The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Season 2: A Retrospective

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Even though S2 is inarguably the best season of RHOBH, this retrospective is going to be fairly short. It’s a season that crackles more in motion than in analysis. In very brief, though, it expands upon the themes established in season one (false identities, the festering rot of wealth, sister angst) while stirring in some more feuds and growing the supporting cast to include the likes of Brandi Glanville, in her winsome crutches-and-roofies phase, and the incomparable Dana Wilkey as played by Rachel Dratch. There’s a lot of good fights — games night, Hawaii, the Malibu beach party — and a lot of open, unintellectualized confrontation. It’s a fantastic, lively season the franchise has never been able to replicate. I recommend it to anyone… who doesn’t have a lot of triggers.

 

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Well, Let’s Get This Out of the Way: The season proper starts with a clips package discussing Russell Armstrong’s suicide, and so too will this retrospective. It’s a source of slight shame that I’m as compelled by Taylor’s material in season two as I am. It’s a story about domestic abuse that ends in a suicide, and I don’t blame anyone for feeling a little greasy watching that. But it narrativizes well, and there’s a lot of moments of raw humanity like Taylor sobbing in the suitcase that attract even as they repulse. It helps to know that Taylor has seemingly gotten herself into a better life situation. Either way, like I said last time, BH as franchise works best when it implies that all the air kissing and darling is glossy shellac over something truly ugly and unsustainable, and other than maybe Kim, no one ever did that better than Taylor.

(Sidebar: popular memory says Camille was responsible for bringing Taylor’s domestic abuse drama to the forefront, but I have always maintained that this was another instance of LVP using another cast member as a human bullhorn. I plan on doing a whooole separate post detailing how this shell game worked and why it’s a very textbook LVP sleight of hand. In any case, most people point to this as Camille’s legacy, and without it to hang her hat on, I have a hard time applauding her S2 as anything other than a lot of polite caginess to avoid looking bad. Welcome to Beverly Hills, I guess.)

 

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Where’s Kim?: If the front half of season two is all about Taylor Armstrong’s life exploding like a rear-ended Corvair, then the back half is a series of increasingly incoherent answering machine messages left by Kim Richards. I could go all day about Kim’s S2 — a spiraling descent into hell ft. a gay bull mastiff and an unchecked addiction to… booze? Pills? Crystal meth? — but there’s something truly beguiling about someone conducting her entire storyline via a series of vignettes where she doesn’t show up for filming. If RHOBH were a sitcom, you’d assume the actress who played Kim was pregnant (although, as Kim herself would have you know, she would rather travel). Kim has always been most potent as a ghost, especially when haunting Kyle, so the whole thing works much better than you’d expect.

If I had to pick one standout scene to define Kim’s S2, it would be the Sacramento trip pictured above. Here we were, buckled in for what looked like a truly insipid segment of Adrienne pretending the Kings were going to leave Sacramento in order to hardball the city for a new stadium (and acting like she was going to get assassinated, like oookay Danielle Staub). Enter Kim Richards to save the whole thing with some truly absurd drunken antics: showing up hours late for the plane fucked out her mind, chattering Adrienne’s ears off about inane bullshit during the game, and just generally making the best possible nuisance of herself. Anytime I go to the airport, I meditate on how great the planes are.

 

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Did You Know? $25,000: Dana Wilkey is a fucking gem, and a true bright light amongst the Friends of the Housewives. There are two kinds of FOTH: those made and those born. The former are the would-be Housewives who get demoted in post for being boring (your Jennifer Gilberts, your Fernandas), but the latter truly define the genre. FOTHs are different creatures than Housewives. They live in a weird ethical vacuum and are striving and desperate and yes, dare I say it, morally corrupt. They stoop to plumb the lowest depths that even the most brazen of Main Wives wouldn’t touch, and mostly exist as comic foils to be clowned by the cast proper and the audience.

By this standard, Dana is a prime FOTH with much to recommend her: the showy nouveau riche bragging, the mysterious insistence that her eight month old child speaks Thai, the desperation to be loved that makes her subjugate herself to indignities like an obliterated Kim Richards calling her “Pam” for a whole night. Games Night is a fantastic pair of episodes remembered for the Brandi vs. Richards sisters conflict, but if you ever watch them back (do), I heartily recommend paying special attention to Dana because she is a fucking riot. In fact, if you rewatch, give me a call. Let’s go on her journey together.

 

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Hawaiian Style: The first ever BH cast trip is to Hawaii, and as cast trips go, it’s perfectly passable. It’s always worth it to see Kim drive Kyle to a series of blithering meltdowns (in this case by showing up nine days late because the alarm didn’t go off and she couldn’t find her passport and the car broke down and the lock broke on the door so they couldn’t leave the house and it was The Purge so they had to stay safe inside). This trip also features the nibbles of young love between Ken/Lisa and Brandi, which is something a person with a time machine should totally put a stop to once all the other major things like Hitler are dealt with.

 

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Knight to Rook Four: From here on out, RHOBH will be a much more strategic show. I always say it’s a chessmaster’s franchise, but up until now it’s only really been Vanderpump engaging with it in that way, and no one has ever been comfortable calling her out on camera. This changes with the S2 reunion, which might be the most influential and important canonical RHOBH event: an organized ambush, led by Adrienne Maloof and Kyle Richards, meant to discredit LVP at the reunion and expose her as a manipulative fraud.

So here’s what it is: is this an attempt by Adrienne and Kyle to fuck Lisa up? Yes. Do I believe every single thing they say about her? Yes, absolutely. The distinction I’d draw? Based on her reaction, I don’t think LVP sells stories. I think she gives them away for free. Regardless, this reunion will bear out the entirety of seasons 3 and 4, as LVP destroys Adrienne and attempts to destroy Kyle in immediate succession. The Bobby Fischer comment, specifically, is something LVP still drags out and beats to death when she’s in one of her moods, and it’s been five years. This is the beginning of a cycle that will give the show some of its highest strategic thrills but also result in Lisa Vanderpump becoming grumpy, paranoid and bitter, often to the show’s detriment. A very abrupt ending to a season about her planning her boring daughter’s boring wedding.

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