The Real Housewives of New York City
Hello, Friends of RHONYC! I’m Julie Klausner and I’ll be recapping the show this season, taking over for the estimable Chris Rovzar and the formidable Jessica Pressler. A couple of things about myself before we dive in: I have a taste for glamour and glamour, on the rare occasion, has a taste for me. I host a podcast called “How Was Your Week,” which, in full disclosure, has featured guest appearances from New York Housewives Ramona Singer and Sonja Morgan, both of whom were completely gracious in welcoming me into their homes and neither of whom I will spare nor act biased toward in the following scrolls — although, to be fair, a great journalist by the name of Carole Radziwill once said, it’s better not to have met the Kardashians before you write about them. And in addition to the occasional dog awards show video or dog fashion show write-up, I’ve contributed to Vulture in the past mostly as a recapper for Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
Those West Coast Chickens couldn’t seem further away, though there was at least one big similarity between last night’s season premiere and the first episode of RHOBH season two: Both shows kicked off with Important People Missing. In terms of our West Coast sisters, Taylor Armstrong’s husband had died shortly before the show began, and in the case of last night, we can’t go on, we must go on, we DID go on, sans Zarin, absent of Alex, and uncluttered by Kelly. Cindy Barshop was missing, too, but nobody cared or will ever care. That woman brought teeth and Quogue into the RHONYC equation, and I can think of no more interchangeable two elements.
So last night’s new installation of this franchise charged ahead three women old and three new, all a bit borrowed and at least somewhat blue. Except for Aviva. That woman beams with a life force I don’t quite understand yet, AND she brings three pies to a party, so she wins the premiere by a leg and an extra one in a pool cue bag, but I’m still wrapping my head around her mythology … so let’s all slow down.
Back in the fray first and foremost are the three indispensables: the women, we are meant to believe and now do believe, whom the show’s producers cannot do this series without. There is Sonja — blousy, fun, drink-stirring straw and bubbly divorcée who cooks meals in toasters and pulls off the rare hat trick of seeming at once boozy and responsible, if only because she has a daughter she refuses to allow on-camera for the show’s duration (KADOOZE). Here is Luann — songstress and Countess whose comic timing (intentions are irrelevant) and arid one-liners are matched only by her Connecticut-to-Milan backstory and her Jacques-studded second act in terms of their husky comedic brilliance. And finally, there is wild-eyed, Pinot Spittle cannon Ramona, who got an entrance on last night’s premiere worthy of the star she lends to this ensemble. And could this show go on without Ramona Singer? I don’t think it could. She ambled into Sonja’s home clutching two bottles of wine and a flimsy wrap, and it was like Mary Tyler Moore had done us the favor of throwing her beret into the Minneapolis air so her show could finally begin.
Ramona Singer is a human enzyme, a hyperflammable feast of conflict, confrontation, and callousness. And she is incapable of reacting to criticism in any reasonable way whatsoever. She is a Reality Soap Motor — the raison d’être and the vagina dentata behind this renovated cruise ship. She is there to make sure this show still has two human legs even after half its cargo fell overboard somewhere between Scary Island and Squeez Headquarters.
Which brings us to the absence of Jill. Bravo, in a feat of wildly impressive Semitic math, managed to jettison Jill Zarin, a woman who has done more to further asinine stereotypes about New York Jews than a horde of Himmlers ever tried to, and replace her with a Jewish-er presence than an entire garment union comprised of women named Hadassah. Here comes Aviva Drescher, Fran Drescher’s one-legged cousin, and after her, Heather Thomson, a shapewear entrepreneur who not only mentioned the Yiddish concept of bashert after being accused of talking over people at a dinner, but who also happens to be married to a man with the last name of Schindler. So, yikes. Mazel Tovs all around, Bravo, for making sure America knows what “New York City” really means. And now we move on to the Kennedy relative who, sadly, does not have a place of her own in the Hamptons with her mother, a headscarf, and an army of cats and raccoons.
Carole Radziwill is the third newbie, and boy does she seem warm. She writes things about being widowed, only eats diet soda, and is a Princess and a Kennedy in one fell swoop of Manhattan-ness that’s only explicable to anti-Semites who sit around in their swastika pajamas, blogging theories about how all seventeen of us, members of the Bildenberg group all, control the weather. And by the way, if that were true, do you really think we’d make it this rainy without first gaining access to better flat-iron technology? Idiots.
