This series, despite last week’s shoehorned, closure-aspiring, suicide-addressing, tacked-on introduction, still has Russell Armstrong’s suicide hanging over it like a storm cloud over an old-timey hobo cartoon character’s head. A quick Google search tells me that the character I’m thinking of is named “Joe Btfsplk” from Li’l Abner, but that can’t possibly be true or real.
It looks like, so far, the producers have deleted any visual trace of Russell from the footage, Eternal Sunshine–ily — though Taylor still talks about their marriage, in vague, secretive terms, through tears. What replaces his presence and the stuff they edited out since he took his life had the potential to be one of two things: Either this season was going to be extended whimsical footage of Lisa Vanderpump kissing Giggy on the mouth intercut with Adrienne Maloof and her simian husband bickering about errands, or food, or dogs, or who the fuck else cares; or, they’d find a new character with a bleak arc, but one who doesn’t end up with a dead husband, and then pick at her until she crumbles.
Thank God, Kim Richards is here to fill the need for Schadenfreude that burns inside the dark hearts of the franchise’s viewers like an electric fireplace in a Ski Lodge bought with new money.
Half Jerri Blank, half Baby Jane, Kim Richards is a croaky-voiced, arguably still alcoholic, lonely, emotionally stunted, former child actor with sibling-rivalry issues around her sister Kyle that will never be resolved. And the even better news is that she won’t stop blabbering. This is a gift. Let’s all recall how last season ended with the revelation that the whole show, which we thought was all about Camille, was actually all about Kim: After Kim showed up to a party in a pearl choker and matching cuff, wearing a dress my mother wouldn’t buy me from the Galleria even after I told her that it would look amazing at Dina Koss’s bat bitzvah (her invitation read “Dress code: Funky-Fancy”), Kyle called her an alcoholic, and then they had that limo fight, and the season ended on a soap-opera sting. I walked away feeling like the narrator of The Prince of Tides, only instead of Lowenstein, the word that comes to me in a whisper at the top of the bridge was Kim. Oh, was that good.
So, now we are two episodes into the new season. And on last night’s episode, the main event was a trip to (STOP GIGGLING) Beaver Creek.
Camille Grammer, who still uses her ex-husband’s last name when she’s introducing herself to men in her pajamas, invited all of the ladies to her and Kelsey’s ski lodge in Beaver Creek, Colorado (SERIOUSLY, QUIT SNICKERING, I ONLY SAID BEAVER CREE … oh, now I’m chuckling too). The spirit of the trip is to have one last hurrah before she sells the place, because she has to, because of the divorce. There are some ripe moments in the scenes of Camille taking a sentimental tour of the $7.9 million estate. She baby-talks to an enormous teddy bear in one of her kids’ empty rooms like she’s seducing it, cooing he’s “Got a big belly” before putting him down on the floor, as though she’s about to gyrate her crotch into its cotton snout. And the whole time, Camille wears a terrific cashmere sweater that somehow shows off her shoulders while also being long-sleeved.
A side note: These Beverly Hills women have access to very high-tech ways of showing bits of their arms and shoulders while not wearing traditional sleeveless and strapless tops. Fuck you, Fashion Week! Here is where the magic happens, at least sleeve-wise. And boot-wise!
En route to Camille’s, there is a fun airport scene in which you get to see exactly how these women travel, and how high the stiletto boots they have to take off in security really go (in Adrienne Maloof’s case, I think the tops of her boots grazed the tip-flaps of her labia majora). Kyle was wearing a hat that would make Richie Sambora cringe at the memory of ever having owned anything like it. Clearly, none of them travel as I do, in slip-on shoes and exercise clothes, with only ChapStick and moisturizer on my face.
By the time all of the ladies settled into first class, we got to see the dynamic set up by the producers; namely, that Lisa Vanderpump, who looked absolutely gorgeous in a white fox fur hat and matching coat, is over this shit.
I, for one, couldn’t blame her. Kyle was doing this thing where she was tickling Lisa with a makeup brush while Lisa was trying to nap. And Kim, Adrienne, and Taylor were giggling when Lisa woke up? A nightmare. In her testimonial, Lisa made a point of saying that she felt like a chaperone on a kindergarten class trip. I think she was being generous. This was junior high shit, which is a million times worse. Good for Lisa for not socking Kyle in her Demi Moore–looking kisser. More like Demi Less! That’s what I would have said if I were Lisa, only with my fists. Seriously, though: Don’t wake someone up when they’re napping by tickling them while others look on. I think that is the essence of sadism, and this is coming from somebody who read Hitler’s Willing Executioners on the beach last year. (I don’t know how to have fun.)
The tom (tina?)-foolery of mean girls being dum-dums to each other may just be the producers’ last resort in figuring out how to replace the Taylor footage. But my main problem with this dynamic is that, in the process, they are painting Lisa Vanderpump as anything short of a sainted goddess from Planet Eng-uh-land, which, in my opinion, she is.
We get more of this “Lisa versus Everybody” garbage once we arrive at the house of Grammer. Camille — who, again, must be on some kind of Texas barbecue, blue-frozen megacocktail of benzos and antidepressants — even called Lisa “Miss Vanderfabulous” when she speculated, with her assistant (whither D.D.? Her two nannies?), about which room which girl would pick.
