Season 2 of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills premiered last night, only three weeks after one of its stars Russell Armstrong committed suicide. Bravo was always going to have an uncomfortable time of navigating this situation — should they shoot new footage to acknowledge Russell’s death, keep on with season 2′s major storyline of his and Taylor Armstrong‘s crumbling marriage, or scrap the season altogether? We knew they’d never ditch their cash cow, but the first episode, “Back to Beverly Hills,” didn’t really commit to any decision, and therefore came out pretty uneven.
This was glaringly obvious a few seconds in: We got the usual titlecard, but with a really somber version of the theme song. It was probably meant to be respectful, but came off as just laughable. As we predicted, the producers started off the season with the suicide special they shot last week: All of the women, except for Taylor, met up to process Russell’s death.
This lasted for maybe five minutes. Then up came a note saying that the rest of the season was recorded prior to Russell’s death, and immediately it jumped into the usual bouncy, bubbly RHOBH opening. Huh?
It looks like for the rest of the season, it’s business as usual. The five-minute suicide talk was an obligation, something that Bravo tossed off to appease those who would be offended that season 2 was going on as if nothing had happened. No more mention will be made to Russell’s death — in fact, now they have the built-in dramatic irony of us watching Russell unravel until he snaps.
What I will give them is that Russell never appeared in the episode, though Taylor talked about their marital problems at least twice. The larger issue there was Ken Todd‘s assertion that going to therapy was a sign of weakness, which really upset Taylor since she wanted a pat on the back for trying to fix her marriage. (Not surprisingly, Ken kept his mouth shut during the suicide special — it’s pretty clear what his real feelings on killing yourself would be.)
The rest of the episode was fairly uneventful: Adrienne Maloof‘s dinner party was an excuse for them to show us how awesome and strong Camille Grammer is being through her divorce, what with her guest spot on S#*! My Dad Says. We got to see Kyle and Kim Richards getting along but both missing their mother… who died in 2002. (Again, awkward when held up against Russell’s death.) Adrienne is bickering with husband Paul Nassif; it seems clear that they’ll have marital problems this season 2, but it’s up to Bravo whether to trade it out for Taylor and Russell’s problems, or keep it in the background.
As much as people talk about respect for Taylor’s family, the fact is that reality shows are necessarily dated, due to being filmed up to six months ahead of time. For instance, the other big reality event last night was Kris Humphries proposing to Kim Kardashian on Keeping Up with the Kardashians. That’s right, we saw Kim’s wedding (or bits of it, at least) before ever seeing her reaction to Kris’ proposal. The same goes for shows where the stars are pregnant, yet by the time their birth airs they’re already post-baby-slim.
So, Bravo wasn’t entirely wrong in keeping the season as something of a pre-death time capsule. But it won’t be an entirely comfortable ride, especially since the preview for this season — while mostly what we’ve seen before — included Taylor drunk and sitting in a suitcase, and lunging after new cast member Brandi Glanville.
Kyle (during the suicide special): “But there are plenty of women who leave their husbands, and they don’t kill themselves. It was his choice.”
Kim (re: Taylor and Russell’s problems): “You have to work at it. Go to Africa, have a child! Save your marriage.”
We couldn’t actually figure out what Taylor’s zinger to Ken (which she told Kyle in the bathroom) was, but the gist of it was that he shouldn’t call her weak when he’s feeding his pampered pooch at the table. This is what we heard, even after multiple rewinds: “How can you call me weak when you are tearing a dog room dressed up in clothes!”