Am I proud of the fact that the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills season premiere is the greatest piece of entertainment I’ve ever witnessed in my entire life?
Of course not. Citizen Kane is horrified. Who even is Steven Spielberg? There was a show called The Wire? The pilot of Smash found shook.
And do I enjoy that I counted down the days until Erika Jayne had to atone for her atrocious and angry self-victimizing in a carefully orchestrated way that was equal parts damage control and entertainment value on reality television? Again, no. But I will never pretend I’m not a stale Chicken McNugget of a human. (You know what I’m talking about, the one that sat in the box overnight and you took a bite of it anyway while you waited for the coffee to brew the next morning.) And neither should you.
This is our dry McNugget of TV. Which is to say, we don’t love that we love it. But it’s still so good.
If you’ve been watching Real Housewives for the past 16 years (like we won’t admit that we have, but also definitely have been), this is the episode that the series has been building up to. That’s because it’s the one that the franchise—which has seen table flips, underwear sniffs, and prosthetic legs used as projectiles—could never have orchestrated.
We’re at the point that the women on these shows have studied the series like the modern Shakespearean text that it is, and behave accordingly. Yet being the most ostentatious and predictably rehearsed franchise, Beverly Hills has somehow emerged as the most unpredictable.
God bless my lord and savior Andy Cohen, but even he couldn’t have puppeteered a season premiere in which a woman who has been vilified for her lack of empathy over her husband’s alleged embezzlement of millions from orphans and widows in order to fund her wardrobe and a music career encompassing the song “XXPEN$IVE” is the episode’s second billing because a different cast member was robbed at gunpoint during filming.
To some, that previous paragraph encapsulates the decline of civilization. To me, it is cinema.
It is, we will admit, a tortured, existential experience to watch The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
The accusations against Erika Jayne and her former husband are so dark, and her bitterness about it is so unpleasant, that we should not want to enable it by confirming the truth that it is, in fact, great TV. And after the news broke last year that Dorit Kemsley was burgled while in her own home and pleaded with the criminals that if they were going to kill her, at least spare her children, the impulse was to think, “That’s horrible, but also is the new season already filming?!” That’s not a proud moment.
But a decade and a half of this has turned us into monsters. And the monsters are eating good.
If you watched the previous season of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, you know that the way Erika Jayne handled the real-time drama of her marriage’s headline-making end amid investigations into millions of dollars stolen from actual orphans was riveting and preposterous. It was baffling that she agreed to be on camera during all of this, and even more flabbergasting that she behaved as defensively as she did.
You also know that the behavior of her castmates and friends was equally wild.
My favorite thing as a seasoned reality TV fan is to watch casts try to calibrate in real time how to behave and react to things in order to come off as “good” as possible to the public—only to see as it airs how drastically they miscalculated their allegiances and actions.
That was certainly the case last season, when the entire cast except Sutton Stracke refused to ask real questions to Erika and then didn’t defend or support Sutton when she wobbled out onto that (very appropriate) limb by herself. Erika was vicious to her for asking what were quite normal questions in light of the headlines, and the rest of the cast let Sutton tragically hang out to dry, like her bizarre couture billowing on a clothing line.
After such a failure to read the room, it’s funny to see the cast gauging how they should try to make up for it. Kyle Richards, for example, fully owns up to being wrong. And Garcelle Beauvais continues to be the greatest Housewife in the confessional room who narrates the exact right thing while not ever speaking it to the group.
The series’ editors and producers also took notice, as they seem to be framing the season around a Sutton vs. Erika rivalry.
Erika is apparently spiraling and not owning up to the severity of the situation, let alone her public image. We’re given inspiring content: “When you order Taco Bell and you don’t remember it, but the wrappers are in the kitchen, it’s a problem…” And also delusional content: “Bravo can do their due diligence, I don’t really know,” is Erika’s response when questioned about details in her case.
But Sutton’s wanton accusations are now being pivoted to villain status. It’s not just with Erika. Lisa Rinna is carefully positioning her as an adversary by weaponizing my least favorite Housewives crutch: talking about what’s said “in the press.” In this case, it’s even more meta: what’s said on Watch What Happens Live.
Annoying as it is, this is all good TV because we’re tuning in to see exactly this: how these women aren’t just reacting to the Erika Jayne scandal, but how they initially came off in their first reactions to the Erika Jayne scandal. It’s funhouse mirrors lining a rabbit hole of on-camera awareness, which is exactly what Real Housewives is about.
Given the potential for juiciness in that storyline, it’s unexpected for there to be something else so dramatic that anytime a cast member talks about that one controversy, it seems trite. Which brings us to Dorit.
It’s a weird position to be in where you don’t exactly know why a rational human being would allow themselves to be on camera within 24 hours of intruders storming into her bedroom with a gun and threatening the lives of her children. But what Dorit is going through is undeniably incredible TV.
There’s an argument to be made that, as a public figure filming a reality show, the robbery would be an unavoidable topic of conversation, so why not just open up everything for the cameras? Nonetheless, the raw emotion—shaded by a very produced dinner at Kyle Richards’ house—provides such affecting footage that it’s almost uncomfortable to watch, in a way reality TV rarely gets to be anymore.
There is careful scene-setting about Dorit and her children just arriving back home from a trip while her husband, PK, is still back in England. There is security camera footage of the burglars entering her house. Dorit, quite painfully, narrates exactly what they said to her while pointing a gun to her head and stealing her jewelry and handbags. At one point, she even gets on the ground to physically recreate the ordeal for her friends.
Was it absolutely insane that PK agreed to see his wife for the first time after she was nearly murdered while trying to save their children’s lives at Kyle Richards’ house, with Kyle in pajamas because she was so traumatized? Yes. Duh. But being a reality TV fan means not thinking about those things. Not thinking about why a person would want cameras around for a moment like that or what emotions may or may not be real surrounding it.
It was a heavy, upsetting episode of RHOBH. Which is why we are, as always, thankful for Lisa Rinna. Everyone is sobbing over what Dorit went through. Then Lisa asks whether or not she should still have the birthday party for Harry Hamlin she’d been planning for the next day. Priorities.