All eyes were on Bravo Sunday night to see how the network would handle the suicide last month of Russell Armstrong, the husband of one of the regular cast members on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. The second season premiere was filmed before Armstrong's suicide, but was re-edited to open with a segment in which the Housewives (minus Armstrong's widow) reacted to his death. Bravo also edited out a scene in which Armstrong's wife shopped for lingerie in order to "spice up my love life." Some critics have called for the season to be canceled altogether. Armstrong was portrayed last season as being largely responsible for his disintegrating marriage, and some argue that the show may have pushed him to suicide. Did the network pull off the tricky task Sunday of dealing with this tragedy?
The premiere was "grotesque": The four-minute opening addressing the suicide was nothing but a "hopeless attempt at good taste," says Ken Tucker at Entertainment Weekly. "The last thing one expects from any of the Real Housewives series is sincerity," and the shallow opening scene proved why. Even in the face of tragedy, the season premiere revealed that the women "who behave so nonstop selfishly" will not change.
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It should never have aired: During a dinner party scene filmed before Armstrong's suicide, says Mary McNamara at the Los Angeles Times, his wife, Taylor, revealed that the couple was in therapy. One cast member told Taylor that he "would feel weak" if he had to use therapy to save his marriage, visibly upsetting her. It is "impossible for even an impartial observer not to parse a scene like that," and that turns viewing the series into a "creepy necro-party game" that's simply too tasteless for TV.
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C'mon. Bravo handled it well: It was a classy move to edit out the footage of Taylor shopping for lingerie to reignite romance with Russell, says Tom Gliatto at People. Similarly, the re-editing seemed to soften up Taylor's portrayal. "In general, the cameras were more sensitive about not dwelling on Taylor's tautly miserable face." And while Armstrong's suicide will loom over the entire season "like a storm system," this episode made it clear that it will be dealt with more "like a controlled sprinkler system." Maybe that's a good thing.
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