What I want to say is that the new women are struggling for a way to communicate who they are, but I really don’t want to be snippy when we’re only halfway through season five of what Aviva Drescher cleverly called “Gladiators with Boobs.”
Perhaps I should take her husband Reid’s good advice and “say what you mean without being mean.”
Who is Carole Radziwill?
The one thing that I think Carole has going for herself, unlike her colleagues, is that she seems to have a group of friends outside of the cast. There is her on again/off again musician boyfriend Russ Irwin, her downstairs neighbor who, she’s told us, is always available to gallivant around town and the jewelry designer Ranjana Khan, who the other night tried to teach the women how to do face yoga. As far as I can tell, no other New York lady has ever had a posse of any kind, despite Jill Zarin‘s claim that she ran with “a fabulous circle of people,” none of whom I can ever recall meeting.
By comparison, LuAnn de Lesseps has her boyfriend Jacques, her children and occasionally her niece, whom I haven’t seen in eons. Sonja Morgan has her interns. Ramona Singer has Mario and in the past, her daughter Avery who this season seems to be MIA. Aviva has her husband and children, and of course her Reality TV superstar father George. I know for some George’s Austin Powers sex schtick is off-putting. Personally I find him highly entertaining, especially on a show that is lacking that catalytic oomph-y ingredient that has always made Housewives shows worth discussing.
Yet, despite her coterie of fabulously successful friends, Cool Carole is grasping to establish her own relevance in relationship to her co-stars. I really don’t understand why this should be so difficult. They’re all approximately the same age. They all enjoy a certain degree of success, as they define it. And they live on a tiny island that is approximately 13 miles long and two and a half miles wide, at its broadest point. Surely they must have something in common.
I think that part of the problem is that she wants to position herself as Bravo’s Carrie Bradshaw* and Andy Cohen’s editors are splicing the footage together to help her inherit the writerly narrator crown that Sarah Jessica Parker’s character made famous on HBO’s Sex & the City. In my mind, the problem is that they forgot that Carrie got along with all of her friends. She was amused by sexually adventurous Samantha. She understood Charlotte and all of her contradictions. She appreciated Miranda’s nervous, neurotic nature. In a nutshell, she saw all of their good and bad qualities and, like a good friend, she accepted them on their own terms.
This is not what Cool Carole is doing. Instead Princess Radziwill is sorting through her cast mates. She’s judging them, grouping them, putting them in boxes and highlighting their worst traits with a giggle, almost as a way to position herself as the laid back omniscient who has no skin in the game. She’s floating above the petty scene and attempting to color our impressions of her colleagues, sometimes with underhanded humor and other times by saying they are “embarrassing.”
Cool Carole began to take another approach with LuAnn last week and continued with it the other night when she confronted her about being a “friend jumper” and trying to borrow clothing for a photo shoot from Ranjana’s husband, Naeem Khan. This wasn’t exactly cool in Cool Carole’s book. She told us it was “embarrassing.” While I do not understand why it was such a big deal, I do have my theories.
Every day, all day long, people in Manhattan are borrowing clothing from designers and high end boutiques. Some are magazine editors looking to build a wardrobe for a photo shoot. Others are socialites and celebrities hoping to find something to wear to an event. Believe it or not, some are even high profile restaurateurs whom designers regularly outfit, knowing they can sell merchandise to the well-heeled types who regularly dine in New York’s most fashionable eateries. There is nothing remotely unusual about people asking designers for clothing, on loan, at a discount, and even for free. And designers are welcome to refuse any and all requests. It’s just that simple.
What’s more Carole is wrong. If LuAnn is pictured in Life & Style magazine wearing one of Naeem’s creations, it could benefit him. It could translate immediately into a ca-ching at the register. What makes this especially valuable is that LuAnn is a very good looking woman who wears clothing very well. Plus she’s accessible. She’s an extremely attractive version of a regular person. She is not Claudia Schiffer circa 1992. LuAnn’s look is far easier to replicate. Women in their 40s who have the money would be tempted to buy a dress they saw LuAnn wearing in a celebrity-oriented magazine. Suggesting that there is value there does not make LuAnn “a diva,” as Cool Carole suggested. Many other things do suggest and prove this, but asking a designer for a loaner outfit simply does not.
Now before I mention how Cool Carole treats Ramona, please let me assure you I am not deaf, blind or insane. I really get how inappropriate Ms. Singer is. Harassing Aviva about getting her artificial leg wet was outrageous, and frankly, painful to watch. No one, and especially a middle-aged woman, should need to be told not to highlight someone’s physical challenges. That should go without saying.
