Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Orange County Housewives

* Throw enough crap against the wall and some of it's bound to stick

Until last week, I was a reality show virgin. I don't believe that I have ever watched as much as two minutes of any of those shows. First of all, I resent all the writers, actors, directors, crews etc. that they put out of business. And second of all most of them strike me as inane. From the commercials I get the sense that the "relationships" on shows such as Survivor as all contrived and loosely scripted. And as for shows about eating bugs or hang gliding on the back of an alligator...

But came the end of a long day and night of work and I thought I'd watch some tv. Cable had been promoting The Real Housewives of Orange County relentlessly. Simply because a couple of the women were good looking, I thought I'd take a look. I had no hopes that the show would be interesting.

I have to say that the first two episodes have been fascinating. The camera follows five housewives in a wealthy gated community about their day. There are two things you notice instantly. All of them have had muy breast implants. And all of them are two-and-three car families with Mercedes Benz' being the staple car and at least one Hummer thrown in. One of the housewives tells us early on that you are judged by what you own and what you wear. She says this with no apology. She not only approves it, she is enthusiastic about it. She says that this is her dream. She also says that boob jobs are mandatory if you want to keep your husband interested.

We begin to meet the regular players. There are a couple of good looking women, indeed, but unfortunately, like just about everybody else in this gated community, they are so greedy, superficial and arrogant, they are hard to like. I can feel sorry for them--there's a lot of fear behind those gates--but liking them...

There is the former major league baseball player who bullies and humiliates his oldest son for never being good enough (the kid gets picked in a major league draft but he's a low number so the father isn't impressed). The son in turn berates his little brother who assures us that he doesn't mind the teasing--then admits that when the teasing gets too bad he has episdoes of stuttering, which he starts to do while the camera rolling.

Then there is the attractive woman who was dumped by her long-time husband and forced to live (the way she tells it) in a house so small (she is the only one who lives outside the gated community--she feels literally banished from heaven) that it can't possibly hold her two kids plus herself. It appears to be a nice, average size middle-class house that 100 million people in the U.S. would love to live in. This is a refrain with her, how she has been forced to live like somebody "common" (this is what she implies).

Her story takes a nasty twist. I couldn't keep count of who divorced whom but through a tangle of divorces the one real victim was her fifteen year old son. He constantly gets into fights in school, even though he's small for his age. He smokes pot constantly. And fights fights fights. She has to take a job at an insurance office operated by one of the other Housewives (a mostly unpleasant woman who in over-protecting her daughter becomes a nag). The problem is the woman who's been tossed out of paradise has so many errands to run that she doesn't spend much time in the office. She doesn't seem to sense that she's going to get fired. I believe, in soap opera fashion since we were left with a cliffhanger, that that will come next week.

That isn't the nasty part. At work one day, she get a call from school. Her son was found with drugs on him. Because he's been in juvenile court many times, the judge has put him in juvenile jail. She goes to see him. This is one of the few times she's able to forget about herself. As any parent would, she's devastated when she walks into the jail and sees her son. "But at least he'll be safe." I'm not sure how to take that. Is she relieved that he is no longer her responsibility for awhile? Or does she simply mean that he can't get in any trouble behind bars?

I'm not judging her morally. We spend a lot of time with her but don't find any hint of a center. I guess that's the part I don't care for. This sense of banishment from life in a palace. She obviously loves her kids but seems to be walking around in a revery about better days. And when her son is interviewed on camera, there are a couple of crushing minutes. You see the toll the divorce has taken on him. He was raised in a world of privilege. He no longer has that to protect him. You're almost afraid to see how he ends up. His grief and fear and confusion are palpable. His worried little sister writing him a letter in crayon pays off one of the acts. The juvenile folks won't let him have the letter.

The true beauty in the series is a sixteen year old girl whose face and figure are stunning. She is also a very capable smart-ass and cynic. And as greedy everybody else in the series. She whines when her mother tells her that she can't have a brand new Mercedes convertible for high school graduation (or this is how I understood it--she had to take a hand me down Mercedes as her first car and now wants a brand new one). She gets the new one of course and is happy again. For a few minutes.

A couple of the men are worse than all the housewives put together. The ballplayer is a strutting blustering macho fool and the Driver is (to his woman) a drill instructor. The Driver (as in hard-driver) lives in a manse with his two kids. He's divorced. He's now going out with an attractive and much younger young woman. Her I like. She's upfront, sweet in her way, and looks like she'd be a lot of fun. He wants to get married; she isn't so sure.
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She prefers to work, he wants her home 24/7 cleaning the house etc. Oer and over she tells us how bored she is. She also tells us how she'd still like to go out with her girl friends and have a good time, which happens in the second episode and sets the Driver off. Even though she has started to make friends with the other wives, I doubt that this relationship will last. He's too anal and she's too spontaneous. He just keeps buying her lots and lots of expensive gifts.Trying to bribe herinto becoming Betty Crocker. She seems to like them but after awhile there is a hint of monotony in her. She's still bored. Next episode promises to be a tough one for these two folks.

I realize in writing this that have become, for the first time, in my life, addicted to a soap opera. I'm sure that some of the dramatics are hyped; maybe even vaguely scripted. But if so these folks are damned good actors. Unlike soaps, I can enjoy this because A) there are no people in the hospital dying of an unkown disease B) There aren't really any villains here, just mostly unhappy and shallow people driven to compete and losing themselves in the process and C) It has the feel and sound of reality. This is how a lot of us live today.

You may not like it but it obviously fascinates me. The trouble is, unlike a soap opera, some of these people are going to get hurt and badly. As, if you remember, the now-ancient Loud family shows (a documentary about a similar California family in the late sixties) showed all too well.

Take that Guding Light.

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