But Lisa is not a villain. When the pitiable-in-retrospect Taylor tried to egg on a limo revisiting of the debate regarding Ken’s comment about therapy last week by chiming in, “Well, nobody really asked for his opinion,” I stopped feeling sorry for her skinny-ass, chicken-head self for a minute, forgetting that she is suffering more than anybody in the postproduction world of the series. I just wanted to say, “Shut up, Taylor,” which Lisa essentially did, only more classily.
Again — thank goodness for Kim, who jabbered on in the limo like a manic mess. She is a woman made entirely out of candy coatings, with no chocolate underneath, about to collapse on herself in a diabetic failure of essential structure. A reality show golden goose.
“I felt like I was on the Disney lot!” exclaims Kim, who is lying down in the limo, Ugg boots propped up on the seat, recalling the time she went to Squaw Valley in Lake Tahoe and found the old train tracks there to be like those on the sets she worked on when she was a child actor. She is so excited to talk to people about her personal experiences, because usually she doesn’t talk to anybody. But nothing she says has any resonance with the adults around her, because her experiences are all from her bizarre childhood as a Disney star, from which she never recovered.
I encourage more of this kind of thing. It is wonderful and tragic to watch and listen to.
Soon, the ladies get settled into one of the several broken homes that Camille and Kelsey Grammer were rich enough to own. And soon we are treated to an insight into the lifestyle that came along with Kelsey Grammer’s syndication money. Apparently, when your home is on a slope, you get to ride on a fancy lift from which your legs don’t dangle, ski instructors hug you, and when you get to the bottom of the mountain, somebody is waiting to met you with a tray of warm chocolate chip cookies.
Speaking of mountains, let’s go back to Witch Mountain before we address the hot tub scene at the end of the episode, and the Morally Corrupt Faye Resnick, whom Kyle has no shame publicly claiming as a BFF. This is done in the same gleefully self-unaware way that the Manzos, in the first season of The Real Housewives of New Jersey, happily let Bravo bill Bernard Kerik, Giuliani’s thug stooge, as their “Family Friend.” Celebrities: They’re just like us, except when it comes to having friends they either don’t know or don’t care are publicly perceived as being monsters!
I must emphasize: Kim Richards’s behavior in this episode was totally perfect, joyful, reality-show train wreck stuff. I don’t know if she was drunk on the plane or at the restaurant when she and her sister wore matching turtlenecks and she asked a waiter. who was trying as hard as he could, if “Mussels do the same thing that oysters do” before cackling “HAH!” like Elaine Stritch. And all of her cougar stuff — checking guys out in restaurants, on planes, stammering like Jerry Lewis when one fits her for skis — really hits the point home that Kim has nobody in her life. Kyle has very much the same child actress past as Kim; Faye Resnick belabors that point nicely by holding up a dusty framed portrait of Kyle from the eighties, as if it should hang on some godforsaken wall in her and her sexy husband’s new McMansion and age on her behalf. But Kyle managed to somehow move on.
I don’t know if she was hung-over the morning she wasn’t feeling well, and I don’t know if I want to know. I’m not telling the producers to sneak Kahlua into Kim’s coffee to ensure that her performance on this series makes up for what we’re missing by cutting around the Taylor tragedy. But I maintain that the essence of salvaging this series is to dwell on the fragile-but-resilient characters that we know, in hindsight, will remain standing, if wobbly. And nobody is wobblier than Kim Richards. She is like a human sippy cup that still manages to spill.
After the slopes are appropriately hit, we end up back at Camille’s, in an outdoor hot tub with Taylor and Kyle. The two of them have a veiled conversation about the abuse Taylor is enduring on behalf of her husband, and it’s excruciating to watch Taylor practically melt into the water with pain. She says that she still loves Russell and wants to make her marriage work, but won’t and can’t and she looks so thin while all of this is happening that you can almost feel the cold air on her skin and bones. The thought of being alone after marrying at 34 is terrifying to Taylor, and that is all she says that is concrete.
“Sometimes I think, How are we ever going to get there?” Taylor says. And Kyle, to her credit, asks her friend some good questions. “Were you ever there?” “How long are you going to give it?” “What is the resentment about?” I’m hard on Kyle, but she did a good job in this scene, and seems like a caring person and a good listener.
“It’s just been a long time.” Taylor says, and “I’m scared.” And then, Kyle — again, to her credit — says the most refreshing thing in this season so far.
“Taylor doesn’t ever say what the real issue is.” Kyle says in her testimonial. “She just tells me how she’s feeling and sort of hints at things.” She goes on to call out the elephant in the ski chalet, fucking finally. She says that she’s noticed that Taylor has lost weight and seems stressed. It’s so glaringly and frustratingly obvious, but this show is so cluttered with clichés and sound bites and mixed metaphors and stuff that’s said to each other and to the camera that’s straight out of the opening voice-overs (“Diamonds aren’t a girl’s best friend — freedom is.” “Life in Beverly Hills is a game, and I make the rules”) that a statement like “I’ve noticed that this vein- and anguish-ravaged half-naked crying girl less than a foot away from me has lost weight and seems stressed” seems as lucid and intelligently framed as a sermon from a prophet.