And so, with that dramatis personae, give or take some spouses, dogs, nannies, and children, it begins. In the first scene, Aviva and Luann meet at the Central Park Boathouse for the sake of a novelty location, and we learn that one-legged Aviva, who Luann, in a spectacular pull quote of Luanness, claims seems so normal, you’d “never know that she had a handicap,” has an ex-husband that everybody’s slept with. That doesn’t seem to bother Aviva, who was maimed at 6 in a rural setting that no Jewess that urbane should ever have had to recount, but she lived on to tell that tale with zest and zazz, as though it were a story about watching porn at a slumber party. Aviva is not the star of this show yet, but she is en route to that inevitability, and is, in the meantime, its heroine. Her fertility, svelteness, and that fabulous thing of being both totally gorgeous and also sort of looking like Tom Petty at the same time, is an alpha addendum to her resilience, character, and walk-in closet rife with dazzling skeletons we’re yet to fully tour. She is a find and a marvelous add to this world.
Soon after Aviva and Luann speak French to one another in public, we’re at Sonja’s place for an “organic origin meeting” of all the girls in one place for no specified reason at all. It is here where we meet Heather, whom I cannot stand even though she seems pleasant and is obviously a clutch player in this universe — she’s a shit-talker and a good foe for the easily provoked. And Heather is wearing something awful that shows off her own line of stretchy underpants, not to mention a messy yoga bun that made me avert my eyes in shame when I saw it next to Aviva’s curling-iron platinum perfection, Sonja’s sparkly halter mini, Luann’s skinny pants, Ramona’s sequin-and-wrap combo, and Carole’s Camel-Toe Onesie in basic black. Heather, from her entrance at Sonja’s to her use of “Holler!” in the opening credits, makes it clear out of the gate that she does not belong in this world: She seems too cheeky, too alien, too erudite, earthly, and apple-cheeked to be a Housewife. It’s not just that she seems young — she is representing a cynical generation not in sync with the other ladies who lunch, now, with the addition of Radziwill, more Stritch-ily than they ever have. She’s somewhere in between new and old money, but she’s sticking out as crassly as she can.
For example: the way Heather judged Ramona’s Learning Annex gig and her complete lack of protocol when sensing how or when to drop how recently her father passed away while carousing at a social occasion, waiting for the body to cool, reeks of otherness. Bethenny was an upstart/outlier, too, but she didn’t sneeze on the adult-education-accessible brand of entrepreneurialism that keeps these ladies tits-deep in appearance fees, and she would have been the first one to shoot herself down for awkward timing. Heather serves a good purpose, and she seems like a relatable person and a desirable ally to the average viewer thus far, but I think her inexperience, her generous behind-the-back remarks about her cast members, and her arrogant cheekiness atop that dewy skin are, ultimately, going to get her into deep trouble very soon.
I will credit Heather for giving me the first big laugh of the night, however, though it was at her own expense. When she mentioned her Italian heritage to Luann, you KNEW she was putting a wiffle ball on the pointy end of a cone, setting it up for the Countess to whack it off with a metal bat. And when Luann did and asked whether Heather spoke Italian, Heather’s answer of how funny it is to say “More-a Bread-a Please-a” with a cartoonish Italian accent only provoked Luann to say, because she couldn’t help herself, what the Italian word for bread — pane — really was, under thick breath with a residue of disdain so thick I had to squeegee off my TV screen when she was done. God, was that good. You know, Luann lived in Milan. It’s true! I read her book from cover to cover. It’s incredible. At one point, she tells you that the secret of good nutrition is to eat a rainbow. I can’t recommend it enough. A word about my affinity for Luann: I cannot apologize for the fact that I love her. Reader: She is my favorite comedienne.
Back to Sonja’s. So, Heather’s father is dead and Ramona can see her underthings, which brings us to Aviva and Carole, who have connected on one side of the room over reasons beyond anorexia and disproportionate wealth to their empirical abilities. Aviva read Carole’s memoir, you see, but Carole doesn’t want to talk about that nor does she want to listen to conversations about children. Carole wants to show off her lithe, petite, quasi-equine body, which has been untarnished by the fatty deposit-leavings of childbirth and the stress that comes along with not being a Kennedy, or having curly hair.
