By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, June 16, 2010; C01
"There are social climbers everywhere," one of the women of "The Real Housewives of D.C." says as the show opens with Federal City establishing shots, then quickly pans to new Washington monuments: Michaele and Tareq Salahi. "When you first look at me, you think, 'Gosh, she has no substance!' But after you talk to me for a while, you see I have a heart of gold. There is a whole lot of substance here," Michaele says, smiling at the camera.
Michaele brims with a phoniness that supersedes merely phony. In butter tresses and designer dresses, she proves so phony she's authentic. Michaele may be the most authentically phony person in the history of the "Real Housewives" franchise.
"The new D.C. is colorful fashion, beautiful clothes," she says as she oohs and aahs over clothes that are splashed across a bed. "You know who this is reminiscent of?" she asks her bevy of assistants as she picks up a white chiffon dress edged in black. "Coco Chanel. She always had -- as you saw in 'Pretty Woman' -- the girls were always with pearls and the big hats."
"I was the average, normal girl. I did modeling, met Tareq -- he exposed me to a whole different world. I went to Paris for the night for dinner. He just wowed me," Michaele gushes.
"Wow!" she demonstrates, as she unwraps a diamond cuff bracelet Tareq has procured for her.
"It's decorated with eight carats of diamonds throughout," Tareq details, like she's a customer and he's trying to sell her a car.
"I was like, 'Wow -- is this too good to be true?' " Michaele faux-wonders, which may be the most honest thing she'll say the entire episode.
Sure, she has her supporting cast. There's Catherine Ommanney, the British divorcee married to a Newsweek photographer; Mary Amons, the self-described super-mom who lives in a McMansion in McLean; real estate agent Stacie Scott Turner; and modeling agency owner Lynda Erkiletian.
But they're cut from the classic cloth of "Real Housewives" women -- portable, pull-apart and interchangeable. Michaele is the star of this show, a scary-skinny maypole around which everyone else dances.
"To the people who might excoriate us and say we're making Michaele famous or glorifying what she did . . . we don't make shows to make people famous and as a corollary we don't view being on a television show either as a reward or a punishment," Bravo's senior VP of original programming, Andy Cohen, wrote Tuesday in a please-do-not-stop-whipping-me-for-the-Salahis-because-it-feels-so-good blog post on Huffington Post.
"Our decision to include [the Salahis] in the series speaks to a very basic programming mandate, which is to present real people as they exist within their universe. . . . Whatever the feeling, we leave it to the viewer to decide. I think that's one of the reasons why people are so obsessed with not only the Housewives franchise, but virtually every other show on Bravo," he said. Why does this sound familiar? Hmmmm, who comes to mind? Oh, yeah -- Tareq boasting about his America's Polo Cup tourney in the premiere!
"It's the kickoff to a season of galas, balls, cocktails and networking," enthuses Mr. Michaele. "They are the power players, the who's who in terms of every segment you can imagine!"
But housewife Lynda begs to differ: "I just have no desire to go back, or ever be associated with that little goat rodeo," she says of the Salahis' polo match.
The larger goat rodeo that is Bravo -- the network everyone is so obsessed with, except only an average of 761,000 people are watching -- will debut the first episode of "The Real Housewives of D.C." on Aug. 5. But we got a copy of the first episode. Here's how the cast mates exist within their universe:
Mary has a biometric lock on her clothes closet in her McMansion. The only way to get into her closet is if Mary puts her left index finger on the keypad. "You have to take measures," she explains of her grown daughter who moved back home when she wound up broke and who is about Mary's size and has her taste in expensive clothes and jewelry.
Lynda runs "the top modeling agency in Washington." How many are there? "There are only so many fashion clients in Washington," she notes, explaining that she caters to "the ambassadors, to the dignitaries." Dignitaries need models? So many questions.
Mary, turns out, is one of those chicks who says "girlfriend" to black women and dons a faux British accent when speaking to Cat -- you know the type. She notes that Stacie, who is African American, and African American hairstylist to the celebrities Ted Gibson, who is sitting next to Stacie, are going to be good friends and that "salons need to integrate" because "we have different hair, different needs, but why do we have to be in different salons? There is a wave to ride with our new administration, with the beautiful couple we have leading our country."
Who's this? Janet Jackson's personal chef, Chao! He's come to Stacie's house to cook dinner/give a cooking class for Stacie and a select few of her friends because I don't know why, except this is reality television.
At that dinner/cooking class, Cat will make many enemies when she declares Tyra -- yes, that Tyra -- to be "hideous" and calls George W. Bush a "perfect gentleman," while dissing President Obama for not having RSVP'd to her wedding invitation.
Mary's husband, meanwhile, has been chosen one of D.C.'s style setters by Washingtonian magazine because the publisher is "one of my best friends and she's really hooking me up," Mary explains as she winks at the camera.
Overall, Bravo's first glimpse of its made-for-TV Washington dishes up Michaele as the series's commander in chic. A cameo from Michele Jones, the special assistant to the secretary of defense and White House liaison, offers deeper meaning. Jones, you'll recall, is the person with whom the Salahis communicated about getting into that White House state dinner honoring the prime minister of India. Pre-dinner, the Salahis call upon her to offer a benediction of sorts for the polo match, which actually toasts the show as a whole.
"This game is a true reflection of the relationship we have around the world," Jones says.