This weekend, the Fox Reality Channel enters Bravo’s Real Housewives space with its own docudrama about a group of interconnected people who live in the same city: Househusbands of Hollywood, which debuts at 9 p.m. ET Saturday but is also on Hulu and iTunes right now.
The show (ostensibly) follows five men who stay at home while their wives work, although at least one couple isn’t married: Different World actor Darryl M. Bell (who lives with Cosby Show actor Tempestt Bledsoe); actor, screenwriter, and former jailed bank robber Charlie Mattera (who’s friends with Ryan O’Neal and has an off-camera therapist wife); former L.A. Dodger Billy Ashley (husband of makeup artist Lisa Ashley); aspiring actor Danny Barclay (husband of attorney Katherine Barclay); and Grant Reynolds (husband of Good Day LA’s Jillian Reynolds). They’re all only loosely connected; executive producer Lisa Bernstein, who also executive produces Good Day LA, told me she met Charlie at the gym and thought his story would make for a great show. They then found other househusbands, only some of whom were connected, like Jillian and her best friend and makeup artist, Lisa Ashley.
Although the Fox Reality show’s title obviously references the Bravo series, it doesn’t aspire to be similar. “We take nothing away from the enormous success of The Real Housewives. It’s a great show, but the dynamics of the show are completely different,” executive producer Marilyn Wilson told me, while her husband, executive producer Scooter Pietsch, added, “Our situations seem to me more realistic in terms of what happens in a normal family household.”
The entire tone of the show is different, and Scooter said, “Our guys our incredibly charming and funny, and not to play that up would have been a mistake, so our show comes off very funny.” Marilyn said, “people love to watch those women not get along, but I think there’s room for all kinds of shows.”
That’s definitely true, as the conflict is internal to the couples, but the obvious question is whether or not that’s enough to make for a compelling series–especially if viewers expect Real Housewives, which I did when I started watching, finding camaraderie instead of craziness. There are some good moments between the men, although in the most contrived part of the series, the whole group awkwardly gets together in a garage “man cave,” and luckily there’s not much of that.
What drama there is doesn’t come from househusband conflict, but from the couples themselves. That actually makes the series more authentic, which is great, but also makes it more of a series of couple-focused vignettes instead of a single narrative, and often the editing jumps around in a slightly clumsy way. (Marilyn told me they organized the episodes around “universal themes that affect all couples.”)
There are watchable, entertaining moments with all of them, but the most drama-filled couples appear to be Jillian and Grant, who previews show get into a big fight over money, and Billy and Lisa, who have two hysterical kids, but it’s not like they’re all flipping tables every episode. And that may be because they’re all plugged into Hollywood and conscious about their image and the effect a show might have.
Still, whether or not all of them are ready for scrutiny is a question. The blog Above the Law outed Katherine’s law firm and real name, which caused the show’s PR firm to cancel an interview. And it’s probably only a matter of time before someone identifies Charlie’s wife, who doesn’t appear on screen because of her job as a therapist, but we hear her voice frequently.
When I talked to them, Billy and Lisa were pretty honest with me about why they’d let cameras into their home, as he said, “it’s the great way to promote our product line” and “it also became more like an informercial for us, for our product.” I asked if they worried if their behavior–in episode two, they get into a fight when Lisa learns Billy’s mother told their kids she’d been previously married–might negatively impact their sales. “Oh gosh,” Lisa said, as if that hadn’t occurred to her. “If the show gives us any added benefit, the product’s still going to go off and be a hit,” Billy said.
Quickly, I found myself paying the closest attention to Darryl and Tempestt, who aren’t even married and to whom the “househusbands” title applies least, because he’s a working actor, too. They have a rapport that seems scripted but is totally natural; when I talked to them, they were exactly like they were on TV, if not even funnier at times. Together, they rescued the series for me, as their interaction is thrilling to watch. And over the first three episodes, there are a lot of funny moments with them, and sometimes with the other couples, plus just enough conflict to keep things moving.
It was entertaining, but after three episodes, it wasn’t yet appointment TV for me, and it became clear that it’s Bravo’s women who really know how to keep us coming back for more.