This season on Vanderpump Rules, we were introduced to a woman who brings a charming candor about her private life and personal journey to a national audience. With matriarch Lisa Vanderpump as a known LGBTQ proponent, it is notable that the newest cast member Billie Lee is Vanderpump Rules’ first transgender cast member. In an interview with Danny Pellegrino for his podcast Everything Iconic, Billie Lee disclosed that viewers will get to see much more about her life and the anxieties she grapples with. She also spoke about how difficult it has been to open up about her journey and how she is adjusting to suddenly finding herself in the spotlight. To read more about Billie Lee’s interview with Danny Pellegrino, see my article on the website All About The Real Housewives (AllAboutTRH.com): http://www.allabouttrh.com/2018/02/21/vanderpump-rules-billie-lee-inspiring-story-still-truth/.
This season of Vanderpump Rules has been one about personal growth and maturity for Lala Kent who has made it clear that her female cast mates should be building one another up rather than tearing each other down. In an interview with Kate Casey of the eponymous podcast Reality Life with Kate Casey, Kent made it clear that she has regrets over any disparaging remarks she made to female cast mates in past seasons of the show. She is bringing her authentic “girl’s girl” persona to the current season, hoping to make up for past mistakes. To read more about this interview between Lala Kent and Kate Casey, read my article on the website All About the Real Housewives, AllAboutTRH.com: http://www.allabouttrh.com/2018/02/21/vanderpump-rules-lala-kent-building-relationships-exuding-confidence-becoming-entrepreneur/.
I frequently hear complaints that a reality television character is offensively over the top. However, week after week those same folks lamenting are the ones tuning in to the program they gripe about. It is the outlandishness of various cast members that keeps us riveted to shows, despite our efforts to deny that fact. Let’s face it: For a majority of us, without the contrast of these obnoxious personalities we would not be watching — or more precisely, “hate watching.”
Last season on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Dorit Kemsley came across as a troublemaker…with a grating quasi-English accent to boot. Arguably, the latter offense maximized the phony vibe this nouveau riche, pretentious and ostentatious Housewife gave off from the start of her Real Housewives tenure. Dorit comes across as privileged, entitled, showy and exceedingly effusive, while at the same time there is something fishy about her and her husband PK. We keep watching as we try to figure out who this person is and what makes her tick, what is authentic versus what is for show. If you fancy yourself a Real Housewives anthropologist or an armchair psychologist, the act of dissecting Dorit…finding Dorit….comes instinctively as she’s a rather baffling character.
“Isn’t she from Connecticut?” we all asked one another last season, and shortly thereafter, awkward photos from her high school days surfaced. In no time at all, they were circulating widely throughout social media. There she was in the graduation shot from her all-girls school class, 1990s poof curls and that signature reddish brown lipstick that marked its territory (all of our lips) during that decade.
Dorit’s undying and overboard professions of love for her questionable cad of a husband PK – who looks much older and is noticeably less attractive than his wife – and their taunting of Erika Jayne for unintentionally flashing her undies (AKA “Pantygate) pitted many a RHOBH viewer against her last season. Camille Grammer was once labeled “The Most Hated Housewife” and Real Housewives of New Jersey‘s Siggy Flicker may have LITERALLY taken the cake, but Dorit wore the gold plaited crown on RHOBH. Some viewers have decided that she is the “worst Housewife” in Real Housewives history.
…But, she’s pretty.
The many looks, the cakey maquillage, the expensive designer duds, the lavish affairs, the ever-changing hair (about a dozen wigs so far this season alone) combined with absurdity and superficiality…Say what you will, but it all earned Dorit a fawning following last season. If Boy George – who is purportedly managed by PK and inexplicably seems to live with the Kemsleys – can appreciate Dorit, then so can many others. Testament to that is the fact that her Instagram blew up after her inaugural season. For some, there was a certain allure to Dorit and her bloviating manner. Then this year, she returned and turned up the level of brashness full force. Viewers have recently expressed that they’re fed up seeing her gunning for the most stable – and entirely-too-normal – new cast addition Teddi Mellencamp. When the most laid back Housewife was called “psycho” by Dorit, viewers expressed that she had surely lost her marbles.
The question with Dorit is: How far is too far? How much will RHOBH fans be able to tolerate? Viewers seem to have sharpened the focus even more upon hate-watching the Housewife this season. Some have even begged Bravo (via the various social media channels that exist) to fire her.
Based on what we are seeing of Dorit this season, many of us have questions:
Is that indeterminate accent a put-on? Or is it the sort that was legitimately acquired from being married to a Brit and exposed to his diction day after day?