But we’re dealing with Ramona here. She’s bonkers. Way back when – I can’t even remember when – we first discovered Ms. Singer is socially-challenged. Was it season one when Ramona blew a gasket because Alex McCord dared to socialize with Ramona and Mario without ever mentioning that she’d had nude shots of herself taken at some point in her past? Exactly who would tell their acquaintance something like that? “Uh Gee, Simon and I would love to go to Le Cirque with you, but first I really should mention that last year I had some boudoir shots taken and I wasn’t exactly clothed. Are you sure you still want to invite us?”
I mention all of this because I think Cool Carole tries to define herself as the witty, with-it, down to earth type, by trashing Ramona, in addition to the “countess.” She tells us that she likes Ramona. Ramona’s antics don’t phase Cool Carole even slightly because she has “crazy aunts and uncles” who have given her the requisite practice to deal with unstable types.
Now keep in mind, Cool Carole started saying things like this very early in the season, before she’d really gotten a chance to know her. And despite only knowing Ramona from reviewing past seasons in a flurry before she began filming, Cool Carole used Ramona to position herself as the accepting type who is good with crazy people when in reality what she was really doing was saying bad things about Ramona as a way to make herself sound witty and tolerant. While I agree Cool Carole is often hilarious, she is not tolerant enough for me, not even slightly.
And Carole did it again, when Ramona entered Ranjana’s palatial Miami apartment. Ranjana herself agreed it is an up-and-coming neighborhood. And Ramona launched into a typical Ramona riff about what a smart investment it was to “buy cheap to sell high.” In her video diary Carole couldn’t help but pounce on what, in Ramona-stan, is a mild statement: “Ramona has a way of opening her mouth and sticking both feet in it. It’s embarrassing.”
What is all of this embarrassment is about? Children are embarrassed by their parents, family and friends. Why is an adult like Cool Carole embarrassed that LuAnn is aggressive? Why is Cool Carole embarrassed that a harmless lunatic like Ramona is inappropriate? Is she really embarrassed? Or is she trying to define them as embarrassing people, unlike herself? Why can’t she define herself independently of having contempt for others?
The truth is she even does this to herself. She has an overwhelming need to mock. I think for her it is a way to sound witty. You saw this when she was talking the other night about her upcoming novel, The Widow’s Guide to Sex & Dating. She told us that after four years of writing the book, she’s sick of her heroine, Claire Byrne. She said when she first attempted to flesh out the character, she was funny and clever and charmed by the challenge to create a character. Now she just wants to break up with her fictional alter ego.
* If you have any question about my assertion that Cool Carole wants to be Carrie Bradshaw, check out the promotional page about her first novel that you’ll find on her website. On the top of it, she adopted the exact rhetorical-question writing style that was Carrie’s signature:
“I couldn’t help but wonder…Can sex and love co-exist peacefully?
Are widows the new virgins? Are men biologically hardwired to spread their seed?”
Aviva has to be more than an arsenal of degrees, an artificial leg and a father who’s catnip for the ladies.
Although I like her far more and instinctively understand her better than Carole, Aviva isn’t communicating who she is as well as some other women have in their freshman season in the Bravo Clubhouse. I am sure this is because she is cautious by nature and I certainly don’t fault her for taking her time in figuring out what is going on before jumping into the Housewives madness.
Still by this point, episode 9, I believe we should have a better sense of who she is. That she is phobic, gorgeous, intelligent and isn’t afraid to change her mind about the names she gives her children isn’t enough to give me or anyone else a true sense of who Aviva is. If we had even a glimmer of an understanding of her, we’d have a better idea about why she wanted to set Sonja up with her father.
Aviva can tell us that she knows Sonja has dated and married an older man. She can say that because she figured Sonja is very sexual, she’d have a natural affinity for George, who owns his own vibrator and boasts that he can give her the kinkiest night of her life, but I’m not going for it.
I suspect that Aviva thought Sonja being her fathers “next victim” would make for good television and she’s right: it was. What I cannot figure out is if she knew in advance that Sonja is all-talk-no-action when it comes down to her spicy libido. I suspect she did not and only discovered later, as she wrote in this week’s blog that there may be something to question “about the authenticity of (her) sexuality. Is it all talk? Is it an act for attention?”
