Good evening, America. I’m Chris Murphy, and I’ll be stepping in for the inimitable Brian Moylan this week while he’s on vacation. I co-write recaps for Ziwe’s Instagram Live and I graduated top of my class from the school of Reality Television Arts and Sciences with a concentration in Housewives Psychoanalysis, so, I assure you, you’re in good hands. Also, in 2011 I was interviewed for a Daily Beast article called “Real Housewives: Why Teens Love It,” so you know I’m hardcore. But enough about how young I am, let’s dive in and talk about the (literal) reason for the season, Miss Rebecca Leeman aka Kelly Lanier Van Ryan aka Denise “Bravo, Bravo, fucking Bravo” Richards.
Now, no judgment, but until this weekend, I didn’t get the hype surrounding Denise. Yes, she was a Bond girl. Yes, she was a tabloid fixture in the early aughts. Yes, her husband has a huge schlong, but as a viewer, I didn’t really understand what made her special. In my eyes, she was yet another handsome woman of a certain age who used to be someone, like so many women on the franchise before her. And then this weekend I watched Drop Dead Gorgeous (now streaming on HBO Max) for the first time, and everything became crystal clear. She was, simply put, incredible. Truly captivating and genuinely hilarious on screen (not to mention drop! dead! gorgeous!), Denise was more than able to hold her own with future movie stars Brittany Murphy (RIP), Kirsten Dunst, and Amy Adams. The “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” performance alone cements Denise in the pantheon of greatest camp performances of all time. Say what you will about Denise Richards from Downers Grove, Illinois, but she has something that all the money in the world can’t buy you and it’s a little thing I like to call talent [snuffs out cigarette with the toe of my high heeled shoe].
Talent, as we all know, is kryptonite in the Housewives universe. Denise is on a different level than these women and she knows it and they know it and they hate her for it. That’s why she refuses to play by the rules and why Brian Moylan shrewdly noted that she’s an existential threat to the entire franchise. She doesn’t need it. The irony of it all is that by not giving a shit, Denise made herself the most indispensable part of the RHOBH. Without her, there is no season and because of that Denise can do whatever the hell she wants. Bravo, Bravo, and may I repeat once more, fucking Bravo.
And with that revelation, we begin the episode touching down on each woman in her natural habitat: Lisa Rinna working out with Amelia Grey (heavy sigh), Garcelle in the car with her son (adorable), and Teddi unveiling her [checks notes] black and grey nursery. Teddi’s greyscale nursery… where do I even begin? I am not one for gender norms, but we couldn’t have landed on a green or yellow? The cluttered, black and grey nursery is a physical manifestation of Teddi: drab, boring, and deeply sad. The nursery’s vibe is monochromatic toddler prison. Abolish the prison industrial complex and also abolish Teddi’s nursery.
We thankfully transition to the six best seconds of my life, i.e. watching Erika Jayne watch herself in the promos for Chicago. As a theater kid, I will never forgive myself for not seeing Erika Girardi star as Roxie Hart on Broadway. God wants no excuses. I have only one: I thought I would have more time. After seeing her promo, now I’m even more upset because from the clip it looks like Erika gave an absolutely, University of Michigan-approved, slay the house down, tits-and-teeth, belt-and-bleed performance as Roxie Hart. Renee Zellweger is shaking and Michelle Williams from Fosse/Verdon has been found dead in a ditch. You can keep your Disney+ Hamiltons and your Netflix Dianas, I want a Youtube bootleg of Erika Girardi doing the Hot Honey Rag, and I want it yesterday.
We then come to Denise’s only scene of the evening, debriefing the Rome trip in Garcelle’s lovely house that doesn’t not remind me of the model home from Arrested Development. Denise, rocking a sweater that says “LOVE” on it because she is fully committed to this “nice girl” rebrand, confides in her only friend (and equal, if we’re keeping it one hundred) about the trials and tribulations of Rome and how she really feels about the other ladies. Garcelle listens and nods intently because she’s a Real Friend TM, and it’s all very nice, but the best moment comes out during Denise’s confessional: “Aaron and I don’t have secrets from each other,” says Denise. “And if I did come home and say ‘Hey, I slept with Brandi’ he’d be like ‘Well, how come I wasn’t invited?’” There it is, in plain sight: And if I did come home and say Hey, I slept with Brandi. It’s the smoking gun. It’s Mrs. Peacock in the Library with the Candlestick. It’s O.J. Simpson getting someone to ghostwrite the book If I Did It: Confessions of the Murderer. It’s not an admission of guilt, but it’s an admission of… something.
Sadly, we are forced to leave the warmth of Garcelle and Denise’s friendship and plunge head first into the Ionian Sea with everyone’s favorite looney tune Dorit as she welcomes us to the grand opening of a few tables in the back room of Betty di Boop Boop. To go from Rome to the backroom of Buddha di Bell Hop is sobering to say the least. Speaking of sobering, Dorit’s interior design skills were a big miss for me. For someone who brings it style-wise, Dorit’s interior design aesthetic seems to be inspired by the “Live, Laugh, Love!” sign in your mother-in-law’s kitchen. I honestly preferred Baba di Booey before Dorit got her hands on it. In flashbacks it seemed kitschy and fun and had big red booths, but admittedly I have the taste level of someone who chose to spend all of his childhood birthdays at T.GI.Fridays. Dorit’s room wasn’t so much Capri, Italy as it was Capri Sun.
