Season three marks the beginning of a transition period for The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Some of the changes are obvious, like the cast. It’s the first season for BH staples Yolanda and Brandi (upgraded to main cast after her powerhouse performance in S2), the last for OGs Adrienne Maloof (fired out of a cannon at the reunion) and Taylor Armstrong (wilts and rots, purposeless, like a severed limb). But S3 also marks BH’s shift into Lisa Vanderpump’s Game of Scones, a weird, arbitrary pageant of manipulation and petty revenge.
The State of the Chessboard: I noted at the end of my season two retrospective that the S2 reunion marks the beginning of BH’s move toward impenetrable strategy. This truly comes to flower in season three, a process helped along by the introduction of Yolanda Hadid (née van den Herik, formerly Foster), a big gamer in her own right who will end up becoming LVP’s chief rival. S3 is the most interesting of BH’s strategy-heavy seasons, because shit still happens — we’re not yet stuck in that space where grown women litigate Erika Girardi’s crotch for fifteen episodes in order to calculate its worth as potential weapon. In brief, here’s how the moves play out in season three.
Loyalties are split pretty cleanly in half amongst the cast, in two factions that we can loosely call “Vanderpump’s Pets” and “The People Who Wronged Her.” As someone who’s constantly baying for Lisa Vanderpump’s blood to be splattered across her hideous cherub paintings, I should notionally be edging for her to get taken down, but both the calibre of Housewife in her alliance and the level of their tactics are so lopsided in her favour that you pretty much have to root for her. LVP is rolling with the proto-version of The Dream Team (her, Brandi and Yolanda) and Kyle Richards has cobbled together a crew that includes Faye Resnick, Adrienne Maloof and the occasional apathetic assist from Camille Grammer. Not a fair fight, and Team Kyle of course gets destroyed.
LVP’s passion project for the season is using Brandi Glanville as a human flail to maim Adrienne Maloof. I’ve laid out the How It’s Made for this public murder before, so if you’re interested, click here. I’ll also do you the favour of transcribing Yolanda’s withering and iconic anti-Adrienne monologue below, because it’s one of the most effortlessly scathing takedowns I’ve seen on this show and really worth celebrating:
Adrienne is a very insecure woman that is using her status to intimidate people. If she had balls, and she felt strongly about her convictions, she would pick up the phone and talk to you, and say, “Listen, woman. I don’t like you did this, this and that.” But instead, she calls a lawyer. You know why? Because she can, and she has the money to do so. You know, because $10,000 maybe doesn’t mean anything to her. And so when you go to that tea party, just keep telling yourself that. If you step back from it, you can just look at it and go like, screw you. I mean, who are you, really? Who is Adrienne Maloof in this world? You know what I mean? In the big picture, she’s nobody.
Beautiful. As a result of this bazooka-on-fly warfare, a humiliated Adrienne ghosts halfway into the season (and gets gloriously, publicly canned by Andy Cohen at the reunion), leaving Kyle Richards holding the bag. Kyle makes her first attempt at an LVP knockoff game here by playing faux-neutral and using Faye as her mouthpiece, but neither of them are up to the job and it all ends with Faye getting brutalized by Brandi and Yolanda at Vanderpump’s vow renewal party in the finale. Hindsight being what it is, Faye is right about everything (or the script Kyle prepared for her is), but it’s still fun to watch her get clowned because it’s Faye Resnick and what is she here for if not to be destroyed for our petty amusement?
Season three is Lisa Vanderpump’s most total strategic victory and by far her most easily fought. As the years go by, people catch onto her deception and her victories become more narrow and costly. The S4 endgame looks a lot different for Lisa, so if you’re a fan, this is really your last chance to enjoy her in her full glory.
Lemon Party: As I rewatch, I’ve been consistently delighted with how entertaining Yolanda is at the top of her game. In my most recent memories, she’s convalescing in a drab apartment under a swirl of Munchausen’s controversy. I’d forgotten that Yolanda in her prime is one of the most impenetrably arrogant and condescending souls ever to breach this program, and it’s fucking hilarious how effortlessly she antagonizes these women in a way that doesn’t even let them touch her. She has a real knack for making people feel beneath her.
Special shouts to her recurring, excruciating dinner parties, these looong David Foster autofellatio sessions that always “end up around the piano” (read: forced death march to sit in mandatory silence and listen to a collection of the absolute worst musicians you can imagine, just as far as you can scrape the bottom of the barrel of treacle before you hit Michael Bublé). The parties that get play on RHOBH are the most boring white people shit imaginable, and never more than the Fosters’ dinner parties.
(But yes, caveat for her casual European racism. Lecturing a Mexican labourer on how she learned English as a Dutch supermodel in the ’80s, as though those aren’t completely different situations, is a bad look.)
Paris, Je Te Déteste: Paris isn’t one of my favourite Housewives trips — it stretches for three parts but I’m hard pressed to tell you what actually happened in most of them. The central story is Kim Richards and her first televised crack at sobriety, after she shows up for the trip seeming very… tired? Flustered? IDK what the preferred euphemism is for when Kim’s fucked out of her gourd; I’ll have to outsource it to Kyle. The incident is resolved with some marble-mouthed explanation from Kim about switching medications that the women all pretend to believe, as they dutifully do with Kim’s most harmful lies. The only other incident worth remembering is Kyle and Lisa’s confrontation the top of the Eiffel Tower, which is more notable as a cool piece of staging than anything else.
20th Century Flop: I take very seriously my duty to update you on the Friends of the Housewives, much in the way I would take seriously my duty to update you on poisonous spiders or dangerous plants. Season three is the first and last time you’ll see Marisa Zanuck, one of those women you’ll occasionally meet on this show with a nebulous familial tie to someone you don’t know or really care about (Eden Sassoon, soon to be Teddi Mellencamp, etc.). In this case, Marisa married into the Zanuck family of movie tycoons, including Darryl and her father-in-law Richard, who died during filming.
Marisa is a firmly mid-tier FOTH in my mind — there’s nothing about the woman that would ever compel me to seek more of her on my television, but I did laugh a bit every time she brutalized her hapless husband in public (this was Marisa’s charming personality tic, by the way, a laundry list of loud awkward comments about how she didn’t find her husband attractive and wanted to fuck other men). In any case, she never gelled with the cast at all, uniformly concerned as they were with timing the exact moment to cut Adrienne out of their lives, and then Richard died on the day of the Paris trip so she had to bow out of filming and that was pretty much that. Another defective model to chuck on the scrap heap.
Return of the Pam: If Marisa isn’t scratching your FOTH itch, though, you can always check out this disastrous cameo from Dana “Pam” Wilkey. It’s a perfect grace note for a character who never has and never will be back (I believe she’s literally in an ankle bracelet as I type this); I can think of no better lasting image to serve as Pam’s ultimate legacy than that long, loooong shot of her lighting her smoke on the table candle, still railing vainly on about “our group.”