Does Dorit always act as if she hasn’t seen her children in over a decade? Why does she prance them around in front of her friends as if they’re show ponies before a live audience?
What exactly does PK Kemsley do (besides manage singer Boy George – although maybe that is enough?)? More specifically, how does the couple afford their sprawling mansion?
There have been allegations that the house we see them in actually belongs to businessman, investor and philanthropist Sam Nazarian. What we do know is that the mansion is on the market, currently listed with Mauricio Umansky’s real estate company. https://pagesix.com/2018/01/16/dorit-and-pk-drop-mega-mansion-listing-price-by-1-8m/ Is it merely a salacious rumor about Nazarian owning the house, or is it fact? In short, viewers wonder: How much about the Kemsleys is a facade and how much of the glamor and glitz is reality beyond “reality TV”?
Erin Martin, a writer for Reality Tea and host of the Pink Shade podcast says that Dorit reminds her of former RHOC Alexis Bellino, just “a smarter version, with a British accent and bad wigs.” Martin further elaborates: “Like Dorit, Alexis was totally fake with HUGE boobs and had a gross husband like PK. She and her husband both turned out to be lying about their financial status the entire time. They were broke and were renting everything they showed off. This is very much like what has been alleged to be the case with Dorit and PK.”
Then there is the question of: Is Dorit for real when she makes a big deal? We see it this season when she makes a whole stink about the cup from which she takes a drink. We want to shove each glass up her….
And as you know from the show, there’s one for wine, another for champagne, one for red that should never be utilized for rosé…and so on….
Dorit is a very particular woman and she makes her preferences and thoughts known without much filtering. After all, she was responsible for making last season’s “Pantygate” a huge debacle, and this season, the focus seems to be on “Lategate.” Her costar Teddi Mellencamp was miffed that she arrived an hour after their scheduled meeting time, but Dorit is the one who refuses to let Teddi’s annoyance with her go. She remains unapologetic for her tardiness, claiming instead that Teddi is uptight.
Danny Pellegrino, host of the podcast Everything Iconic with Danny Pellegrino had this to say about the Dorit of last season and the Dorit we’re seeing now:
“Dorit didn’t impress me much on her first season of RHOBH, and she’s not impressing me now. The problem, I think, is that she is a solid ensemble player, but she has become the star and villain of the show in her second season. I don’t think it’s necessarily her fault that the storylines have revolved around her. Unfortunately, I don’t think the other women gave enough for production to latch onto, and it’s forced Dorit to take center stage. These shows are soap operas, and every good soap opera needs a villain. Dorit has taken on that role, but she’s not a strong enough villain for us to root against (or for, if you love the drama a villain brings).”
“Because of that, she ends up coming across as simply annoying, like a discarded Batman villain. If the show had a stronger villain, someone like Brandi Glanville or season 1 Camille, I think it would come across better because the audience wouldn’t be relying on her to drive the story as much as we are now. Lisa Rinna seems to want to take a backseat this season after spending so much time filling that role previously, and Lisa Vanderpump and Kyle are coasting by on their seniority. The tardiness storyline that is driving this season is so incredibly weak for a series that has dealt with domestic abuse, alcohol addiction, squabbling sisters… In another season, that storyline would be a great little B-story that audiences would love because it would be campy, over-the-top and the right amount of ridiculousness. Unfortunately, Dorit being tardy has become the A-story of the season, it’s leaving viewers upset and it’s hard to point the finger at anyone but Dorit since she’s the tardy one. “
“The one thing I do really appreciate from Dorit is her fashions. Her choices range from ridiculous to flawless in any given scene. Even if you don’t like her, it’s fun to see what she’ll be wearing, and that’s not something you can say about any of the other Housewives, save for maybe Erika. I hope for Dorit’s sake that someone else (or multiple people) step up next season to drive the storylines so that we can appreciate Dorit in smaller doses than what they are giving us now. As is, I think a lot of us are rooting for Dorit to get off our screens so we can get some more meat in the drama. It is entirely possible that Bravo is looking to move away from that type of show, and giving us more lifestyle porn with tiny bits of drama, instead of dramatic catfights and table flipping. If that’s the case, I think it will turn off a lot of fans. Lastly, I think we can all do without PK entirely. I think all fans are in favor of him appearing even less than Mr. Girardi.”
