It took three episodes for it to happen, but it’s begun. The winds — not of change, but of eras past —have begun to blow volume into the age-inappropriately long hair of the current cast members of the Real Housewives of New York City. And these winds are whispering the names of ghosts. Former cast members made their presence felt last night, whether it was Ramona uttering the names of Simon and Alex, when comparing their attachment to Aviva’s with her husband; Luann entertaining, on-camera, the laughable idea of having another baby, thereby forcing her daughter to assume the Jill Zarin role of knocking into space in order to indicate the approach of menopause; or Sonja visiting Heather for help with her logo. Heather, who’s closer to Bethenny than any other housewife in the entrepreneurial category of the House-lympics, actually played the Alex role when she gave Sonja tips on how to modernize her brand, just as McCord had for Bethenny back when we were all so young and innocent still, and nobody had yet heard of Carly Rae Jepsen.
And what have these nostalgic breezes infused into season five so far? Honestly, the suggestion of past seasons just reminded me of a nascent suspicion that these new ladies might, still, be a little boring. Kind of classy, kind of fun, absent (save a farming accident) of the typical darkness and aspirational, kinetic reactiveness that usually surrounds Housewives like clouds of filth around Pig Pen. But also, dare I say, might the new cast be advancing the show toward an older audience? Real Housewives shows are typically about women of a certain age but for audiences of all ages who enjoy the comedy and drama inherent to the perimenopausal. It’s already been established that this crop of New York City Housewives are by far the thinnest among the entire RH franchise. But now, with all this legit new money and pedigreed second husbands — to say nothing of real literary careers, Kennedy connections, legitimate business successes, and propensity for avoiding drama as a general rule — have the RHONYC transformed, with the help of some expensive Upper East Side surgery, into your parents Housewives? Do they speak to an audience of a different age — one with manners and self-awareness? Or are they just beginning, out of exhaustion, to show the humanity around their sharp edges? All I know is that when Mario pointed out how tiny the type was on the menu at the restaurant lunch he shared with Ramona and Carole, it was the most realistic moment I’ve seen on this season so far. It overshadowed, effortlessly, the ersatz “what if Carole were flirting with Mario right then and there at the table!” presumption. The man needs his reading glasses so he can choose his dinner. That’s what I saw.
But let’s begin downtown, in another desperate bid to telegraph COOL in all caps around any depiction of Cool Carole, who emerged for a cocktail ripe from the chic filth of the subway while her uptown companions, both leather-clad to compete with Carole’s Coolness, kvetched that the view of traffic from their towncars was horrible. We learned at the top of the show that Aviva doesn’t take the subway and is afraid of heights and airplanes because of her farming accident — a stretch, but at least some new mythology surrounding her bio — and Sonja won’t take the train because she fears she will be “too happy” on the platform, which will cause her to be pushed on the tracks. Which was one of the most fascinating excuses for pre-punishing one’s own happiness that I’ve ever heard. And sure, she adjusted her phrasing moments later, but what did Freud say? We all have obstacles to our happiness — some just look like toaster ovens? Fine.
Meanwhile, Luann was trying not to giggle through her network-mandated scene with her teenage daughter. Her lines were: “Jacques and I love each other and he adores you and Noel, who has a skateboarding company. We want to have a baby, with our own sex organs. [Pause for reaction and possible seizures.] How would you feel about that?” Victoria, to her credit, told her mom to go to the doctor, which is really the only way to respond to something like that besides excusing oneself to whatever they have in the Hamptons instead of woodsheds (Honest Tea brewing pits?) and screaming until your tonsils begin to spontaneously sweat the kind of vomit that Al Jaffee used to draw — with bones in it and everything. At the suggestion of Luann’s fertility, the spirit of Jill Zarin whined a high-pitched nose whistle through the window shutters of her Hamptons home, mocking Luann in the same way she did to Ramona last season. But Luann confused her ghostly presence for the horn honk of her Pilates teacher, who had arrived early — so she ignored it. Luann reminded Victoria how “cool” she was, causing Carole’s elfin ears to prick up with hard-nipple-grade alertness from miles away, and then mother and daughter clinked glasses, Luann’s having prepared herself her specialty of cold cooler water just moments before.