After a sneak peek at Bocce di Baseball we make our way to Amelia Grey’s sensible, modest 900-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment that costs a reasonable $5,700 a month. I’m kidding, it’s ridiculous and inherited wealth is one of society’s greatest ills. Anyway, we’ve got bigger fish to fry as Lisa Rinna insists on asking Amelia Grey whether she’s responsible for her eating disorder on camera. I’m gonna come out and say it: I sometimes feel like I am the only gay man in America not completely under Lisa Rinna’s spell. I find her to be exhausting, fake, and manipulative in a sweatier and less graceful way than the original Lisa, Miss LVP (RIP). As such, it was tough for me to watch Rinna use Amelia to try and absolve herself of culpability re: Amelia’s eating and mental health issues. I don’t think Garcelle was trying to shame Lisa as a mom — I just think she has a penchant for asking tough questions. (Where DID Sutton get her money from?) Anyway, I commend Amelia for being so open about her struggles on camera, and I am genuinely happy she’s in a better place. I also liked Rinna’s bandanna.
We soon return to Booby di Back Rolls for Teddi’s baby shower. I would like to personally issue Dorit a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy for her performance as “Woman Who Thinks Denise Richards Is Going To Show Up To The Event.” Was it a believable performance? No, but goddamn did she commit to it. The Golden Globe for Best Costume Design goes to the stylist who told Kim Richards to wear both the headband and the choker instead of landing on one accessory. Also, despite what I said about Lisa Rinna, I would absolutely, no-questions-asked watch a spinoff about her and Kim navigating being related by marriage. This is me speaking it into existence.
Denise’s excuse that she was “sick all day and night” as a way to avoid Teddi’s baby shower is dazzling in its unflappability. It’s such a lazy lie that you sort of have to marvel at the fact that Denise couldn’t be bothered to come up with anything else. I love her lack of energy. Go girl! Give us nothing!
This is probably a good as time as any to mention that Sutton is also at the baby shower and hasn’t been seen or heard from the entire episode and I truly didn’t notice or care. They can keep the baby doll and her dresses on the shelf for the rest of the season. Anyway, color me the opposite of surprised that Teddi’s friend group consists solely of 1) Real Housewives and 2) mousy white women. Her bad Dorit impression walking into the party and inability to feign surprise at the surprise shower are now par for the course, but are disappointing nonetheless. I don’t love her lack of energy. No, girl. Give us something.
The girls have to kill time at the party before Brandi Glanville is called to set, so Garcelle astutely points out that Lisa Rinna has been really annoying about Erika Jayne’s Broadway debut. This is why Garcelle is an A-level housewife in her first season out of the gate. She isn’t afraid of any of these women or the hierarchy because, like Denise, she has actual talent and a life outside the show, which is sad for us because we don’t see her on the program nearly as much as I would like. It was very nice of her to drop by, put Lisa Rinna in her place, and go off to meet her Black friends who deserve their own show. If anything it got Rinna to give us some epic vocal fry when she said “You know me better than that Garcellllleeeee.”
Finally, the woman of the hour, Brandi Glanville, drops by to deliver the goods, as we have been waiting for since December of 2019, when it was announced that Denise Richards stopped filming RHOBH mid-season. Brandi seems nervous and out of sorts, not entirely finishing her sentences or words. She doesn’t seem to be lying necessarily, but she’s also not making much sense. It makes Kyle constantly standing up for her seem even stranger. “Is this your queen?” I screamed at Kyle at my television, when Kyle said out of nowhere that Brandi was a good mom on camera. Thank goodness that somehow between designing Bisquik di BoBo and trying on outfits, Dorit had time to go to law school, get her J.D. and cross-examine Brandi about all of the Denise nonsense. Reboot Erin Brokovich with Dorit.
Brandi’s big reveal is a series of text messages exchanged with Denise, proving that they have more than just a cursory relationship. The evidence against Denise is pretty damning, mostly because Denise would absolutely call someone a “pretty mama.” The vigor with which Teddi and Kyle jump on these texts as vindication for basically outing Denise on television is low-key shocking to me. I, for one, would not have wanted them sniffing around my text messages when I was closeted in high school, that’s for sure. They are so privileged, and cant even conceive that what they think of as trying to create good television is actually… morally reprehensible.
Did Brandi need to scream that she “sucked Denise’s [REDACTED]”? Probably not. Am I happy she did? You’re darn right. While it’s pretty clear that she said “titty” I’m gonna choose to believe she said “itty bitty toe.” For Brandi to compare Denise’s manipulation with the MVP LVP is hilarious and wrong. Denise isn’t a manipulator. She’s a star. Brandi fell into her orbit and was dazzled at the sight of her. LVP is someone who pulls puppet strings in her sleep for a living and she did a damn good job of it.
The women are once again left to choose sides: Team Brandi or Team Denise. Kyle and Teddi, the “truth seekers,” are on Brandi’s side. Erika, who is fully checked out and seems to have a migraine, also falls on Brandi’s side because at this point who cares. Lisa Rinna, who is clearly gunning for a role in Big Little Lies season three, also leans Team Brandi, while only the mafia boss of the backroom of Basic di Bougie, Dorit, remains somewhat loyal to Denise. Obviously, Denise is lying through her teeth about whatever happened with Brandi. It doesn’t take an architect to see that her story is built out of balsa wood and Elmer’s glue bought from a run down Michael’s. However, it doesn’t matter because it’s none of their business. With one episode left in the season, it seems the ladies will continue to hold Denise’s feet to the fire even if they are the ones who end up getting burned. #TeamDenise