When Reality Television Becomes Too Real
Published: Friday, September 14, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 13, 2012 18:09
Let me begin by admitting that I follow Andy Cohen, Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live” host and, more importantly, the brain behind the “Real Housewives” franchise, on Twitter. I feel like that needed to be said. Andy Cohen is a funny (if totally self-obsessed) guy. I may have also read his book. No shame. If anything, the knowledge I’ve gained through this research (yes, I’m going to call it that) actually makes me more qualified to do what I’m about to do: call the entire “Real Housewives” series totally soul crushing.
I’m not one of those “I-don’t-watch-reality-because-I-only-like-critically-acclaimed-TV” snobs. I’ve seen each of the iterations at least once and used to be a regular viewer of the New Jersey, Beverly Hills and New York City versions. But I really had to stop. Why? Yeah, because of the soul-crushing stuff.
You see, the “Real Housewives” franchise is not just a weird compilation of the general awfulness of its stars. It’s not just an inadvertent public service announcement against plastic surgery (it will maim you), a showcase for puke-worthy materialism or a stage for unbelievable amounts of petty behavior. It’s a composition of real lives, however warped they may be to fit producers’ demands for compelling storylines.
I noticed this most explicitly on this past season of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” which I actually couldn’t watch in full because it became too painful. I’m not going to deny that these shows are often laugh-out-loud funny. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have experienced as much success as they have. Still, there’s a point when things become a little too real and a little too close for comfort. And when you finish watching an episode, you feel a little bit icky (the beginnings of your soul being crushed).
Teresa Giudice of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” had a “storyline” this season that was often outrageous but, at moments, felt anything but fictional in each she constantly fought her family members. And it was in these real moments that things got uncomfortable.
Teresa’s endless arguments with sister-in-law Melissa Gorga stopped fazing me early on — the yelling became old news fast. Let’s be honest: Teresa’s anger hasn’t been truly amusing since she flipped a table at the end of season one. It was what lay behind these fights that was actually upsetting: the drama revolved not only around extended family conflict but also around serious turmoil in Teresa’s life. Sorry, but I like my reality shows not so realistic, though I realize this is not at all logical. This is when things should leave the airwaves; no child should be crying onscreen over her father’s potential infidelities and criminal activity. It’s just wrong.
I’m not necessarily calling for an end to all the frivolity in the “Real Housewives” franchise. It might kill a few brain cells, but won’t cause real damage. It’s in those rare moments that these shows actually seem to — in the saddest ways — resemble reality that things take a turn for the worse.
Basically, these people need to keep things revolving around their colorfully outfitted mini pets, a la Lisa Vanderpump and her dog Jiggy, rather than their real children and their very real struggles. To watch something so personal is beyond invasive. Or maybe that’s exactly why people like reality TV and I’m completely wrong about this. Still, though, can’t you agree that once the claws retract and you’re just left with a young girl bawling onscreen, things have gone a little too far?
I now realize that also totally applies to TLC’s “Toddlers and Tiaras.” Awkward.
Bridget Mullen is a sophomore in the College. SMALL-SCREEN OBSESSIONS appears every other Friday in the guide.