Bravo TV, Reality TV

#SouthernCharm: Poised for a Feminist Evolution Amidst #MeToo?

My past articles on Bravo television shows have introduced me to fans as well as foes. During my years contributing to Huffington Post (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/author/sweiss-904) and covering reality TV, I was afforded some perks for a period. However, I was also subjected to lambasting and outright harassment from fans. While this may be hard to believe, there are show enthusiasts who react extremely to matters of reality TV. They go for the jugular and intensely personal when launching an attack on those who craft the columns. So I’ve been hesitant about conducting a deep-dive into Bravo’s Southern Charm and elaborating on what has been brought to my attention from behind the scenes. I also take allegations that have not been 100 percent confirmed with the requisite grain of salt. That said, it’s been apparent to me that a show initially pitched to be centered around Southern Gentlemen (the name listed in the show’s “bible”) has faced growing pains in the #MeToo era.

“He hates me and I know he hates HER too,” one cast member of the franchise, which also now includes Southern Charm New Orleans and Southern Charm Savannah, lamented to me.

It was approximately a year ago and she was making reference to behind-the-scenes angst. I deliberately use the vaguest of terms here because, while I don’t want to discredit the account of another woman, I also was not there. Based on what I was told though, the contentions among select female cast members and their close off-camera confidants was that a particular individual – one calling the shots from behind the cameras – came across as sexist, patting the good ole boys on their backs for their player ways while acting scornful of certain female cast members. The man in question has been described in the most general terms, including: “He has a mean streak,” or the more benign “He can be unpleasant. He can be tough to deal with”, to the overt “He’s an asshole” (the latter expressed to me by one cast member’s close confidant). Because he’s someone in control on set, it’s been tricky avoiding him, although that cast member has related to the confidant that “avoidance” is precisely her tactic of choice.

The cast member who I personally spoke with accidentally overheard him tearing into the other female Charmer by phone. While her knowledge of his regard for that Charmer could be debated, she acutely felt his disdain for her. Furthermore, she took issue with his desire to portray her in a way that made her truly uncomfortable as a feminist, manipulating the reality of events for the sake of “reality” television.

Again, I will state the following disclaimer here: Perception of one’s regard is not always actuality and I received no response after emailing the man in question for an interview.

Because these sentiments fall under the umbrella of “allegations”, I won’t share a name and no, it is not the bemused looking, deer-in-the-headlights-glazed Whitney Sudler-Smith who is both a cast member and producer. Whitney seems to possess an aloof Southern politeness and has been looking wistful in the most recent episodes, as if he’s uncertain he wants to be privy to the meddling into personal lives that unfolds on camera. A source confirms to me that Whitney feels conflicted about being on the show because at heart, he’s a behind the scenes man. His aspirations lie in production rather than being a TV star. His screen time has decreased visibly from Season 1 to the present.

As I watch Whitney squirm, there’s symbolism there for me regarding the Charleston franchise. Here’s a show that launched with the premise of an “all boys club.” As we see, the plan was always to have supporting characters, the women who fawn over these boys…plus the few who give the guys guff (“Wendies” to the Peter Pans) and say it’s time they grow up. The latter (Cameran Eubanks Wimbley in particular) was always a step in the right direction while the former was problematic. In 4 short years however, a seismic cultural shift took place and here we are amidst the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements of 2018. While feminist writers and the more astute critical observers turned Southern Charm over analytically, grappling with discussion points in 2014, they became more vocal in 2017 when an episode brought the phrase “rape culture” to one progressive recapper’s popular column: http://www.vulture.com/2017/06/southern-charm-recap-season-4-episode-11.html.

Brian Moylan of Vulture questioned the aggressive behavior of Shep Rose towards a new female Charmer named Chelsea. It remains debatable whether the recapper (as well as his readers and select viewers) came down too harshly on Shep. Perhaps, again, editing was mainly to blame. When I brought up the episode in question to a network employee several months ago, his terse and defensive response was: “You got some bad information, Shira.”

The employee’s implication was that Moylan had sized up the situation incorrectly in his analysis.  Furthermore, he seemed to be cautioning me, I should not be weighing in on a recapper’s analysis in my own Huffington Post column (although at that point, it was too late: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/boys-will-be-boys-and-so-we-have-relationshep-bravo_us_5a10d636e4b0e6450602ebb0) and perpetuating myths. Regardless, the editing certainly welcomed opinions and observations. If those sentiments were entirely unwarranted, show editors should be fired rather than writers blamed for their scrutiny of what aired.

This season, I have softened my judgement of Shep without discrediting Moylan’s recap or negating what Chelsea may have expressed. I just feel that now, at the start of Season 5, he is showing a more sensitive, compassionate and considerate side. Perhaps it is remorse, regret…repentance (?) for the debatable debacle of last season. Or maybe he is a more “woke” individual today…That said, the key word for last season’s conundrum is “editing” and the questions are: Can we trust our perception of what went down on camera? How much of what transpired wasn’t included and was anything “left on the cutting room floor”?

In the case above, it also became an issue of potentially not believing a woman’s account of feeling violated. We never want to discredit a woman’s feelings in this regard, so the issue of what was shown versus what wasn’t (potentially) only complicated matters.

This type of thing always opens up the floodgates for heated argument. Bravo and Southern Charm’s production company Haymaker can be angry at me for exploring things and feeling perplexed, but ultimately, they’ve left a lot open to audience and journalistic interpretation. It should be known that I remain riveted to the show. I find the drama compelling. But yes, an integral aspect of what keeps me rooted to Southern Charm is waiting for the women to flip the script.

