Real Housewives of Beverly Hills premiere: Someone’s dead, let’s move on!

The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills debuted its second season last night, and what’s eminently clear is that this series, while grounded in reality, relies too much on ridiculousness to actually tackle serious issues.

Gawker’s Richard Lawson put it best: “They should have buried this season and left bad enough alone” because the episode was “entirely gross and ghoulish.” That didn’t happen, and Entertainment Weekly’s Ken Tucker said “that Russell Armstrong’s death had at least one effect upon the world: It brought this reality show into the real world, for a few seconds, at least.”

The problem with that is that the contrast doesn’t work. The episode opened with somber music and a scene filmed last week, on Aug. 29, during which the group gathered and pretended they did so on their own (instead of being assembled at the producers’ and Bravo’s request). Taylor wasn’t there, and everyone talked about how they had no idea, but knew Russell was struggling financially. Kyle Richards said, “For me, it’s very hard to move forward because it is such a tragic situation and so many people have been left hurt by it. But, as difficult as that is, life goes on; it has to.”

Then came an even more somber title card: “The events depicted in this series were recorded prior to the death of Russell Armstrong.”

Cue jaunty music and the “last season” montage! It’s time to move on. But four minutes of crying and blaming Russell only made the whole thing seem even more exploitative. The episode was edited, but People notes that “changes weren’t drastic. Gone from the hour … was a segment that had Taylor and friends in a sexy lingerie shop, discussing her relationship with Russell and saying she hoped to re-spark some intimacy between them. Also snipped were some thoughtless comments by Lisa Vanderpump and her husband Ken about what they thought was Taylor’s ability to manufacture emotions.”

I’m not sure what I think about that editing, especially of the more minor things. Including “thoughtless comments” might make them actually instructive, as we think about the consequences of those comments, or at least how we make those comments without knowing the full story, for example.

I’m a fan of The Real Housewives of New York City, and have argued that its combination of realism and artificiality makes it great. But the “Look at the ridiculous rich women arguing about nothing!” appeal no longer applies when we know something significant happened.

With the start of this episode, Bravo seemed to be saying, One of our cast members, who was upset about how we portrayed him, is dead and that’s truly horrible, but we already filmed all of this before that unpleasantness, so just enjoy–it’s fun!

But maybe it isn’t.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.