And back in downtown Manhattan, Carole admitted to her new pals Aviva, Heather, and Sonja that because she fucks a guy who’s technically in Aerosmith, she has indeed met Steven Tyler and went so far as to call out that they looked alike, which was a smooth move on her part. Call it out before others do! Though, Carole wishes she looked as feminine as Steven Tyler. We all do. He dresses like the aunt whom Chico’s employees know by first name. Soon after that, Carole negated her youth-forward brand by calling Aviva the “Barbara Eden of the Upper East Side,” meaning if Drescher blinked her eyes, her husband Reid would show up to comfort her from any height, wearing a lumberjack “do it to me now” shirt (in Sonja’s words) and no wedding ring, which Aviva justified in some weird, opposite-day philosophy. This only served to tip the audience off to her familiarity with the subculture of bitches who look for men with rings so they can audition for mistresshood and then, ideally, second or third wifedom. Sonja got a little tipsy and let some man-centric Sonja-isms fly off the roof of wherever it was they ended up watching the sun set, and Reid smiled politely, waiting patiently to get his one-legged wife pregnant with a fifth child by moving her leather shorts delicately to the side.
Speaking of the Drescher children, we got to meet Aviva’s kids in a more intimate environment than we had previously, meaning two of them were naked in a bathtub and at least one was crying. And Aviva had a well-played little self-deprecating monologue about how she went to Vassar and then law school … in order to be a stay-at-home-mom to four kids. Which was a cute way to wink at moms who actually do housework and don’t have to balance multiple social engagements like the ones she insists she doesn’t mind not getting invitations to, while also having her professional pedigree cake on the side. I’d say she’d eat the cake, too, but none of these women eat. None of them eat anything. Maybe sometimes Sonja tastes her toaster creations, and Ramona might pick at a tuna tartare, but that’s it. Here is a secret about all of the RHONYC cast members: These women run on fumes, and away from their past potential. Each of these Manhattan marauders has her own cosmic doppelgänger of who she could have been lurking in the back of her psyche — where they wait and get fat. And all of the heights or subways multiplied and carried out to the power of snakes and bankruptcy couldn’t match half the fear they have when contemplating the risk of being gained on by those apparitions. Sonja’s is a brunette. Ramona’s is trapped at home with more than one child. Luann’s lives in Fairfield and has bad skin. Aviva’s is still at that farm. Heather’s is pretty much exactly like Heather, but with a protestant husband and no highlights in her hair. Carole’s has normal, soft upper arms dimpled by her age.
Soon after the scene in the Dreschers’ bathroom, Sonja met with Ramona to discuss her business, Sonja in the City, which is inclusive of her party planning business, her catering operation, her toaster oven cookbooks, and her burlesque performances. Ramona bossed Sonja around without being completely cruel, which was Ramona at her most nurturing. She told Sonja to get a pad or notebook and write the date on the cover, and she also mentioned being jetlagged from flying to Tampa for a Pinot Grigio signing. “I don’t know how you manage to sign all those bottles,” Sonja appreciated, before then going over to Heather’s office to show her some apron and logo designs. Heather did her best to stay smiling under the ruse of helping Sonja, a business woman not in Heather’s league, while uttering the phrase, “There are a lot of great graphic artists out there and I’ve had the pleasure of working with many of them in my very long career.” This was a thing she said out loud, as a full sentence, in front of a human being who was wearing a very cute scarf and jacket combination. Incidentally: Way to look incredible this season so far, Sonja. I even liked the strapless feather thing.
At this point, halfway into a drama-free episode full of Nick at Nite references and reasonable logo-based aspirations, the London trip was finally introduced. Heather called Carole to call her “Mama Boo” and invite her to a “flat” in the U.K. for later in the season, and then she said, “Yeah, holler!” like she does in the opening, and Kate Middleton’s eggs all committed suicide. Sonja also agreed to go. Why the fuck not?
Then, Carole played “guest star” for a lunch threeway with Ramona and Mario, and asked about how Mario smelled after Ramona made a point of saying his fragrance was pleasing. That was weird and sad, and the whole thing just bummed me out. Hey, Bravo — I know what you were going for when it came to this scene, but sexual tension cannot be added in post. Also, Ramona on her best behavior makes me uncomfortable. The way she said to Carole, “I invited you to lunch with me and Mario because I want you to get to know each other better”? That’s a kind sentiment, but it doesn’t make people relax to hear it. Also, there’s always a ticking clock attached to something explosive under those saucer eyes. When Ramona is being a good girl, I just feel like I’m watching a game of Minesweeper with better odds.
Soon after that, Ramona went shopping with Aviva for Reid’s wedding band. Singer, still behaving, asked her new friend about the logistics of the jewelry instead of the metaphorical ramifications of the act of chaining in her Django, and then Heather called. Aviva put it on speaker, so Ramona got to hear Heather invite Aviva to London. Ramona, still straining at the skin to be a good girl, commented after the phone call that (1) Heather talks too much and (2) She and Luann probably weren’t going to get an invitation. She was probably right on both counts, but her second presumption is the closest we’re going to get to a cliff-hanger at this point in the series. And no offense, but really? Ugh. Yawn. Queef.