The 80s icon and famous pop star Boy George recently chastised an Instagram user for not being able to appreciate a campy woman. Is that where many of us are going wrong with regard to Dorit? While some viewers have stated that they can’t wait for her to leave the show already, I’ve referred to this season as “The Real Filler Scenes of Beverly Hills” and feel that Dorit spices up an otherwise boring show. I have not been able to identify many “storylines” since the current season began.
So, even as Dorit offends and irks, I feel she is delivering necessary drama through her erratic and mind-boggling antics. There is no denying that her questionable behavior has fans talking, tweeting and weighing in…albeit, to their own chagrin. I’m not sure where we would be without her, or who would still be watching if she wasn’t on our screens.
When I was single and in the Jewish dating scene, Natalie Portman was often cited as the desirable prototype and celebrity crush of my male acquaintances. She was born in Jerusalem – as Meryl Streep may have reminded you – and is on an elite list of hot Jewish Hollywood stunners along with Rachel Weisz and Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman). Now, an arrestingly beautiful and talented Israeli actress named Inbar Lavi is about to take the extended Jewish community by storm – as well as the rest of the world. Lavi is not an unknown, but her fan base is about to increase along with Bravo’s straight male viewership.
She previously was on MTV’s Underemployed and Fox’s Gang Related. Unlike the latter which only lasted a single season, her new chapter on Bravo’s riveting scripted thriller Imposters looks promising. I was lucky enough to screen the first three episodes and can attest to the talent of its star who plays Maddie, an irresistible persona- shifting con artist who is always on the move. When each assignment is completed, she has wiped out savings accounts and left victims blindsided and brokenhearted, not knowing her true identity. Then three of her scorned exes join forces, intent on piecing together clues and tracking her down as she begins her next con job (See Video Below).
I had the opportunity to chat with Lavi and get to know the actress behind the fictional vixen:
SHW: Hi Inbar, how are you? Or should I say “Mah shlomech? Mah Inyanim?” I actually know Hebrew but not as well as you do! I can understand completely, but speaking is another matter.
IL: (In Hebrew) Good, how are you?!! (Back to English) Your Hebrew is good! The more you practice the better you’ll do (laughs).
SHW: I read about how you had started really watching TV and thereby, studied acting while you took the nebulizer for asthma when you were younger. I know that you grew up in the Ramat Gan neighborhood of Israel. Is that where you trained in acting?
IL: I actually didn’t really train in acting in Israel. I had one class that introduced me to method acting and I knew it was what I wanted to do. But, I wanted to go to school in New York for it so I moved to the States. My upbringing in Israel was actually in dance. I went to an academy for ballet and contemporary dance which really introduced me to the stage and the constant performance for an audience. It taught me a lot of my…Oh how do you say it?
SHW: You can say it in Hebrew.
IL: It just taught me how to work really hard. My work ethic came from my dance background and I owe a lot of what I do today to my upbringing there. Physicality and body movement.
SHW: I detect maybe the slightest accent now although you do sound mostly American. When I watched the preview of Imposters, that fake French accent stood out. Then we see how that is the accent used to con the husband Ezra.
IL: It’s all about conning the audience all season. That’s what we do. I get to play with languages and accents on the show. Full of effect and melodies.
SHW: How were you discovered for TV?
IL: Oh my god, I wish I had just been discovered. That would have been so cool. I think there’s an urban legend that happens to someone like Rianna where they’re on the beach and some talent or model scout discovers them and makes them famous. I had to claw my way (laughs) into Hollywood and I feel like I’m still doing it every day.
SHW: If the first 3 episodes are any indication, I think you’re going to be one of those actresses that is chased around by paparazzi. I also think you’ll be the new desirable celebrity crush for the Jewish boys I know and a sort of ‘It Girl.’
IL: You’re so kind to say so. I do play a character that can also be quite dangerous to both men and women so it’s nice to hear you would feel someone would actually fall for that! I relate to a lot of things about Maddie, her passion for her work and her enthusiasm. She’s also very fun loving and I can relate to struggling with her line of business. It’s very similar to what I do in the sense that I put on a mask every day and pretend to be different characters for a living. Once you do that for a while, you lose a bit of yourself in the journey. I turned 30 this year and there are a lot of inner conflicts that go on. All of a sudden your priorities shift and things you didn’t want before…there’s a hunger for them. I’ve always been sort of a gypsy in my travels and all of a sudden I’m craving normality and having an anchor. These are things that drew me more so than ever before so I can appreciate many things in the journeys that Maddie goes through.
SHW: Do you miss Ramat Gan, Israel?