That brings us again to the current season of the “OG” Southern Charm (Charleston). The overall feel during Season 5 is different right off the bat. Only two episodes have aired and the women have used the phrase “girl power”. They are banding together and supporting one another. Naomie wants JD to know that any poor treatment, disrespect and disregard for his wife’s feelings is completely intolerable. Chelsea underscores Naomie’s sentiment emphatically. Kathryn is finally surrounded by the feminist allies that have eluded her in previous seasons. In the aughts of the franchise, tut-tutting about her single mom status and turbulent romantic life (no thanks to the much older, complicated and controversial playboy Thomas Ravenel, who excels in getting away with shit while making Kathryn – the mother of his babies – out to be the crazy one) was her all-too-familiar backdrop. I always silently rooted for Kathryn, also notably the youngest cast mate. To have your missteps highlighted on a show focused on Southern propriety, while you are essentially coming of age, is no easy feat. The one ray of sunshine for her (and me) has been the constant of Craig, a male cast mate and friend who has remained faithfully in her corner since the beginning.

Now his ex Naomie and their friend Chelsea are exuding supportive sentiments. In an era of #MeToo and #TimesUp, I can’t help but wonder if this wave will rise higher and higher until we achieve a feminist crescendo. I wonder if a certain member of production who was so enamored by Whitney’s original pitch for Southern Gentlemen, is now realizing how we (the viewers) need to hear more from the women. I wonder if he senses how much we desire Kathryn to have a voice and feel emboldened in a way she hasn’t in the past. I wonder if he knows how much we’d like the “boys’ club” to get a rude awakening to the changes being made around here. Here being this nation in the modern day.

There is the juxtaposition of the prim and proper, good ole fashioned, traditional South (with its plantations that some cast members have no shame referencing and alleged Nigerobilia in a parlor room) with the current American political climate. Both republicans and democrats alike account for #MeToo and more generally, the landscape of modern feminism. Regardless of party affiliation, it is impossible to ignore how the U.S. is changing in this way. For years, it’s been a curious fact to me that a cable station watched predominantly by women and gay men hosts Southern Charm. Today, I’d like to think that the Hospitality so notable in that geographical tip of our nation, compels producers to honor Bravo’s demographic.

This will sound trite, but it’s also true: We’ll have to stay tuned and see.

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Bravo TV, Reality TV

#RHOBH Recap: Heaven Help Us! (Ep. 814)

In the latest episode of The Real Filler Scenes of Beverly Hills, a psychic steals a storyline straight from The Twilight Zone, claiming to have a direct (telephone) line to heaven. But more on that later. We begin with an unnecessary apology from a very practical, responsible and all-too-reasonable (for this show anyway) Accountability Coach to a woman sporting a Gucci fanny pack, off-kilter blonde wig and narrow heels…all from the comfort of her own home.

Dorit rolls her eyes as soon as she sees Teddi’s calling and gives her a hard time. Teddi is wondering why she can’t get the response “I accept” immediately. She should have known not to bother in the first place, but Teddi has never watched Real Housewives of Beverly Hills before….or so she’s claimed in interviews.

Teddi is stating to Dorit that she’s sorry for giving Lisa Rinna the heads up that Dorit and PK were maligning Rinna months before. In actuality, the crux of this apology is that Teddi feels the heat from all the rehashing so common among the group. She is also trying to show she’s accountable for her actions and can admit when she’s wrong…Unlike a certain someone whose name rhymes with Shmoreet.

The ladies go to lunch later with Rinna’s mom Lois who is a feisty 89 and can order whatever the hell she likes from a menu. Lois had a stroke years ago that seemed to zap the parts of the brain that freak out from stress and anxiety and cause a perfectly sane person to feel depressed. She is as cool as a cucumber and loving life. Rinna has told her mom that she can snap at the ladies to behave if they start to act petty and Lois is up for that challenge. She ends up having to hear all about Dorit’s bathing suit business and Camille happily points out once again (in a testimonial) that Dorit just cannot shut the hell up.

Teddi is relieved that Erika is not there because she’s at some Girl Power event that is a combo of Ted Talks and Coachella. It sounds like a nightmare to me personally because 2 of the other panelists are Tyra Banks and Kimora Lee Simmons. I’m OK with Tyra, but Kimora Lee is one of those “famous” and affluent women who aggravates me in a way that I can’t explain, but Lala Anthony would be the other person that has the same cringe-inducing effect on me and it has something to do with their egos…or how I perceive their egos to be. I frequently mentally banish them both to that category of my mind – I do realize that Lois would never be as petty as I’m being.

Anyway, at this lunch with Lois, Rinna gifts the other ladies with Dusters from her eponymous collection. They all gush over the presents while adoring the senior citizen at the table. They particularly envy her ability to chow down on pancakes as they all push salad around their plates and reach for the Adderall in their respective pocketbooks.

Later on, the Housewives go to Kyle’s house where she is holding a seance with her favorite psychic, Rebecca. Lisa Vanderpump is there as well and she’s mourning the loss of “Pink Dog.” It is a loss that has hit her and her husband Ken quite hard. Ken blames himself and says that he should have seen it coming, while LVP explains that it was completely unexpected and there was no way to know. She shares that another one of her dogs is now struggling and is on a ventilator. I cannot help but think that it may be time for LVP to hire Shannon Beador’s feng shui lady and put nine lemons in a bowl STAT.

Rebecca The Psychic then tells the ladies she has a direct telephone line to God who she calls “Papa God.” This freaked me out because as I mentioned above, there truly is a Twilight Zone episode where a little boy’s telephone line goes directly to his recently deceased grandma. Teddi is a skeptic just like I am, but Rebecca is able to tap into something with her emotionally when she mentions the loss of a friend during childhood. At that point, the suppressed memory of a friend Teddi lost in sixth grade resurfaces. She’s happy that this was something that Rebecca brought up, even if the “psychic” is a total crock.

long distance call twilight zone

From the “Long Distance Call” episode of The Twilight Zone

Rebecca also connects with Lisa’s dogs and mentions “Pink Dog” – at which point she says she saw LVP tweet about her loss that very morning. Now this was a very revealing moment for me because psychics don’t normally discuss checking things out on social media. And if Rebecca is perusing Twitter, then who is to say she’s not checking Ancestry.com, Lexis Nexis, Government Databases…even simply Googling for information?

