Real Housewives of Beverly Hills

PEOPLE's TV Critic Appraises The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills

09/06/2011 at 07:30 AM EDT

Real Housewives of Beverly Hills Season 2 Premiere
The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills
Richard McLaren/Bravo
One of the most-anticipated season premieres of the fall, as well as the most unfortunate, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills returned to Bravo Monday night, less than a month after the suicide of Russell Armstrong, the estranged husband of Housewives castmate Taylor Armstrong.

His death provoked a good deal of debate among viewers, and possibly panic over at Bravo. And here we had the outcome.

The show started with the Housewives, minus Taylor, meeting at Adrienne Maloof's home and discussing the death, which they generally attributed to financial problems. It was like a salon of Victorian gentlewomen trying to allude to a scandal without having to rattle their teacups violently. (An actual photo of Russell might have helped.)

"I had too much information to want to connect with him," said Lisa, rather credibly. Kyle Richards cried, "I think a lot of us feel some guilt about not seeing this coming," then concluded: "Life goes on. It has to."





And The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills goes on, too. It has to.

An onscreen message informed us that the show had been recorded prior to Russell's death. But as Bravo had already announced, the show was re-edited after his death.

A different version of the premiere was sent out to critics earlier this summer. The changes weren't drastic. Gone from the hour – which focused on an oddly composed dinner of macaroni, salad greens and champagne that Adrienne threw for the Housewives – was a segment that had Taylor and friends in a sexy lingerie shop, discussing her relationship with Russell and saying she hoped to re-spark some intimacy between them.

Also snipped were some thoughtless comments by Lisa Vanderpump and her husband Ken about what they thought was Taylor's ability to manufacture emotions.

In general, the cameras were more sensitive about not dwelling on Taylor's tautly miserable face – the right decision, certainly – although she still came across with a sort of Cate Blanchett intensity.

None of this resolves the new season's basic problem. Housewives is a confection, not a documentary project. It can incorporate a range of dramatic problems – including Camille Grammer's divorce – but Russell Armstrong's off-camera, post-filming, pre-season suicide remains like a storm system swirling above all these preposterously outfitted frenemies kissing and undercutting each other in the California sun.

If there is ever to be rain, and there will be, it will be controlled like a sprinkler system. And so, while a champagne that goes for $2,200 a bottle is served to dinner guests, and a tiny dog named Jiggy laps water from gold-leaf glassware, you watch and wonder what footage has gone missing, what footage has been added, how the recipe has been and will be adjusted to keep you entertained.

This is fun?



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