As new Housewives divide and conquer D.C., we just don't get 'Real' anymore

This latest installment of the 'Real Housewives' franchise visits Washington, offering viewers a glimpse into the lives of five women - from a real estate developer to an alleged White House party crasher - and showing how they interact with their friends, families and each other. The reality show premieres Aug. 5 at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 1, 2010

Every word of the title is wrong, except "the" and "of."

Real: What can that even mean anymore?

Housewives: Remember when that bordered on slur? The surgically taut eyes of certain Real Housewives must ache from wink-winking every time Bravo has them say the name of the show.

Here it's an empowering noun, housewife, a category of women with giant kitchens who nevertheless appear to take all their meals at enormous-stemware restaurants that always seem to be seating them and their camera crews in backrooms, under the guise of exclusivity, but perhaps safely away from real people. (The home kitchen, that ancient, hearthy symbol of oppression and chores, is useful to Real Housewives only when, say, "Janet Jackson's personal chef" is coming by for an exclusive cooking tutorial: how to marinate in your own sauce.)

Finally, the word D.C.: Always the ultimate artificial no place, adhering to no map or agreed-upon boundary, having nothing to do with the greater Washington area where many of us live and work normally, having nothing to do even with the "Washington" glimpsed in our many glossy society magazines, but nevertheless serving as a surreal backdrop for the newest of Bravo's five permutations of "The Real Housewives" true-life soap opera.

"The Real Housewives of D.C." will premiere Thursday night at 9, which you would know if you weren't hiding under a rock.

And, oh, look at how many of you are trying to hide under that rock. We lift the rock and you hiss, Please, no more "Real Housewives"!! Your cries are heard and tactfully ignored, and I sympathize that "D.C." can, in this case, stand for "don't care." So, higher minds, I beg you not to watch. I invite you to come over so we can drink forlornly and not watch it together -- or at least so we can trick ourselves into watching it "intellectually," trying once again to answer the question: Who the [bleep] are these people? What woman in her right mind would submit to this charade?

Bravo, a network that has recently deteriorated from making harmless fun to making transgressive trash, has answers: These people would and did submit to it, because they are starved for attention, saturated in narcissism. Aren't they just horrible? the network seems to ask, with the zeal of the guy who runs the back-alley dogfight. Later, on his postmortem cocktail talk show, "Watch What Happens Live," the network's vice president, Andy Cohen, will try to make it all better.

Or make it all worse? The network seems content only when its Housewives are at one another's throats, which makes more people watch. Not long into the first hour of "Real Housewives of D.C.," some initial battle lines are drawn. A fashionable androgyne, Paul Wharton, acts quickly to gin up some ill will between two of the women, betraying confidences with the sassy snap of a finger. Underneath it all is this strange vibe: We cannot have a TV show that women will watch unless it involves women devaluing other women. That seems to be the gold mine now.

I used to think Bravo had purer intent -- a mission to develop morality plays that covertly teach people (women and men, young and old) how not to behave. Could "Real Housewives" be less a soap opera and more a Miss Manners column come to life? Perhaps once, but not now. Now I think of the Housewives -- all seasons -- as hideous parts of the same monster.

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In a just world, the first episode of "The Real Housewives of D.C." -- the most awkwardly contrived of the franchise so far -- would signal the inevitable sinking of the ship. The women in it are all trying too hard, and not just the margarine blonde who became infamous for trying the hardest. (More on her in a minute.)

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