After the psychic readings, Erika announces that the ladies will all be going to Berlin and she even manages a quasi-apology to Teddi for her earlier outburst as she invites her along. Berlin is an interesting choice for a trip and I can’t help imagining how Siggy Flicker would have reacted had the location been proposed on last season’s RHONJ (Google: History of Berlin and the Jewish people). I don’t think it would have gone over well at all, but the Beverly Hills ladies are excited. I went to Germany once and my luggage got lost and was never returned. I’ll never forget that because it was devastating – That was back in my 20s when I had incredible, expensive clothing and gave more than a damn about fashion. I came home with a brand new German wardrobe since I needed to shop for things to wear to my meetings.

I’m no psychic but my prediction with RHOBH is that there will be more tension up ahead between Erika and Teddi….

Actually, it was Twitter that gave me that indication. Rebecca and I have something in common.

 

 

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Bravo TV, Reality TV

#RHOBH recap: “Do You Really Want To Make Me Cry?” (Ep. 813)

This week’s episode of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills began in reverse. We are at dinner and we see Teddi storming out upset and in tears with LVP trailing behind her. Just like a newly inducted sorority member, Teddi is experiencing the rough initiation and inevitable hazing she was wholly unprepared for. As with previous seasons, the unconscious root of the major problem is Queen Bee LVP. The competition to be her prized pet is a fierce one. Her latest “broken bird” is “Teddi Bear”, the object of her much doting focus. So, there is fallout because that much- coveted spot once belonged to Dorit Kemsley.

We rewind to see what led up to this disastrous dinner where Teddi has stormed out upset with Erika and Lisa has run after her.

In the time leading up to this, there have been several mini events. The first of these is Eileen Davidson meeting with Erika and Lisa Rinna. Eileen has been hard at work as a soap opera star and she has also wisely come to the realization that drama and the act of clashing with characters is best left in the scripted realm. With this newfound solace, the former Real Housewife allows herself a generous guffaw when her old cast mates, Erika and Rinna, relate they’re getting along fantastically with Dorit.

“I’m sorry, I can’t help but laugh,” Eileen titters. It’s more amusing than Jesse Van Patten popping out of a hamper or a suitcase to entertain himself as his mother films all day. I will miss those Jesse scenes, but Eileen is doing alright without this extra show. Erika makes the offhanded remark that she’s waiting for the other shoe to drop. Eileen says it will be a boot.

Later, Teddi meets Rinna for manicures and pedicures and Rinna relates how nice it is that she just met up with Dorit, how they are getting along terrifically, and how this is something she never would’ve envisioned last year. Teddi the Accountability Coach, who is always concerned about being on time and has made “time” a major storyline, (in a vapid season greatly lacking in storylines) decides to bring up something that transpired 3 long months before.

Now what one should be aware of is that three months in Housewives terms is the equivalent of 3 years. You can be friends with someone in May and totally despise them by August. Things turn on a dime and a woman seriously has to keep up.

Anyway…Teddi says she feels compelled to tell Rinna that Dorit and PK were talking smack about her when she and Edwin dined at their house. Rinna is very measured and reasonable about this in response. She says she knows they’ve said worse things and she’s already aware that PK once called her “schizophrenic” which he reiterated at the dinner.

The reality of the situation is that Teddi knows Rinna will see all that was said when it airs on RHOBH. I believe that was her main motivation in telling Rinna what occurred 3 months prior. Keeping that in mind, I guess I cannot entirely blame her. Initially though, I was questioning why she brought it up and felt she should know better with this clawing crew. Teddi has said in press interviews that she never actually watched the show before she came to be a star on it. If that is to be believed, it’s another plausible explanation.

In this episode we also see Dorit meet with Erika, and Kyle and Mauricio discuss the possibility of moving to a new house. When Erika and Dorit meet at the Girardi home, we discover that Erika has prepared a tasty spread that the ladies then proceed to pretend to eat. They seem to be clicking and bonding…because now there is a new Housewife to throw under the bus and gossip about, Teddi Mellencamp.

As she explains to Erika, Dorit feels that Teddi has to discuss everything and go around in circles while Teddi says this is exactly what Dorit is doing. They each are not a fan of the other’s talking. Erika points out that Dorit seems competitive for LVP’s love and attention, which Dorit totally cops to. Erika’s eye-roll in her testimonial says it all.

In the meantime, Kyle and Mauricio have been making all of these renovations to their home and you would think that the end result would be to live there…Well, you would be wrong. They’re considering moving into a whole new palace worth over $8M. Their youngest daughter Porscha says she would love to move so she can reorder her room. Think about it: if your room is currently a mess and you want it neat and organized, moving to a new place is an easy way out…

if you’re rich.

Later on, Mauricio takes Kyle to see the house they’re considering buying. He lets her know that they have to move quickly on this because there have been other offers.

We also get to see a meeting that Dorit and PK have with executives in charge of Dorit’s swimwear line. It turns out that Boy George is an investor which has viewers taking to social media to express their bewilderment. I’ve also seen him tweet a lot in defense and support of Dorit. I never thought an 80s music icon would be so connected to this franchise.

Back at La Casa Kemsley, Dorit gets a call from Teddi asking if she’d like to ride with her to where the ladies will be having drinks. Teddi has something she wants to discuss with Dorit. The latter assents and we see her sigh and roll her eyes heavenward. “We have to talk about the conversation about the conversation about the conversation” Dorit groans to the cameras. It’s a statement that sums up the season impeccably thus far.

The ladies all meet up and Camille is there too, now a regular part of this group when they are all together. Camille also seems to be an advocate for Teddi who is about to bear the brunt of her costars’ agitations.

