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Television Review

These 'Housewives' are desperate for status

Email|Print| Text size + By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / March 4, 2008

Do you love hating reality soaps? Because tonight Bravo is serving up a grotesquerie that will ideally suit those of us hoping to be totally and completely repulsed. The show is "The Real Housewives of New York City," a spinoff of "The Real Housewives of Orange County," and it's about a quintet of filthy rich ladies who step on a few hands as they climb the social ladder. They went into the Lipstick Jungle, and they came out with furs across their backs.

You probably won't like any of the ladies, who are real only insofar as they have flesh alongside their collagen, and who are housewives only insofar as they manage the help. But you will "like" them, as in you will enjoy marveling at the depth of their superficiality. While their West Coast counterparts like status but love money, these gaudy gals love money and status equally, eager to find themselves no more than a degree or two from Paris Hilton.

In one scene in tonight's premiere, at 11, housewife Jill Zarin sits in the back of her limousine boastfully opening her mail. She shows off her invitations to parties and gallery openings to the camera, describing how to enter Manhattan society: "The admission price is to go to charity events, political events, parties-gifting, naming buildings, hospitals after yourself." Jill's most endearing quality: She has no shame. She is who she is. Her obviously unimpressed 14-year-old daughter, Allyson, wants to go to rehab to lose weight, but methinks she just wants out of the reality-show gig.

Alex McCord and her husband, Simon, are the terrifically terrible twosome of the piece. They are incredibly tight, as they get side-by-side pedicures and spend five and six figures while shopping for Alex's dresses together. "I can see you at the Met in that," he opines as she stands in a store mirror. "We're each other’s stylists," she gushes. He is from Australia, she is from Kansas, but they have a French au pair so that their small children, Francois and Johan, will be bilingual. They are, how you say, absurd.

There is a countess! Her name is LuAnn de Lesseps, and she is married to a French aristocrat named Alexandre Count de Lesseps, of the de Lesseps who, the show tells us, took part in presenting New York with the Statue of Liberty. LuAnn gets her 10-year-old son a puppy, much to the cheerful chagrin of housekeeper Rosanna, who will wind up cleaning up after little Aston. Yes, the puppy’s name is Aston. The Count fantasizes about having two dogs, so he can have Aston and Martin, but, well, some dreams must be deferred.

The show doesn't waste time before going to the Hamptons, so we can glimpse a few real homes. Full townhouses are nice and all, but, as Bethenny Frankel says about the Hamptons, "You can see everyone's real estate, you can see everyone's everything. In New York you can hide in your apartment." Also revealing itself in the Hamptons: the chest of Ramona Singer's tennis coach, a hunk who finds every opportunity he can to peel off his top so the ladies will look longingly.

When Ramona's friend Missy jokingly suggests that coach Tom also remove his pants, he notes, "That's not in my contract." Then he gets philosophical: "Some things are better left to fantasy." Of course, as the makers of "The Real Housewives of New York City" know very well, some things aren't.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit boston.com/ae/tv/blog.

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