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Friday, August 20, 2010

RHODC Fact Check

Article from The Washington Post.

"This looks a little bit staged": D.C. "Housewives" recap and fact-check (#3, Aug. 19)

By: Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts

Welcome back to "The Real Housewives of D.C." -- the episode in which the 'Wives promote their friends' and loved ones' projects, not just their own, before a national audience -- and our weekly recap, analysis and fact-checking. But first, a note about last week's episode, where we failed to note the first key example of local business back-scratching, because it was just a little too subtle...

The barn and field where the Salahis treated Mary Amons and Cat Ommanney to a day of polo lessons? That was actually the headquarters of Destination Polo of Middleburg, Va., run by longtime Salahi pal Doug Barnes (whom we quoted in this biographical story on the couple). Unlike their mystery mansion, the Salahis never implied the field was theirs, so no gotcha here. DP only got sideways credit in that scene, with Tareq wearing one of their shirts -- but anyway, now you know.

This week's episode opens with a Housewife promoting, well, her own project for now. Cat, in her pretty yellow house in Chevy Chase, is meeting with the editor of her forthcoming memoir, "Inbox Full." The editor tells her the book needs to "convey the enormity of what you've done" -- an affair of some kind. (This book is really getting published, apparently, by a real publisher, because you know what helps you get your memoir published? Getting cast as a Real Housewife. At least a third of them have put out a memoir, cookbook, self-help book or some other kind of text, thanks to their Bravo credentials.)
Next, we see a vineyard glowing in the sunlight, grapes plump on the vine. The Salahis' troubled Oasis Winery? No! This, we learn is the episode's next product-placement: Sugarleaf Vineyards, owned by Stacie Turner's friends Jerry and Lauren Bias. (Wahoowa! Jerry Bias was a classmate of mine at the University of Virginia, a much-admired and much-awarded student leader who it turns out has become not just a hugely successful hedge-fund trader but the owner of his own vineyard and winery just south of Charlottesville in North Garden, Va. And what do I have to show for myself? I hate Bravo.) Stacie informs us that Sugarleaf is the only African-American-owned vineyard on the East Coast (this appears to be true), and that the White House served a Sugarleaf wine at a National Governor's Association dinner (true; 'twas their 2008 Petit Manseng). Stacie and Jason Turner are hanging out with the Biases when who should show up in a white limo (no police escort this time, whew) but the Salahis. Tareq of course offers a bottle of Oasis. Then they go in to meet Daniel, the winemaster, for a tasting, and Tareq lays some fancy French terminology on him, and does the "I'm getting some fresh melon and some nice citrus" wine-snob thing.
Then the Turners and the Salahis venture out into the vineyard for some totally natural chitchat that certainly was not prompted by the producers. "What do you guys think about Obama?" Stacie asks. Says Tareq: "I'm excited about his views on the two-state solution." (Tareq's father, Dirgham, is an immigrant of Palestinian descent.) Michaele asserts that "he's about bringing us all together... He tries to pull everybody together, the red and the blue, to make us the red, white and blue." And then the producers let her prattle on some more, and it's not very kind. Lots of eye-rolling from the Turners behind her back.

Then the Turners tell the Salahis about their upcoming trip to Paris to see a concert by Jason's brother. (Adam Turner is the frontman of a jazz-inflected hip-hop group called Beat Assailant -- and while my international Googling skills are not up to the task of confirming Stacie's assertion that he had "the number-one single in Paris," it appears from his MySpace page that they do draw quite the crowd in France.) With that, the Salahis decide to come along. Says Tareq: "We are known to do spontaneous things." (In our extensive biography of the controversial couple, friends state that they were known for living large and fun times; the Post investigation also found a trail of unpaid bills.) Says Stacie: "Tareq and Michaele are big ballers if they come over to Paris with three days notice."

Lynda Erikiletian, at the Saks Fifth Avenue in Chevy Chase, Md. (just a few feet over the D.C. line), is helping to stage a fashion show for annual cancer fundraiser Key to the Cure. The arrival of Mary Amons prompts Lynda to announce that "we're fresh out of tequila." (Feeling bad for Mary, always the butt of the joke.) And they start talking about the drama at the Paul Wharton's birthday party, which concluded with Michaele getting mad at Lynda for suggesting she needed to gain weight. (Does this seem like impossibly thin stuff to stretch out over three episodes? Remember, at this point, the Salahis had not yet shown up uninvited at the White House, so producers may have thought this was the most drama they were going to get.) Mary defends the Salahis' wines: "I'm a fan of their reds." Lynda is "turned off by his need to be front and center." She tells the camera she thinks Tareq has been a bad influence on Michaele. (Note: This is the eternal debate among those who know them well.) She tells Mary that Michaele "used to be centered, ten pounds heavier, and a beautiful soul. And I think she has a beautiful soul that has been suffocated."