It seems that Erika and Rinna have coordinated their outfits too, unless black sequins are really in fashion and this can be deemed a coincidence. I, for one, never got the memo.

Kyle informs LVP that she and Mauricio bought that $8M house. LVP is happy for her but sad she hasn’t gotten to see it first. Kyle also explains that she’s only there for a bit because she’s off to see Hamilton with Porscha. Teddi will later be wishing she was invited to attend the showing of Hamilton. Rinna then mentions that her mom is coming into town and she would like to take everybody out to lunch with her.

Kyle excuses herself before the shit hits the fan and Camille checks with Dorit to see if she’s still upset about the passive aggressive ball gag gift. No, says Dorit, but if there’s a problem why don’t we nip it in the bud when it happens…rather than weeks to months later?! This brings Dorit to the conversation that she and Teddi just had on their ride over.

The drama then erupts because Teddi wasn’t planning on having this harping session with Dorit in front of the ladies. She had hoped it was limited to the car and then over, but Teddi is so ill prepared for these ladies and this show! We flash back to that car ride and Teddi comes clean about her conversation with Rinna about the conversation that took place at Dorit and PK’s lambasting Rinna. It truly is “conversations about conversations about conversations.” As I said…

This leads to a discussion of how Teddi thinks her hands are clean but that she keeps stirring up trouble by repeating what the other ladies have said. Erika is on Dorit’s side and then Teddi reminds Erika of an earlier conversation (about LVP) where Erika backed Teddi. Erika has forgotten about that conversation and Teddi refers to it as “amnesia.” At this remark, Erika explodes at Teddi, stating that she simply forgot and is not a liar. But we really see Erika’s temper at its apex and how she can overreact. For viewers, this immediately conjures up an image of her reacting to Eileen last season when the subject of her son, the police officer, was brought up. It is time for this group to disband, but Teddi is visibly shaken by Erika’s volatile and extreme outburst. She just wants to get away as fast as humanly possible.

As utterly ludicrous as Dorit can be, we see that she has more compassion than Erika at the end of this dinner as she tries to console Teddi before LVP takes over. Erika tells Dorit to let Teddi go, that she’ll be fine. In her testimonial, Erika calls Teddi a “cry baby” and let’s us know – despite Rinna’s thoughts to the contrary – that she will NOT be apologizing. Don’t count on it.

Next week: Lunch with Lois and the loss of a Vanderpump pup.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bravo TV

Finding Dorit: The #RHOBH Character Who Has Viewers Talking

finding dorit

I frequently hear complaints that a reality television character is offensively over the top. However, week after week those same folks lamenting are the ones tuning in to the program they gripe about. It is the outlandishness of various cast members that keeps us riveted to shows, despite our efforts to deny that fact. Let’s face it: For a majority of us, without the contrast of these obnoxious personalities we would not be watching — or more precisely, “hate watching.”

Last season on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Dorit Kemsley came across as a troublemaker…with a grating quasi-English accent to boot. Arguably, the latter offense maximized the phony vibe this nouveau riche, pretentious and ostentatious Housewife gave off from the start of her Real Housewives tenure. Dorit comes across as privileged, entitled, showy and exceedingly effusive, while at the same time there is something fishy about her and her husband PK. We keep watching as we try to figure out who this person is and what makes her tick, what is authentic versus what is for show. If you fancy yourself a Real Housewives anthropologist or an armchair psychologist, the act of dissecting Dorit…finding Dorit….comes instinctively as she’s a rather baffling character.

“Isn’t she from Connecticut?” we all asked one another last season, and shortly thereafter, awkward photos from her high school days surfaced. In no time at all, they were circulating widely throughout social media. There she was in the graduation shot from her all-girls school class, 1990s poof curls and that signature reddish brown lipstick that marked its territory (all of our lips) during that decade.

Dorit Lemel high school.png

Dorit’s undying and overboard professions of love for her questionable cad of a husband PK – who looks much older and is noticeably less attractive than his wife – and their taunting of Erika Jayne for unintentionally flashing her undies (AKA “Pantygate) pitted many a RHOBH viewer against her last season. Camille Grammer was once labeled “The Most Hated Housewife” and Real Housewives of New Jersey‘s Siggy Flicker may have LITERALLY taken the cake, but Dorit wore the gold plaited crown on RHOBH. Some viewers have decided that she is the “worst Housewife” in Real Housewives history.

dorit gold leaf hair.jpg

But, she’s pretty.

The many looks, the cakey maquillage, the expensive designer duds, the lavish affairs, the ever-changing hair (about a dozen wigs so far this season alone) combined with absurdity and superficiality…Say what you will, but it all earned Dorit a fawning following last season. If Boy George – who is purportedly managed by PK and inexplicably seems to live with the Kemsleys – can appreciate Dorit, then so can many others. Testament to that is the fact that her Instagram blew up after her inaugural season. For some, there was a certain allure to Dorit and her bloviating manner. Then this year, she returned and turned up the level of brashness full force. Viewers have recently expressed that they’re fed up seeing her gunning for the most stable – and entirely-too-normal – new cast addition Teddi Mellencamp. When the most laid back Housewife was called “psycho” by Dorit, viewers expressed that she had surely lost her marbles.

The question with Dorit is: How far is too far? How much will RHOBH fans be able to tolerate? Viewers seem to have sharpened the focus even more upon hate-watching the Housewife this season. Some have even begged Bravo (via the various social media channels that exist) to fire her.

Based on what we are seeing of Dorit this season, many of us have questions:

Is that indeterminate accent a put-on? Or is it the sort that was legitimately acquired from being married to a Brit and exposed to his diction day after day?

Does Dorit always act as if she hasn’t seen her children in over a decade? Why does she prance them around in front of her friends as if they’re show ponies before a live audience?

What exactly does PK Kemsley do (besides manage singer Boy George – although maybe that is enough?)? More specifically, how does the couple afford their sprawling mansion?