And meanwhile, in the background, Ramona and Luann have been simmering, just simmering. Two pots of soup — one tomato and one chowder, we’ll say, with dense, tiny bubbles like soap foam steadily lifting ascending to their respective rims like elevators to roof decks. And the reason why, you see, has to do with seasons past, and how, if you were to ask Ramona, Luann is naturally rather passive aggressive, darling, which drives “straight shooter” or “confrontation addict” Singer absolutely nuts. But more important, Luann and Ramona’s past spat has to do with the primary rule of fight club on this show, which is to never, ever, ever criticize another Housewife’s parenting. You can’t do that. You can call somebody fat, loud, mean, phony, gay, weird, backstabbing, alcoholic … really, you name it. There’s even a “bringing the kids into it” gray area, which we’re about to explore as it pertains to this blackmail wrinkle in the Luann Versus Ramona saga. But you can never — ever — criticize the way another woman has raised her children on this show. And Ramona did that last season — boy, did she ever. She called Luann a “weekend mom” and implied that her teenage daughter, Victoria, had her shit together less than her daughter, Avery, because of Luann’s lousy job as mom. That was unacceptable and this show will forever reap the demon seeds Ramona sowed with that spell.
And of course, Ramona will not apologize. Here is why: Ramona’s father was abusive to her mother and created an unsafe and unpredictable, rage-filled environment in her home growing up. I’m not being facetious or slighting the reality of what an abusive childhood can do to somebody already prone to certain impulsive or high-speed personalities. Because of how she was raised, Ramona will never feel safe when she is criticized. Because of how she was raised, Ramona will always blame parents for the world they create around their children. And because of how she was raised, today, Ramona can only thrive in environments where she initiates hostility, never when it is reciprocated. When she is criticized, she reacts as though she has been attacked by someone abusive, and she spits ink and stings like some kind of sea creature. And when somebody as cavalier and high-status as Luann rubs her own ink in her reaction, out come Ramona’s spikes and then the battle is on again. It’s a disgusting cycle and it smells like seaweed and chum, but we are the ones who came to the aquarium for the show. On with the epic battle: Squid versus Whale.
So Ramona wouldn’t engage with Luann at Sonja’s party, and soon after, she visited Heather at Heather’s place of business, where the two of them traded stories about how sick their children once were and who was more scared. Heather pointed out, astutely, that Ramona Penelope’d her Debbie Downer, and the whole back-and-forth just bummed everybody out, especially with that Learning Annex catalogue just staring back at us on Heather’s desk with its newsprint complexion, all sallow.
And soon after we established that Ramona and Heather weren’t Yummie Tummie Fashion Buddies right off the bat, it was time for the Pedicure Scene, which will forever be known as simply that in the same way that if I say Jellybeans or I’m Up Here, or Close Your Eyes, Now Open Them, you’ll know exactly what scene I’m talking about and how sad I am that Kelly is gone. At least we have her Fluxus-movement-worthy Twitter account that Yoko Ono should derive more from, influence-wise at this point than, say, the sun or her dreams.
In the Pedicure Scene, Sonja got to open the metaphorical grab bag the producers handed her and discover, on-camera, that Aviva, who lost her leg in an accident when she was a little girl, kept an extra leg in her duffel when the two went to a salon for pedis. And I have to hand it to Sonja: She passed that scene with flying “pick a colors.” She truly showed grace, humor, and compassion on the spot when Aviva told her about her farm accident, and even empathized when she explained how the amputee thing was a dealbreaker for at least one shallow creepola she made it to date four with. I also liked Sonja’s turtlenecks and ascots in this episode — they showed some crisp Polo realness.
And so, Sonja Morgan was rewarded for her excellent behavior by getting recruited to make turkey meatballs at Ramona’s house in the Hamptons. This was a gruesome scene in which Sonja’s indentured yielding to Ramona was exposed, and Heather’s mettle was tested. We learned quickly why that odd duck was invited by producers into the RHONYC ranks — she stirs conflict with the old guard, and quickly. And Heather’s verbose confidence rankles Ramona in the way Jill’s used to, but it doesn’t come from somebody with the same authority. What’s beneath the conflict between these two is that Ramona thinks she’s better than Heather, and she is, in a way, outraged that Heather isn’t deferring to her nor is she asking for relationship advice (whither Bethenny, ages ago, face-to-photo with one of Ramona’s fitness shots in Cosmo!) nor tips on breaking into the schmatte industry. No, Heather’s just there to be friendly and introduce herself with gusto and cheer, running through her schtick about the Berkshires and what they have in common and what they don’t. And that’s when Mario and Ramona gave that spring chicken a ceremonial plucking.
