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Archive for Tuesday, February 17, 2009

How real are the ‘Real Housewives’?

February 17, 2009

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Once upon a “Dick Cavett Show,” in a mean and memorable line resulting from a long and vicious literary feud, Mary McCarthy said of Lillian Hellman, “Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’”

I have similar misgivings about the title of “The Real Housewives of New York City” (10 p.m., Bravo), now entering its second season. In a spirit of generosity, I’ll grant it the “The.” But many parts of these well-preserved women fail to qualify as “Real.” They wouldn’t know how to be a “Housewife” if their charge cards depended on it, and they seem to inhabit a Hollywood producer’s idea of “New York City.”

Perhaps that explains why so much of the season opener takes place on Long Island. It reminds me of the old “SNL” take on Woody Allen’s “Manhattan,” starring an outrageous Gilda Radner in a spoof called “Manhasset.”

The unreality or meta-reality of “Real” hits you almost immediately. Apparently, there has been a spat between characters (whose names I refuse to learn) that has spilled onto the pages of New York Magazine and the New York Post. We are offered a glimpse of several trying to make peace over the telephone, or at least feigning an approximation of peacemaking for the cameras. To recap: It’s a scene about cable stars pretending to be real women fighting over the print-media coverage resulting from their supposed fight on a cable show. Will this “scene” later become fodder for future print gossip coverage? Where does the ersatz feedback loop begin or end?

Later, when we enter a crowded house party, a loud voice (there is no other kind) complains that it is too crowded. Why are there are so many people here? Could it be that she is trailing a film crew in her wake?

It’s one thing to flaunt your implants poolside or plug trendy drinks (a Cosmo within a Cosmo), but one couple shares their most intimate moments with the audience. No, it’s not what you think. In an invasion of a child’s privacy worthy of “Jon & Kate,” we watch the parents read bilingual bedtime stories as they tuck in their perfect little darlings.

There’s no little irony that this “Housewives” debut shares the night with a “Frontline” (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings) presentation “Inside the Meltdown,” a moment-by-moment account of the tsunami of toxic debt that slammed Wall Street last September. The Hamptons summer antics of the “Housewives” have a before-the-fall feeling about them. The divas seem oblivious to the disaster about to befall their zircon circle.

Tonight’s other highlights

• The first dozen semifinalists perform on “American Idol” (7 p.m., Fox).

• A country club’s leading lady pays the ultimate dues on “The Mentalist” (8 p.m., CBS).

• Locomotives must be cleaned on “Dirty Jobs” (8 p.m., Discovery). Mike’s 200th assignment.

• Snoop Dogg gets his own talk show “Dogg After Dark” (8 p.m., MTV).

• Self-defense lessons prove fruitless for two victims on “Without a Trace” (9 p.m., CBS).

• A mugging outside a gentleman’s club yields a surprising suspect on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (9 p.m., NBC).

Cult choice

A cartoon princess’s (Amy Adams) problems become too real in the 2007 fairy tale send up “Enchanted” (6:05 p.m., Starz).

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