There have been allegations that the house we see them in actually belongs to businessman, investor and philanthropist Sam Nazarian. What we do know is that the mansion is on the market, currently listed with Mauricio Umansky’s real estate company. https://pagesix.com/2018/01/16/dorit-and-pk-drop-mega-mansion-listing-price-by-1-8m/ Is it merely a salacious rumor about Nazarian owning the house, or is it fact? In short, viewers wonder: How much about the Kemsleys is a facade and how much of the glamor and glitz is reality beyond “reality TV”?

Sam Nazarian

WIKIPEDIA, Sam Nazarian

Erin Martin, a writer for Reality Tea and host of the Pink Shade podcast says that Dorit reminds her of former RHOC Alexis Bellino, just “a smarter version, with a British accent and bad wigs.” Martin further elaborates: “Like Dorit, Alexis was totally fake with HUGE boobs and had a gross husband like PK. She and her husband both turned out to be lying about their financial status the entire time. They were broke and were renting everything they showed off. This is very much like what has been alleged to be the case with Dorit and PK.”

erin martin twitter

TWITTER, Erin Leah Martin

Then there is the question of: Is Dorit for real when she makes a big deal? We see it this season when she makes a whole stink about the cup from which she takes a drink. We want to shove each glass up her….

And as you know from the show, there’s one for wine, another for champagne, one for red that should never be utilized for rosé…and so on….

wine glass dorit

BRAVO TV, “The fact that I know a wine glass from a champagne glass is etiquette,” Dorit told Teddi in an earlier episode of RHOBH, “Sorry, I know it.”

Dorit is a very particular woman and she makes her preferences and thoughts known without much filtering. After all, she was responsible for making last season’s “Pantygate” a huge debacle, and this season, the focus seems to be on “Lategate.” Her costar Teddi Mellencamp was miffed that she arrived an hour after their scheduled meeting time, but Dorit is the one who refuses to let Teddi’s annoyance with her go. She remains unapologetic for her tardiness, claiming instead that Teddi is uptight.

Danny Pellegrino, host of the podcast Everything Iconic with Danny Pellegrino had this to say about the Dorit of last season and the Dorit we’re seeing now:

Danny Pellegrino

FACEBOOK, Danny Pellegrino

Dorit didn’t impress me much on her first season of RHOBH, and she’s not impressing me now. The problem, I think, is that she is a solid ensemble player, but she has become the star and villain of the show in her second season. I don’t think it’s necessarily her fault that the storylines have revolved around her. Unfortunately, I don’t think the other women gave enough for production to latch onto, and it’s forced Dorit to take center stage. These shows are soap operas, and every good soap opera needs a villain. Dorit has taken on that role, but she’s not a strong enough villain for us to root against (or for, if you love the drama a villain brings).”

“Because of that, she ends up coming across as simply annoying, like a discarded Batman villain. If the show had a stronger villain, someone like Brandi Glanville or season 1 Camille, I think it would come across better because the audience wouldn’t be relying on her to drive the story as much as we are now. Lisa Rinna seems to want to take a backseat this season after spending so much time filling that role previously, and Lisa Vanderpump  and Kyle are coasting by on their seniority. The tardiness storyline that is driving this season is so incredibly weak for a series that has dealt with domestic abuse, alcohol addiction, squabbling sisters… In another season, that storyline would be a great little B-story that audiences would love because it would be campy, over-the-top and the right amount of ridiculousness. Unfortunately, Dorit being tardy has become the A-story of the season, it’s leaving viewers upset and it’s hard to point the finger at anyone but Dorit since she’s the tardy one. “

“The one thing I do really appreciate from Dorit is her fashions. Her choices range from ridiculous to flawless in any given scene. Even if you don’t like her, it’s fun to see what she’ll be wearing, and that’s not something you can say about any of the other Housewives, save for maybe Erika. I hope for Dorit’s sake that someone else (or multiple people) step up next season to drive the storylines so that we can appreciate Dorit in smaller doses than what they are giving us now. As is, I think a lot of us are rooting for Dorit to get off our screens so we can get some more meat in the drama. It is entirely possible that Bravo is looking to move away from that type of show, and giving us more lifestyle porn with tiny bits of drama, instead of dramatic catfights and table flipping. If that’s the case, I think it will turn off a lot of fans. Lastly, I think we can all do without PK entirely. I think all fans are in favor of him appearing even less than Mr. Girardi.”

The 80s icon and famous pop star Boy George recently chastised an Instagram user for not being able to appreciate a campy woman. Is that where many of us are going wrong with regard to Dorit? While some viewers have stated that they can’t wait for her to leave the show already, I’ve referred to this season as “The Real Filler Scenes of Beverly Hills” and feel that Dorit spices up an otherwise boring show. I have not been able to identify many “storylines” since the current season began.

So, even as Dorit offends and irks, I feel she is delivering necessary drama through her erratic and mind-boggling antics. There is no denying that her questionable behavior has fans talking, tweeting and weighing in…albeit, to their own chagrin. I’m not sure where we would be without her, or who would still be watching if she wasn’t on our screens.

 

 

 

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Bravo TV

The Israeli Star of Bravo’s Imposters, Inbar Lavi

(The following piece ran 02/03/2017 on The Huffington Post before the first season of Imposters began. Season Two premieres Thursday, April 5th at 10/9c on Bravo.)

When I was single and in the Jewish dating scene, Natalie Portman was often cited as the desirable prototype and celebrity crush of my male acquaintances. She was born in Jerusalem – as Meryl Streep may have reminded you – and is on an elite list of hot Jewish Hollywood stunners along with Rachel Weisz and Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman). Now, an arrestingly beautiful and talented Israeli actress named Inbar Lavi is about to take the extended Jewish community by storm – as well as the rest of the world. Lavi is not an unknown, but her fan base is about to increase along with Bravo’s straight male viewership.