“You talk over people,” Ramona made sure to tell her guest, which Mario seconded. Or maybe it was the other way around? Either way, it was pedantic, heavy-handed, and extremely rude. If you merely watched that scene on mute, you’d know from Ramona’s body language alone how aggressive she was to the new girl — her face around Heather is so pursed and offended, it is begging for a re-renewal. “Who the hell is this random bitch with the yoga necklaces coming into my home without her husband, and why exactly is she talking over my husband?” It was like a scene out of Snow White and the Cunts, Man. And Ramona does a pretty intense Charlize.
Heather did not burst into crows, however, and the rest of the evening was notable for the bullying Ramona appeared to do to an increasingly tipsy Sonja. You see, Ramona had gone through the trouble of wrangling one of Mario’s nice Italian friends and luring him to the chair next to Sonja’s with turkey meatball fumes. And when Sonja, who topped off her cooking outfit with an elegant scarf-bib, slipped and called her ex her “husband” at the table, Ramona, or at least Ramona’s face, took that as an affront the likes of which she hadn’t seen since that Heather girl asked for scotch at the door. How dare Sonja take Ramona’s matchmaking skills for granted, after that nice, oily man with shoulders like the wide end of a cross did her the courtesy of sitting less than twelve feet away from her woman flesh? How dare anybody ever anything.
Dinner at Ramona’s also hosted a charming story about how Aviva met her second husband and endless jokes about her being on her knees, which Mario spurred onward with eyes that didn’t glint so much as high-beamed. And then we were in Luann’s garage at Victoria’s art show, which featured everything that’s great about art: bowls of Sun Chips, a teenage boy with a video camera on a tripod, and framed pieces depicting skulls, bald abstract women with Tig ol’ Bitties, and tattoolike totem art that looked like it originally lived in Bic pen on canvas binder. Victoria’s paintings were priced at 300 dollars a pop, and I’m sure they will all look great in Jacques’s doghouse.
Heather was there, and used Garage Art Show Time to show off an unfathomable denim blazer and form a happenstance alliance with Luann around the matter of Ramona being unconscionably rude to her the night before. Aviva backed up Heather insofar as she mentioned feeling sorry for Sonja, which was an altruistic way of forming a tributary into this flowing river of ill will for the simmering season five beast Ramona is becoming with haste.
And finally, two of the new girls met at Orsay for Stevia-sweetened iced teas and a drive-by, decaf-cappuccino-fueled, Ramona-themed smart bomb from Luann. Luann made sure to tell Aviva and Carole about the insane phone call she got from Ramona the night before, the gist of which was thus:
- I, Ramona, will not apologize for calling you, Luann, a lousy parent to Victoria.
- If you keep telling me to apologize, not only will I not apologize, but I will unleash a torrent of reputation-scarring morsels about your daughter that will cause unspecified harm.
- I don’t want to go there, but I will.
Can you think of anything more sickening than implicating one’s children? Luann asked the thin ladies with the long faces at her table, and they glumly blinked with confusion and surreal, perturbed, not entirely informed sympathies. Luann looked insanely beautiful in her statement jewelry, slightly longer hair, and royal blue wrap dress, and chewed her vow that she would “Do anything to protect her family from that … horror” like she was Joan Collins gearing up for a particularly gory lily pond fight with Linda Evans. And just like that, she was gone, and the new cast members were left to sort the pieces and comically promise out loud that they would never be that mean to each other.
And so goes the frantic beat of the heart of their New York City. Whether or not Mario is there to place his hairy hand atop its chest, the Housewives’ New York throbs with the life force of many bodies, old and new, seeking harmony and status, personal and professional successes both big and small, and all we can do is enjoy the ride. Just as we remember our fallen sisters of seasons past, we know that NYC — oh, let’s just call it Manhattan now that Alex is gone — is in essence an ever-changing organism. It changes but persists. And in its course, there will be areas waxed, bodies shaped with Lycra and suction, highlights gotten, filler administered, and insults lobbed across giant rimmed glasses of shitty white wine. But at best and with distance and luck, sometimes we, its residents, are indeed able to take in the cool, Granny Smith air of a perfect day by the Central Park Boathouse, look around at what is generally considered a tourist trap or an idyllic destination you really only go to with somebody you’re still trying to sleep with, and say to your friend, however fragile and nascent your intimacy, still, as Luann did: “What a great idea. I don’t come here that often.”