IL: I was born there but I actually grew up in Cholon, which is outside of Tel Aviv. My parents got divorced and are now living in different parts of Israel. I am Israeli first and foremost – in my blood, veins and my art. Ani po aval halev sheli sham (Translation: I am here but my heart is there.)
SHW: You suffered from asthma as a kid, so was the Israeli army not an option for you? How is your asthma today?
IL: I had childhood asthma so I mostly grew out of it. I was very lucky and I’m completely cured and very healthy. Dance really helped and connected me with my breath. I suffered from many knee injuries so the army wouldn’t take a risk with me due to my bad knees and I ended up not serving in the army.
SHW: I know about bad knees from having been a runner and aerobic jumper myself. You do seem graceful in the dance scenes that I saw on Imposters.
IL: Yes. There’s lots of physicality in this character. You will see through more of her personas how I absolutely use my body, my movements and my breath in every scene. I studied sense memory technique at The Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. We learned Strasberg’s method and sense memory is one of the tricks you draw from your own experiences. There are different senses to trigger the emotions. You go back to the memory and recreate it. Thank God I have this in the back of my mind because I used it with the different characters.
SHW: Which actors inspired you?
IL: Natalie Portman, like many other female actresses that I admire, is always honest and brave with her choices and she’s absolutely grateful, kind and down to earth. I respect everything about her. I like that she has a long-lasting, respectable career while keeping her private life private and raising a child and having a family. I admire her efforts to make the world a better place. There’s also Ayelet Zurer, an Israeli actress along with Ronit Elkabetz, a wonderful artist who we lost last year to cancer. She was also an incredible filmmaker who was nominated for an award just before she died.
SHW: Where do you see yourself in 10 year?
IL: Oh wow. Wow…Wherever it is I just hope that I’m happy.
SHW: Uma Thurman is one of your co-stars on Imposters and the show reminds me of Pulp Fiction so that was very suiting! How did that come about?
IL: Pulp Fiction was a big inspiration throughout the pilot and it was always on our vision board. We looked at the color scheme, the tone and the dark comedy. When the creator showed Imposters to Uma Thurman, she asked to be in it. It just fit and made total sense to have an actual piece of the Pulp Fiction puzzle. I still can’t believe I got to work with this incredible icon. I haven’t seen the rest of it either, just the first three episodes as you did, so I am just as excited as you are to see episode four…and beyond. It’s like being pregnant forever and I can’t wait to see this baby and birth it and take care of it!
SHW: This show is different than ANYTHING on Bravo. I think it’s going to bring a whole different, new viewership to Bravo like ABC’s Scandal viewing crowd.
IL: B’ezrat Hashem! B’ezrat Hashem! Todah Rabbah Rabbah. (“With the help of God! With the help God!” Thank you greatly, greatly!”)
Imposters is produced by Universal Cable Productions (UCP) with Adam Brooks and Paul Adelstein (Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce) serving as Executive Producers. The show premiered on Bravo in February of 2017 and returns with a second season this April.
(An earlier version of this ran on Huffington Post, June 13th, 2017. The following article is a revised and updated version.)
When Southern Charm began airing on Bravo in March of 2014, it took a while for viewership to make an impact for the network. By season 2 however, a rapt audience had tuned in to the drama that played out between privileged Southerners while a disapproving matriarch tutted about improprieties and a former Real World star begged the “Southern Gents” to settle down. The show, now approaching its 5th season, is currently popular enough for Bravo to have introduced a spinoff that just aired (Relationshep, about cast member Shep Rose, a ladies’ man looking for long term love – allegedly). The newer Southern Charm Savannah is another offshoot of the original. It premiered on May 8th, 2017 and Season 2 is filming now.
It is no surprise that shows about privileged white people in the South have garnered criticism and sparked wild rumors to make heads roll (a much-debated Page Six blind item referred to one Southern Charm costar’s “negrobilia,” a prized collection of artwork by black slaves. Of course, speculation abounds that the item was planted by a conniving adversary).
Many viewers have overtly stated in the comments sections of articles about the original SC – set in Charleston – that these people don’t seem to do very much for a living, yet have impressive wealth. The implication isn’t something that needs to be stated outright, though of course it is brought up periodically: Some of the cast members descended from plantation owners who kept slaves.
Sexism and double standards for women have also been brought up by critics in connection with the franchise and thoughts on this vary today. Here we are prior to the start of Southern Charm’s Season 5 (and Southern Charm Savannah’s Season 2): Viewers hone in on specific words used, things left unsaid, issues that are ignored and political sentiments tweeted out by cast members (including a barrage of tweets by cast mate Thomas Ravenel, including one directed at Bravo honcho Andy Cohen that has since been deleted). A contingent has expressed feeling offended by certain cast members’ actions, yet manage to return and tune in each season…despite protest. This attests to what we observe time and again with Bravo shows and those airing on other cable networks: the compelling nature of material that provokes ire.