She previously was on MTV’s Underemployed and Fox’s Gang Related. Unlike the latter which only lasted a single season, her new chapter on Bravo’s riveting scripted thriller Imposters looks promising. I was lucky enough to screen the first three episodes and can attest to the talent of its star who plays Maddie, an irresistible persona- shifting con artist who is always on the move. When each assignment is completed, she has wiped out savings accounts and left victims blindsided and brokenhearted, not knowing her true identity. Then three of her scorned exes join forces, intent on piecing together clues and tracking her down as she begins her next con job (See Video Below).

 

 

I had the opportunity to chat with Lavi and get to know the actress behind the fictional vixen:

SHW: Hi Inbar, how are you? Or should I say “Mah shlomech? Mah Inyanim?” I actually know Hebrew but not as well as you do! I can understand completely, but speaking is another matter.

IL: (In Hebrew) Good, how are you?!! (Back to English) Your Hebrew is good! The more you practice the better you’ll do (laughs).

SHW: I read about how you had started really watching TV and thereby, studied acting while you took the nebulizer for asthma when you were younger. I know that you grew up in the Ramat Gan neighborhood of Israel. Is that where you trained in acting?

IL: I actually didn’t really train in acting in Israel. I had one class that introduced me to method acting and I knew it was what I wanted to do. But, I wanted to go to school in New York for it so I moved to the States. My upbringing in Israel was actually in dance. I went to an academy for ballet and contemporary dance which really introduced me to the stage and the constant performance for an audience. It taught me a lot of my…Oh how do you say it?

SHW: You can say it in Hebrew.

IL: It just taught me how to work really hard. My work ethic came from my dance background and I owe a lot of what I do today to my upbringing there. Physicality and body movement.

SHW: I detect maybe the slightest accent now although you do sound mostly American. When I watched the preview of Imposters, that fake French accent stood out. Then we see how that is the accent used to con the husband Ezra.

IL: It’s all about conning the audience all season. That’s what we do. I get to play with languages and accents on the show. Full of effect and melodies.

SHW: How were you discovered for TV?

IL: Oh my god, I wish I had just been discovered. That would have been so cool. I think there’s an urban legend that happens to someone like Rianna where they’re on the beach and some talent or model scout discovers them and makes them famous. I had to claw my way (laughs) into Hollywood and I feel like I’m still doing it every day.

SHW: If the first 3 episodes are any indication, I think you’re going to be one of those actresses that is chased around by paparazzi. I also think you’ll be the new desirable celebrity crush for the Jewish boys I know and a sort of ‘It Girl.’

IL: You’re so kind to say so. I do play a character that can also be quite dangerous to both men and women so it’s nice to hear you would feel someone would actually fall for that! I relate to a lot of things about Maddie, her passion for her work and her enthusiasm. She’s also very fun loving and I can relate to struggling with her line of business. It’s very similar to what I do in the sense that I put on a mask every day and pretend to be different characters for a living. Once you do that for a while, you lose a bit of yourself in the journey. I turned 30 this year and there are a lot of inner conflicts that go on. All of a sudden your priorities shift and things you didn’t want before…there’s a hunger for them. I’ve always been sort of a gypsy in my travels and all of a sudden I’m craving normality and having an anchor. These are things that drew me more so than ever before so I can appreciate many things in the journeys that Maddie goes through.

SHW: Do you miss Ramat Gan, Israel?

IL: I was born there but I actually grew up in Cholon, which is outside of Tel Aviv. My parents got divorced and are now living in different parts of Israel. I am Israeli first and foremost – in my blood, veins and my art. Ani po aval halev sheli sham (Translation: I am here but my heart is there.)

SHW: You suffered from asthma as a kid, so was the Israeli army not an option for you? How is your asthma today?

IL: I had childhood asthma so I mostly grew out of it. I was very lucky and I’m completely cured and very healthy. Dance really helped and connected me with my breath. I suffered from many knee injuries so the army wouldn’t take a risk with me due to my bad knees and I ended up not serving in the army.

SHW: I know about bad knees from having been a runner and aerobic jumper myself. You do seem graceful in the dance scenes that I saw on Imposters.

IL: Yes. There’s lots of physicality in this character. You will see through more of her personas how I absolutely use my body, my movements and my breath in every scene. I studied sense memory technique at The Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. We learned Strasberg’s method and sense memory is one of the tricks you draw from your own experiences. There are different senses to trigger the emotions. You go back to the memory and recreate it. Thank God I have this in the back of my mind because I used it with the different characters.

SHW: Which actors inspired you?

IL: Natalie Portman, like many other female actresses that I admire, is always honest and brave with her choices and she’s absolutely grateful, kind and down to earth. I respect everything about her. I like that she has a long-lasting, respectable career while keeping her private life private and raising a child and having a family. I admire her efforts to make the world a better place. There’s also Ayelet Zurer, an Israeli actress along with Ronit Elkabetz, a wonderful artist who we lost last year to cancer. She was also an incredible filmmaker who was nominated for an award just before she died.

SHW: Where do you see yourself in 10 year?

IL: Oh wow. Wow…Wherever it is I just hope that I’m happy.

SHW: Uma Thurman is one of your co-stars on Imposters and the show reminds me of Pulp Fiction so that was very suiting! How did that come about?

IL: Pulp Fiction was a big inspiration throughout the pilot and it was always on our vision board. We looked at the color scheme, the tone and the dark comedy. When the creator showed Imposters to Uma Thurman, she asked to be in it. It just fit and made total sense to have an actual piece of the Pulp Fiction puzzle. I still can’t believe I got to work with this incredible icon. I haven’t seen the rest of it either, just the first three episodes as you did, so I am just as excited as you are to see episode four…and beyond. It’s like being pregnant forever and I can’t wait to see this baby and birth it and take care of it!

SHW: This show is different than ANYTHING on Bravo. I think it’s going to bring a whole different, new viewership to Bravo like ABC’s Scandal viewing crowd.

