but sort of nice, and would have seemed meaningful had the cameras not read the notes over their shoulders. Honestly, I almost turned off the TV. But I had to score the rest of the episode! Which I will get on to, now, I promise.
Okay, it must be said: Cindy is way too with it to be on this show, and I predict she'll go the way of Jennifer Gilbert, not Bethenny Frankel. We'll never hear from her after this season and be forced to wonder if Jill sent her to the bottom of the Hudson to sleep with the other smooth-vagina'd fishes. For example, she's so new she didn't realize that producers would undermine her completely if she contradicted herself, by cutting in prior footage. They did it when she said she didn't tell Kelly that Ramona was coming to the toaster party. (To be fair, we remember from last week, Cindy was drinking a HUGE martini at that party, so maybe she just doesn't really remember.) She was right to say that the whole Pinot Grigio squabble was "the pettiest thing in the world," but she didn't realize that the other Housewives had decided it was going to be a STORY, so she should just go with it. Even though we appreciate her for being a real drinker, she's way behind these other ladies and was far from winning this episode. She even seemed genuinely upset during that truly, honestly awkward scene at The Four Seasons.
Ramona, on the other hand, was delighted with herself at The Four Seasons. Because, as I think Camille Grammer once pointed out, she who remains calmest always wins. As Jill observes, Ramona leaves dead bodies all around town and then says, "I don't want to talk about it anymore!" In this episode, Cindy's that body. Ramona did well this episode — she survived being outed for sending drunk texts, which, to be fair, is a little like outing Mayor Bloomberg for wearing shoes with a little heel. But she fell short of the win partially because of her outfits (sunglasses inside? a leather cheerleader skirt?), and partially because she did so well. The fact that she handled the Kelly lunch so well shows she should only do midday events on this show. She's the only character that is visibly different when she's drunk than when she's sober. And she's drunk a lot.
Sonja was back in stride this episode. Her impression of Ramona was dead-on and hilarious. As was the moment when she referred to "working at a union restaurant" as a threat. And she oddly pulled off an asymmetrical leather top under a fur shrug. (Though, why did she put her boobs out like that for Cindy? At tea? Are we getting sapphic Sonja again?) It was also a lovely moment when she and Cindy sat down for tea, and then were suddenly holding etched Champagne glasses. Still, by harping on the childish Pinot Grigio issue, Sonja lost herself another episode.
I've come to a conclusion. Alex needs to stop putting her kids on-camera. Sonja never does it, and Kelly rarely does it (when she does, it's clearly only with their approval). Ramona and Jill and LuAnn's kids are old enough to know what they're getting into. But Johan and Francois (or Lumiere and the Featherduster, as Richard from Gawker would probably put it) are clearly not into it at all, and come across as being strange and maladjusted — which they probably aren't! But they're going to have to look back and watch this someday. And worse, the bullies in eighth grade are going to watch it. Anyway, beyond that, Alex did a good job with Jill, blah blah.
Kelly is the only character for whom I don't have jolts of reality/"reality" crossover, probably because she lives on Planet Kelly. Sonja rightly calls Kelly out when Kelly claims Ramona "threatened" her, but nobody questioned when Kelly said she was "really worried" about Ramona. If Kelly were really worried about Ramona, she'd arrange an intervention, not set up a boozy brunch. Later, she got away with saying a classic meaningless Kellyism that wasn't even remotely true, despite its meaninglessness. "I'm not interested in acquaintances," she said. In the real world and on the show, Kelly's entire social life in New York City is based on people she refers to as friends but whom she barely knows at all. That's what an acquaintance is, here in New York. Anyway, Kelly lost again, even though she did say "HIEEE" to a child in the park, which was the first time it ever really made sense.
You know, I really go back and forth on LuAnn. She seems so smart and level-headed sometimes, like when she told everyone to chill out about the Pinot Grigio thing. And then, sometimes, she is such an asshole. "Ramona's jewelry is very nice, it's just not for me," she snipes in a confessional, during which she is wearing the most ass-trashy piece of jewelry she has worn to date, a giant gold cleavage butterfly. Then she lures Ramona into a little trap, asking her to pronounce the valley where her wine is produced and then pouncing with the correct pronunciation. "She can't even pronounce the name. Like it's a town in LONGKISLAND." Hey, LuAnn, YOU LIVE ON LONGKISLAND. To Ramona's credit, she laughed the whole thing off.
Oh God, it really stings to say this, but in her first episode back, Jill takes the win. She was SO smart to skip the first few. "I've had a lot of time to think about my priorities and get a fresh start," she said in a confessional. "So now I am definitely staying away from gossip and drama and fighting." Well, we all know that's not true, but by appearing at just the moment when all of the rest of them have poisoned themselves to the audiences, she's made us almost believe her. (In spite of that weird Michael Jackson getup she was wearing.) Of course, the old Jill appeared in brief flashes, like when she heard the word "Quogue," or when she paused to steel her nerves before going up the stairs to Alex's house. (Two notes about that: One, didn't everyone else think that Alex and Simon owned that whole row house, and not that it was a multi-family home? And also, to be fair to Jill, she might have just been taking a deep breath before climbing stairs in those heels.) Anyway, she was sort of Jill-y throughout the whole makeup process. Like when she said, "I really wish my friends had said to me: 'You [and Bethenny are] really friends and you're not leaving this room until you've made up." This is particularly maddening to viewers, because despite all their callousness, the other ladies actually did do that. And Jill almost devoured them whole for it. And she also did that terrible Jill-attack, where she says in an argument, "How? What? What did I say?" She of all people knows this is unfair — she wouldn't go into a fight with Bethenny last year without a written list of grievances. BUT ANYWAY, Jill was nice to bring presents for the boys, and she was nice to try to make up with Alex, and generally, just for delaying her entrance, she wins the day. And, I really liked this statement: "We've made fun [of Alex's kids] because that's a funny subject, kids. But it wasn't funny to you, and I shouldn't have done that."
Tiella: For serving the girls bread with their Perrier, white wine, and air.
Whoever Made Those Matching Cocktail Rings That LuAnn and Sonja Were Wearing: Way to double brand!
The Frank Gehry Tower: For looking AMAZING in that one cutaway shot of Manhattan.
Alex and Simon's Block in Carroll Gardens: For looking so leafy!
Geisha: Finally a restaurant that other diners are actually in!
Michael the Latin Dancer: For being ADORABLE. Also, Sonja wins for having him as a house boy.
East River Park: For looking so cute in the midst of Sonja looking like an asshole and the FDNY looking so hot.
Francois and Johan: For having to receive a terrible and boring birthday present on-camera.
Ramona's Fembot Sales Manager: That's scary stuff.
The Four Seasons: For knowing Ramona Singer's drink order.