Time to go to Paris! The Salahis, back in their mystery mansion (which a friend tells us was a loaner for the shoot, somewhat more glam than their actual place in Front Royal), are packing excitedly; Michaele agrees to limit it to "two and a half bags." Jason Turner asks the camera, "are these two white folks really going to get on a plane and go do the hip-hip experience?"

Cat meets with Lynda in a Georgetown rowhouse that seems to be the offices of Lynda's modeling business, T.H.E Agency. Over chardonnay, Cat tells her about her book: "Falling out of love in my husband, and I fell in love with a married man... hilarious escapades; inappropriate lovers -- really inappropriate lovers!" (Is she going to mention her brief 2006 hook-up with Prince Harry? Because that was really inappropriate!)

Lynda wonders what effect this will have on Cat's husband Charles -- and then delivers to the camera the latest in the series of Rules of Washington that she and Beltway Lifetimer Mary are always called upon to outline: "D.C. being as small at it is, his job is on the line! He is a WH photographer!"
Mary and her husband Rich dine at Inox, the well-reviewed fine-dining establishment in McLean (which closed abruptly in May, before it could reap the publicity boost of a two-minute Housewives cameo). Rich hasn't noticed that Mary's hair has gone "a little lighter." She explains that she's going to throw a party for salon owner Ted Gibson, to help him "get together with some people in the media... I wanted to help him get introduced to some of the important people in D.C." Then they chortle about how nutty the Salahis are. "They are very splashy, very unusual for Washington, says Rich, owner of multiple pairs of psychedelic paisley pants (which got him on Washingtonian's best-dressed list -- no, really, in real life!). Mary tells the camera with carefully calibrated levels of foreshadowed doom: "I'm sure there's not going to be any drama at this party."

And now, back at the Ommanney house, Cat's young daughters chattering merrily with their stepdad, who is just back from a work trip. "The girls are always really excited when Charles comes home," Cat tells the camera warmly. "The first time he met Jade and Ruby they bonded immediately." Then Charles tells her he has to go to New York on assignment -- "Goldman Sachs, which has pretty much never let anyone enter its doors" -- and she turns sour, telling the camera that Charles was supposed to shoot the cover for her book, but he's leaving instead. (Okay, big revelation here: Some of these interviews were conducted last year, during filming, while others were conducted just a couple months ago. The only time you can tell the difference is during Cat's sessions, and it's unintentionally very poignant. When she speaks warmly of Charles and her daughters, it was clearly last year -- well before their recent split -- because she has the bangs she had during taping and, well, she's speaking warmly of her husband. When she snarks about him leaving town, it was clearly more recently, because her bangs are all grown out, as they were on the recent press tour -- and well, you can hear the tension in her voice. Also, she's markedly thinner now. It's kind of sad.) The scene ends sourly, Cat complaining that she hasn't had enough sleep, stuck at home with book and the kids while he's out "swanning around," and Charles is like, I'm not the one who's swanning around, and she says, "seriously, chill."
Drama! It finally arrives in this episode, and naturally, it's courtesy of Paul Wharton, the hardest workin' man in reality TV, the guy who keeps the artificial plot in motion. His publicist (!) Charlotte comes to see him at his apartment; his hair is at its frizziest. She announces that shortly before his birthday party, ostensibly hosted by Michaele Salahi, she got a call from the Salahis' attorney demanding that she put in writing a promise that the Salahis are not held financially responsible for the party. (Sources close to the show tell us that this demand was in fact issued. On her Bravo blog -- why have we not been reading this? -- Michaele says she had simply been asked to lend her name to the invitation, and that they issued the letter to make sure the show would not try to portray them as ducking out on a bill. Unclear why, if she weren't hosting in any official capacity, she would be giving the order in the previous invitation to invite as many guests as the club could hold -- but as Michaele herself says, "This is TV.")

Paris! (It was when we heard that Bravo had followed the Turners to Paris that we realized she was pretty definitely a Housewife.) Stacie and Jason reconnoiter with the Salahis, who at their hotel brandish what Jason declares to be "a $1,000 bottle of Dom Perignon!" Says Stacie: "He's extravagant in everything he does." (Yup.)
Back in McLean, Mary talks to Paul, who takes this plotline into second gear "I feel a little unsettled about the party," he says. He notes that the Salahis, while acting as hosts, "didn't pay for anything." Mary takes this moment to explain another Rule of Washington: "In D.C. etiquette says if you are hosting the party that means you are paying for the party." (Okay, let's just stipulate that I've been to a birthday dinner or two where we, the guests, have been expected to pick up the check -- so maybe we're really not that much better than you rabble in the rest of the country.)

At the concert in Paris, the Turners explain that his brother Adam "is introducing an entirely new genre of music" to French people. Michaele tosses her hair around like Cher back in the day. "Oh, you can tell Michaele is a party girl!" Stacie tells the camera. Says Jason: "She was trying to dance up on Stacie... It's all good!" Tareq declares that this is "the best time I've ever had" and that "the Salahis are going to be hanging with the Turners" from now on (and we're reminded of his promise/threat to Matt Lauer that "next time, we're going to come sit on your couch.").