IL: B’ezrat Hashem! B’ezrat Hashem! Todah Rabbah Rabbah. (“With the help of God! With the help God!” Thank you greatly, greatly!”)

Imposters is produced by Universal Cable Productions (UCP) with Adam Brooks and Paul Adelstein (Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce) serving as Executive Producers. The show premiered on Bravo in February of 2017 and returns with a second season this April.

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Bravo TV, Uncategorized

‘The Elephant in the Pahhhluhhr’: The Controversy & Intrigue Surrounding #SouthernCharm

(An earlier version of this ran on Huffington Post, June 13th, 2017. The following article is a revised and updated version.)

BRAVO TV, NBCUniversal

When Southern Charm began airing on Bravo in March of 2014, it took a while for viewership to make an impact for the network. By season 2 however, a rapt audience had tuned in to the drama that played out between privileged Southerners while a disapproving matriarch tutted about improprieties and a former Real World star begged the “Southern Gents” to settle down. The show, now approaching its 5th season, is currently popular enough for Bravo to have introduced a spinoff that just aired (Relationshep, about cast member Shep Rose, a ladies’ man looking for long term love – allegedly). The newer Southern Charm Savannah is another offshoot of the original. It premiered on May 8th, 2017 and Season 2 is filming now.

THE ELEPHANT

It is no surprise that shows about privileged white people in the South have garnered criticism and sparked wild rumors to make heads roll (a much-debated Page Six blind item referred to one Southern Charm costar’s “negrobilia,” a prized collection of artwork by black slaves. Of course, speculation abounds that the item was planted by a conniving adversary).

Many viewers have overtly stated in the comments sections of articles about the original SC – set in Charleston – that these people don’t seem to do very much for a living, yet have impressive wealth. The implication isn’t something that needs to be stated outright, though of course it is brought up periodically: Some of the cast members descended from plantation owners who kept slaves.

One female costar from a “prominent family” actually has an ancestor who was an outspoken slavery proponent and advocate. Despite her family name garnering respect in the South, her lack of riches as compared to the wealth of her cast mates, and her unconventionally rebellious ways, perpetually elicit scorn from the above-pictured matriarch. (Photo Source: Reality Tea)
WOKE?
Brought into question about the franchise is the question of: Just how “woke” are these individuals? If you’re not a Millennial or someone who keeps up with the Urban Dictionary, “Woke” is a political term of black origin referring to awareness of social and racial justice issues. The hashtag #StayWoke is a popular one. So where does Southern Charm fall on the Woke Scale?

Sexism and double standards for women have also been brought up by critics in connection with the franchise and thoughts on this vary today. Here we are prior to the start of Southern Charm’s Season 5 (and Southern Charm Savannah’s Season 2): Viewers hone in on specific words used, things left unsaid, issues that are ignored and political sentiments tweeted out by cast members (including a barrage of tweets by cast mate Thomas Ravenel, including one directed at Bravo honcho Andy Cohen that has since been deleted). A contingent has expressed feeling offended by certain cast members’ actions, yet manage to return and tune in each  season…despite protest. This attests to what we observe time and again with Bravo shows and those airing on other cable networks: the compelling nature of material that provokes ire.

A SHOW ABOUT PETER PAN PLAYBOYS

Both Southern Charm and its Savannah offshoot have struck viewers as exuding an “all boys club” vibe. While it is impossible to pin that on production, some insiders (who requested anonymity) have speculated that Haymaker executives (both founders who sit at the company’s helm are male)  http://www.haymakercontent.com/ – who originally packaged the show as Southern Gentlemen – have a “boys will be boys” mentality,

According to writer Amy Feinstein of Inquistr.com:  “Southern Gentlemen turned into Southern Charm when Bravo said that the show needed some women in the cast and not just as accessories and dates for the ‘gentlemen.’ So Cameran Eubanks, Jenna King, and eventually, Kathryn Calhoun Dennis were added in to round out the cast.”

bible thomas SC

The “Bible” for Southern Gentlemen. From Amy Feinstein of Inquistr.com: “Initially, Southern Charm executive producers Whitney Sudler-Smith and Bryan Kestner wanted to do a show set in Charleston that would highlight the life of an upper-crust Peter Pan in the Holy City. They put together a promotional video for a show that would have been called Southern Gentlemen. In the Southern Gentlemen video, Thomas Ravenel and Shep Rose talk about their life before Southern Charm.”

Feinstein is referring to the first season of the original Southern Charm in her quote above. However, viewers had a lot to say about the most recent seasons of that show and its Savannah offshoot.
SLUT SHAMING
On Southern Charm Savannah, Ashley Borders was essentially slut-shamed for golfing in her one-piece bathing suit. While cast mate Louis Oswald played too, his participation was minimized and given little credence by cast mates. Producers often get thrown under the bus for what we see on camera, but how much should we really be blaming on them versus the cast members they spotlight?
The answer to that may be subjective and personal as well as dependent on how real you consider reality TV to be. Despite Season One (of Southern Charm Savannah) airing as recently as 2017, we have a long way to go when it comes to the “blame game” and expectations for women versus men. Additionally, this is maximized by the old fashioned concept of Southern propriety and the notions attached.

While it would be nice for Haymaker and Bravo to bring Ashley back for her “redemption season”, the rumor (based on those who recently spotted the cast filming and captured photos) is that she will not be returning as a full time cast member.

KEEPING UP WITH KATHRYN 

The Twittersphere has often been abuzz with speculation about how Kathryn Calhoun Dennis, the ginger-haired vixen of the original Southern Charm, has been scrutinized for her “bad behavior” (a subjective term) much more so than cast mates Thomas Ravenel and Shep Rose. Neither gent has been depicted as an angel (Shep’s drinking and impulse control were issues brought up last season), but there’s the contention that the “playboys” get away with a mere slap on the wrist. The idea of having children out of wedlock is also likely seen as the most shocking of offenses for a Southern gal, but we have to wonder if matriarch Patricia Altschul remembers that Thomas Ravenel, who she is visibly fond of, fathered Kathryn’s children.