In her confessional, Ramona said that she was secure of who she was and didn’t play games, and that is not what Heather’s like. She also said she thought it was weird that Aviva has to ask Reid before she takes off for a foreign land, leaving her progeny at the mercy of their nannies. Deep breaths, Ramona. The recap is almost over.
Finally, we got a party scene, hosted by Carole for a jewelry designer pal of hers who does face yoga and knows Karen Duffy. Ramona showed up looking fantastic, I must say, in her sparkly sweetheart strapless, and posed next to Carole in a similarly sparkly gown that showed off her “Bodies Exhibit” fat-free frame. Carole, you’re cool as vichyssoise, but make me happy and eat something calzonelike, in full, after 9 p.m. In a confessional cut into the party scene, Carole gave an official statement about her intentions of giving Ramona a chance, despite Singer’s oft-reported-upon mental illness. And indeed, Ramona was still on a roll in the effort department. No blowups, confrontations, or crazy faces thrown at the ex-wife of a member of the landed gentry this episode so far. Then, Luann walked in. She was wearing a sophisticated black lace jacket, which I must say I appreciate. Not that all of these women don’t have arms of steel, but I like Luann and Sonja’s instincts to make a jacket work for them in a formal setting. That was a tangent, but it’s also gospel. Hide your arms, ladies! Sometimes it’s a fun thing to do.
Luann professed that she was walking slowly over the ice-filled pond — not a metaphor for her uterus; stop snickering, Victoria — and soon, Ramona was visibly manic or Pinot-lubricated or both. Heather showed up soon after and made nice and that set Ramona off. Ramona tried sowing the seeds of a coup with Aviva, who swept it off her shoulder before the dust even landed. Then, Ramona, content in Aviva’s concession that, yes, Heather does tend to talk over people, proclaimed, “I say what people think!” out loud to nobody in particular.
Which is not entirely true, Ramona. I’m sorry — maybe you’ll have to recut your intro — but you say what YOU think. You are not the Greek Chorus; you are not the everyman. You are a colorful bat on a comedy soap and we enjoy watching you wind up and vary your whirling dervish settings and motivations according to what and why and who and how the random elements of your external, circuslike social life happened to have settled around you at any given moment. But your odd, fun, occasionally sinister, and deeply manic brain is not like “people’s.” I beg of you — reframe this idea so there is comfort to take in its individualistic, snowflakelike conclusions. It is one of your last stabs toward communing with reality.
Back at the party, there was some Harry Dubin talk, because Luann and Sonja not only both fucked Aviva’s ex but can’t stop talking about him. And frankly, the way they keep describing his charm and whatever bubble bath thing Sonja referred to, it made ME want to fuck Harry Dubin. Or, it at least made me suspicious about product placement. Is Harry Dubin sponsoring this season of RHONYC in the way that Diet Dr. Pepper sponsored that one season of Top Chef? Is this product integration? Is the way Sonja and Luann glow when they mention Harry the dessert challenge to use Diet Dr. Pepper in a trifle?
And then, there were some Luann-Ramona musical party chairs, in that Luann kept shuffling off whenever Ramona came close, because I suppose she’s up to speed skating on that ice-filled pond, or simply cannot be true to her word around a truce she entered into, unwillingly, with eyes afire. There was some talk about which woman was closer to Sonja and whether Ramona was jealous of Luann’s rapport with our blousy Toaster Oven Tart, and whether or not that notion is absurd, it simply bodes well for Sonja being consistently adorable so far this season, however messily. But Sonja’s mess is a sloppy updo — Ramona’s is an act of God that exiles families from their soaking houses.
Or, it can be a miracle. At the end of this week’s episode, after exuberantly talking shit about her, Ramona actually apologized to Heather. It was completely out of the blue, and I think she may have done it out of spite or in efforts to kill her with kindness. To say “fuck you, I love you” for not inviting her to London (YET) or to show the world who the better woman is. In a way, it was a move most unkind to Luann, which is crazy, since she had nothing to do with Ramona versus Heather in the first place. However: Those abstract vengeances are often the most devastating. The ol’ “I’ll show that bitch Luann, I’ll apologize to somebody who was rude to me when she was not even present or aware of that circumstance” is a very real thing. It’s indirect and arguably psychotic, but there’s a poetry to it. So brava, Ramona. And not that you did it for this, but I have a feeling your London invite is en route.
Other things worthy of your comments and feedback:
• Luann saying “Fertile Myrtle has taken a little wander into the pasture.” What an elegant turn of phrase! Was Fertile Myrtle one of the more obscure Sweet Pickles books?
• Do you think Aviva Drescher could do a better job of making sure we know she loves both her husband and her last name?
• What the hell was Ramona talking about at that party when she was drawing a comparison to the “Got Milk?” campaign, in regards to her wine? All I remember is her tongue out, licking her own lips. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it!
• I don’t like Heather. Do you? I don’t.