Brief scene with Mary in McLean, having what looks to be a mid-afternoon glass of wine as she catches up with 14-year-old Meghan, What did you learn in school today, Meghan? "They had an assembly about sexting." Mary's all, what? Meghan gets the subtitles previously reserved for British people. "It's like, you send nude photos to, like, people, and then it goes around." Says Mary: "I'm not ready for you to be even hearing about this." Retorts Meghan: "Well, you put me in public school." Well played, Meghan.

In Cady's Alley of Georgetown, Cat poses for her book cover -- black sheath dress, heels, shopping bags, sunglasses, cellphone -- but she's not liking the setup. "This looks a bit staged." (Since when do any of you worry about that?) But then who should show up unexpectedly but Charles. He whisks her off to the Dupont Circle Metro, where he photographs her in a leopard-print coat on a stalled elevator. "He's so clever" she tells the camera (and OMG, she doesn't have bangs! You can tell she's having to try hard to sound warm about him, though).

Back in Paris, Stacie and Michaele are coming back from a shopping and bonding trip. They pause for a heart-to-heart with the Eiffel Tower in the background. (This looks a bit staged.) Stacie confides that she was adopted at the age of six months, that she tracked down her birth mother, but that they had a falling-out because her mother wouldn't help her find her birth father. (Stacie recently founded a charity to support girls in foster care; she kicked it off earlier this summer by taking a group to see the World Cup.) Michaele tells the camera that she feels flattered that Stacie shared this story.

Mary goes to the Dupont Hotel (formerly the slightly shabby Jurys Hotel, it recently got a modish makeover and new name) to meet Ted Gibson and Jason Backe. They are described in chryons as "celebrity hair stylist" and "celebrity colorist," respectively. Mary tells the camera that "I would consider Ted and Jason besties, for sure." Also, that "Ted knows I know some key players in the fashion and social world of D.C.," which is why she's throwing this party. Jason validates this: "All we had to do was put your name on the invitation and it went from six [RSVPs] to 40!" (So... they put out the invitation first, and THEN added her name? The Rules of Washington are so complex.)

The Housewives start to pile into the hotel suite for some hairstylin' -- but first, a little trash-talk about the one who isn't there: Jason divulges that after Paul Wharton's party, he was coloring one of the guests who told him that "Tareq came over and said, I hope you're having a great time because I spent a lot of money on this party." (!) And then Lynda warns that she better be seated far from the Salahis.

So, the party! It's downstars at Café Dupont. (True story about this party: One of our colleagues, Robin Givhan, was invited, and she went, knowing little other than that it was a party for Ted Gibson, an acquaintance. She got there and was surprised to see it was a made-for-TV affair. Michaele, whom she had never met before, hugged Robin like an old friend, and she became aware of the fact that everyone was mic'd up. A clipboard girl chased her around trying to get her to sign a nondisclosure agreement and waiver to let her image be used on film, which she declined to do because -- hey, reporters can't nondisclose! So finally they told her she'd have to leave before everyone sat down, so she was totally cheated out of dinner that night.)

Paul's hair is flatironed tonight. He tells the camera that he has "a little beef with Michaele" but he's decided to let it go. Lynda makes some snarky comments that I've already forgotten (because, look, people I know! There's Stephanie Green, who at the time wrote a column for the Washington Times before they purged about half of their staff; and Tara Palmeri, who used to write for the Washington Examiner before she moved to the New York Post; and Matt Glassman, a producer with NBC4). Then there's some girlbonding, and Lynda makes a comment to Stacie about how she can be "our Diana Ross" in their little imaginary girl group, and Stacie's friend Erika snarks that, oh, that's because she's black, and Cat gets irked because she thinks Erika's playing the race card (and really, I got nothing to add -- doesn't it seem like we've had this exact same dinner conversation about three times already? When is someone going to hurry up and crash a White House dinner, for crying out loud?) Cat and Paul talk outside, and she complains that everyone thinks she's racist.
Oh, and then Tareq starts talking again, and he's resurrected the other boring dinner-table debate we keep having -- the one about Michaele's weight. "She gained at least twenty pounds in beautiful places after we met. Some people make fun of Michaele being thin, but she gained weight after marrying Mr. Salahi here!... She'll eat a whole filet mignon, a whole chicken breast!" Lynda tells the camera that Tareq is being defensive. Cat tells Jason about the Salahis turning up "in this horrible white limo" at the last awkward dinner party. Tareq brags that he knows his wedding anniversary date: "Am I a good husband?" Lynda says something about how Michaele should unload her husband, and suddenly our exciting hour has come to a close.

Preview: A lot of grape stomping! And sour glances. And, omg, it turns out the Salahis crashed the Congressional Black Caucus gala? (Whatever -- this is totally old news... The Salahis: Walking spoiler alerts.)
Who won this round? Let's give it to Mary. No one else came across particularly well, and I'm beginning to think that Mary might be in on the joke. We know her daughter Meghan is.

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