A PROFESSOR TAKES A SOCIOLOGICAL AND ANTHROPOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE

Ned Rinalducci, Ph.D. is a professor living in Savannah and teaching there at Armstrong State University. As a Political Sociologist, he also researches and examines religious and ethnic political movements and cultural identity. He writes on Islam, religious politics, ethnic politics, and ethnic nationalism. Every summer he teaches a pop culture course that focuses on reality television and last year, he assigned his class a show that was filmed in their own city, Southern Charm Savannah.

He explains: “Even before I started watching Southern Charm Savannah, I gave assignments in a summer pop culture class where we examine race, class and gender through reality TV. What we note is that it’s always done in a stereotypical way to really drive the narrative they’re trying to deliver. A large portion of Savannah is actually African American so Savannah viewers said: ‘this isn’t about Savannah. This is about rich, entitled white guys.’”

“The majority of the population here is not represented by this show. There definitely are circles where the social hierarchies are stressed, but most people living here are not a part of that. It is very real though – I have been in Savannah for 18 years and I’ll never be a ‘Savannian’ because I wasn’t born here and my family is not from Savannah. Southern Charm does what so many reality TV shows do: There are story arcs and narratives about characters and the shows exaggerate things like gender stereotypes (we see that with the original Southern Charm, the greater expectations upon women to be proper), social class and race. On some level, this makes people connect to the characters and it’s disconcerting – It’s reality television, but it’s not real.”

“Last summer, I had my students really examine how race, class and gender were depicted on Southern Charm Savannah. They looked at signs of Southern culture and discussed whether it seemed authentic. My wife, who is a true Southerner, saw part of an episode where Catherine hosted a bridge party in the hopes of embracing an old tradition. She said to me ‘Nobody plays bridge anymore!’ I thought that was funny because my own mom, a Northerner, actually plays bridge!”

A PERSPECTIVE ON SOUTHERN CHARM FROM A BLACK, GAY AMERICAN MALE

Troy McEady of the podcasts Emotionally Broken Psychos (he has co-hosted with Molly McAleer) and EBP’s The Smush Room (which he alone hosts) admits that being a black, gay American male does not prevent him from watching Southern Charm and Southern Charm Savannah. McEady feels that bigotry stares you in the face with Savannah, whereas on the Charleston show there’s an “underlying sentiment.”

He elaborates: “Kathryn comes from a long bloodline of people that owned huge plantations in the South. We’ve been watching Charleston long enough that we’re almost used to it – as gross as that is to say. It’s not overt, but it’s still uncomfortable. With Savannah, they used it in a sort of ‘cutesy’ way last season. Catherine (not to be confused with Kathryn of Charleston) talks about how it’s uncouth to discuss where money comes from, but we know where that money comes from – owners of large plantations. It’s a weird thing to lightly dance around – because it’s embarrassing.”

One Savannah character from last season (who is likely also not returning — based upon cast trip photos that recently surfaced) used the Yiddish “S word” to joke around with Daniel. McEady observes: “In that case, it was social awkwardness and social unawareness when it comes to race. This is also a character who needs to be more self-aware. The statements came across as boldly racist. However, it was almost less offensive coming from him because he seemed not to possess the appropriate thought processes.”

McEady adds: “I’m hoping that things turns around with Southern Charm Savannah. It feels like those characters were uninteresting for the most part. The things Bravo used as filler (in Season One) were there because there wasn’t much to show. I’m not surprised that there’s an upcoming Season 2 because Bravo decided to give it another chance, but I doubt there will be a Season 3 unless there are major changes. Personally, now I’m invested so I’ve got to watch regardless. Unless they shake up the cast in some way, these people are uninteresting – with the exception of Ashley…and perhaps Daniel. While watching, I actually had to remind myself what was happening in terms of story lines. There didn’t seem to be too much there.”

THE “SWEET SPOT”
When it comes to that question of being “woke,” McEady has some thoughts on the entire franchise:“Bravo has found this sweet spot with Southern Charm – or what they think of as a sweet spot – to address the racism and sexism. ‘Let’s make it not seem so inappropriate that Thomas comes from a family of slave owners by putting cutesy music behind it.’ Patricia, the matriarch, comes across as a sexist woman. She dismisses what the men do and how they treat women while requiring women to be prim and proper. I really don’t think any of them are terrible people but it seems some (particularly the younger cast members across both Southern Charms) have been sheltered and are clueless.”
BRAVO HAS CONSERVATIVE VIEWERS TOO, OF COURSE
Fortunately for Bravo, there are many conservative viewers who are not harping on political correctness and are less sensitive about issues of concern to liberals (AKA “Snowflakes,” a beautiful phenomenon of nature that is supposed to be an insult?). Southern Charm Savannah‘s viewership was significantly smaller than the original, yet it still managed to rise steadily from week to week and it may be in part to those who are unfazed by things that “trigger” others.
LET’S ALL BREAK BREAD AT THE DINNER TABLE
“We live in a political climate where everybody has a voice,” says McEady, “You can relate to something and learn something about a black person without being a black person… Everybody has sat at a dinner table where someone of an earlier generation said something that resulted in flying tableware. There is a lot of weight added to things that people say today. It’s very heavy and it is scary to speak your mind – You just have to use discretion.”
And perhaps, that is where the viewers come in as well, the many “voices” weighing in via social media. Southern Charm is akin to that awkward Thanksgiving dinner where we all sit down hoping we can effectively see one another’s  perspectives. It is the reason why many of us keep coming back to the table. The right amount of controversy sparks discussion while an excess turns people away. Haymaker knows just how to walk this tightrope so we stay tuned in.
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