Personally, I have a feeling it is both. I think Sonja is the perfect example of the girl who came of age right around the time Madonna started writhing around MTV’s stages in a torn wedding dress, seductively sucking her fingers while singing and reminiscing about her lost virginity. I think Sonja believes there is something irresistible about the good girl who talks about doing naughty things. Just a theory, of course…
Heather Thomson is keeping it real…ly boring
From my perspective the Yummie Tummie mogul has done a horrendous job creating a character for herself. All I really know about her so far are three things. One, her son Jax has challenging medical problems, as do many of her friends and acquaintances. Two, she loves 1990s-era hip hop vocabulary. And three, she gets really put off if someone suggests she talks too much. Depending up on how and when that information is delivered, she will shun her critic…to a point.
Where is that point? It’s simple. She will not travel to Europe with someone who thinks she has a case of the yakkers. She will, however, travel all around a cocktail party to incessantly provoke that critic, as we saw last week at Aviva and Reid’s anniversary party.
For Heather it all seemed too irresistible and almost involuntarily attractive: the chance to chase around an unstable woman who, in all likelihood, had already had a bit to drink. Now this is just a hunch here, I have zero proof of it; just a feeling. I suspect Heather thought this was a very clever way to present herself on cameras, as a fearless woman who was not intimidated about confronting a founding cast member.
Personally I think that technique of establishing you are capable of standing up for yourself in the face of someone who is currently spinning out of control is misguided and bordering on cruel. In some ways it reminds me of the arguing that happened on Scary Island right before Sonja insisted the Bethenny Frankel & Company stop reacting and continuing to provoke Kelly Bensimon as the former model began to slip into puzzling behavior.
I do not pretend to be a shrink or to know anything whatsoever about mental health, and even I – someone who gets a kick out of Ramona – can see that we’re long past Turtle Time as she’s beginning to pass into a another zone entirely.
We saw this early this week when Ramona was hell bent on getting as much attention as possible from Aviva’s father. She loved it when he noticed she has a good looking tush. We heard this when she complained that George had hugged Sonja longer when they arrived at his beach front condominium. If you are like me, you cringed when you saw Ramona sitting with Austin Power, Sr. on an over-sized tuffett in what looks like Miami’s Catalina Hotel.
We heard this as Ramona protested when Harry Dubin’s name came up at Aviva’s dinner party. We were all puzzled when she took exception to any mention of George cheating on his 35 year old girlfriend with a 23 year old. We’ve seen and heard evidence of Ramona’s unstable behavior many times over the years, but nowhere nearly as often as we are now.
Keep in mind I am not blaming Heather for not getting this right off the bat. Many of the examples I have cited here came after Heather shunned her from the trip to London. Still I must note that, moving forward, Heather simply must find a better way to communicate who she is. Simply shouting “holla!” and talking about her son’s medical challenges, while simultaneously dissing Ramona and chasing her around scenes isn’t going to lure viewers in to bond with her.
And this is not Heather’s problem alone. I feel no real three-dimensional sense of Carole or Aviva either. On the other hand, while I do not really like everything about Ramona, LuAnn and Sonja, I do think they are well-rounded characters. What’s more, I do not think it takes zillions of episodes to create that kind of Reality TV familiarity.
Some first season Housewives have been very successful in communicating a sense of their personalities. Take Brandi Glanville in Beverly Hills. We viewers do have a sense of who she is. For the most part, we like what we saw. On the other hand, someone like Marlo Hampton in Atlanta was also skilled in giving us a taste of her personality. Unfortunately for her, it left us with a sour impression.
Perhaps the best cautionary tale for these New York Housewives is the tenure of Orange County‘s Quinn Frye, whose sexually jacked-up, Born Again Christian routine was not believable or substantial enough to leave anyone wanting more. At this point I believe that only Heather runs the risk of being escorted out of the Clubhouse as fast as Quinn got the boot. I also hope that both Aviva and Carole are able to flesh out their characters to the point where a real person begins to emerge. Playing it safe, as Aviva does, may not be enough. Mocking her colleagues, as Carole is prone to do, may become tiring to viewers over time – with or without her friend Andy Cohen’s hyper-gentle editing.
All photos are courtesy of BravoTV.com
About the Author (Author Profile)
I am a New York City publicist who specializes in promoting luxury products and experiences and occasionally moonlight as a journalist.
Relatively new to the world of blogging, I have watched and enjoyed Bravo’s Housewives shows since the first season of the Real Housewives of Orange County. I created this blog over the 4th of July holiday of 2011 because I enjoy writing and love to figure out how to blend images and words to create something that is both visually compelling and interesting to read.