The show went on Monday night, as Bravo premiered the second season of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" right on schedule. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor the apparent suicide of one of the title characters' husbands, Russell Armstrong, could prevent the latest cog in the channel's reality machine from completing its appointed rounds.
As is so often true with unscripted soaps, the hype and expectations created by the uncomfortable intrusion of actual reality by far outweighed the carefully stage-managed reality.
Bravo had sent out the second-season opener before Armstrong's death in mid-August, providing some basis of comparison between the hour that actually aired and what critics had already seen, which didn't show Russell but did feature his wife, Taylor, talking about their time in couple's therapy. In addition, it had been reported that she had already filed for divorce, so it's pretty clear the arc of the season was going to focus to a significant degree on that "drama."
"Housewives" opened with what amounted to a four-minute prologue, taped last week, in which the other couples got together and talked about their feelings. But nobody really had anything much to say, except perhaps Kyle Richards, who seemed the most upset. Either that, or she's just the best actress.
"A lot of us have some guilt about not seeing this coming," she said, "guilt" being an emotion that clearly doesn't overly plague Bravo. Then she went on to essentially provide dispensation to the network by adding — in what could have been a stand-in for Bravo's public statement on the matter — "Life goes on. It has to."
Life has to? Yep. Television? Actually, there is some discretion about that part, not that you'd know it from Monday's telecast.
After that, the episode appearing largely unchanged, with an emphasis on rich women in lousy marriages. And yes, the hour still included Taylor's emotional response at a dinner party — after saying she and Russell were "knee-deep into so much psychotherapy that I'm sick of myself" — when Lisa's husband, Ken Todd, said he would feel "weak" if he had to resort to couple's counseling.
Of course, the husbands have really eclipsed the "Housewives" in the Beverly Hills edition. Adrienne Maloof's spouse, Paul Nassif, comes off like a petulant jerk, Todd acts like Little Lord Fauntleroy toting around his micro-dog, and Kelsey Grammer ostentatiously dumped his wife, Camille, last season.
What seems evident based on the "This season on…" tease is that Armstrong's death notwithstanding, there's no shortage of conflict and tension in the 90210 zip. As in the past, Bravo is surely banking on the fact any distaste surrounding Armstrong's fate will dissipate with the passage of a time and by airing suicide prevention PSAs at the end of episodes.
The channel's probably right. Reality TV viewers aren't known for their long memories or unforgiving natures when it comes to suspending disbelief and enjoying what's presented to them. But that doesn't make the shroud hanging over "Real Housewives" any less appalling.