A SHOW ABOUT PETER PAN PLAYBOYS
Both Southern Charm and its Savannah offshoot have struck viewers as exuding an “all boys club” vibe. While it is impossible to pin that on production, some insiders (who requested anonymity) have speculated that Haymaker executives (both founders who sit at the company’s helm are male) http://www.haymakercontent.com/ – who originally packaged the show as Southern Gentlemen – have a “boys will be boys” mentality,
According to writer Amy Feinstein of Inquistr.com: “Southern Gentlemen turned into Southern Charm when Bravo said that the show needed some women in the cast and not just as accessories and dates for the ‘gentlemen.’ So Cameran Eubanks, Jenna King, and eventually, Kathryn Calhoun Dennis were added in to round out the cast.”
While it would be nice for Haymaker and Bravo to bring Ashley back for her “redemption season”, the rumor (based on those who recently spotted the cast filming and captured photos) is that she will not be returning as a full time cast member.
KEEPING UP WITH KATHRYN
The Twittersphere has often been abuzz with speculation about how Kathryn Calhoun Dennis, the ginger-haired vixen of the original Southern Charm, has been scrutinized for her “bad behavior” (a subjective term) much more so than cast mates Thomas Ravenel and Shep Rose. Neither gent has been depicted as an angel (Shep’s drinking and impulse control were issues brought up last season), but there’s the contention that the “playboys” get away with a mere slap on the wrist. The idea of having children out of wedlock is also likely seen as the most shocking of offenses for a Southern gal, but we have to wonder if matriarch Patricia Altschul remembers that Thomas Ravenel, who she is visibly fond of, fathered Kathryn’s children.
A PROFESSOR TAKES A SOCIOLOGICAL AND ANTHROPOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE
Ned Rinalducci, Ph.D. is a professor living in Savannah and teaching there at Armstrong State University. As a Political Sociologist, he also researches and examines religious and ethnic political movements and cultural identity. He writes on Islam, religious politics, ethnic politics, and ethnic nationalism. Every summer he teaches a pop culture course that focuses on reality television and last year, he assigned his class a show that was filmed in their own city, Southern Charm Savannah.
He explains: “Even before I started watching Southern Charm Savannah, I gave assignments in a summer pop culture class where we examine race, class and gender through reality TV. What we note is that it’s always done in a stereotypical way to really drive the narrative they’re trying to deliver. A large portion of Savannah is actually African American so Savannah viewers said: ‘this isn’t about Savannah. This is about rich, entitled white guys.’”
“The majority of the population here is not represented by this show. There definitely are circles where the social hierarchies are stressed, but most people living here are not a part of that. It is very real though – I have been in Savannah for 18 years and I’ll never be a ‘Savannian’ because I wasn’t born here and my family is not from Savannah. Southern Charm does what so many reality TV shows do: There are story arcs and narratives about characters and the shows exaggerate things like gender stereotypes (we see that with the original Southern Charm, the greater expectations upon women to be proper), social class and race. On some level, this makes people connect to the characters and it’s disconcerting – It’s reality television, but it’s not real.”
“Last summer, I had my students really examine how race, class and gender were depicted on Southern Charm Savannah. They looked at signs of Southern culture and discussed whether it seemed authentic. My wife, who is a true Southerner, saw part of an episode where Catherine hosted a bridge party in the hopes of embracing an old tradition. She said to me ‘Nobody plays bridge anymore!’ I thought that was funny because my own mom, a Northerner, actually plays bridge!”
A PERSPECTIVE ON SOUTHERN CHARM FROM A BLACK, GAY AMERICAN MALE
Troy McEady of the podcasts Emotionally Broken Psychos (he has co-hosted with Molly McAleer) and EBP’s The Smush Room (which he alone hosts) admits that being a black, gay American male does not prevent him from watching Southern Charm and Southern Charm Savannah. McEady feels that bigotry stares you in the face with Savannah, whereas on the Charleston show there’s an “underlying sentiment.”
He elaborates: “Kathryn comes from a long bloodline of people that owned huge plantations in the South. We’ve been watching Charleston long enough that we’re almost used to it – as gross as that is to say. It’s not overt, but it’s still uncomfortable. With Savannah, they used it in a sort of ‘cutesy’ way last season. Catherine (not to be confused with Kathryn of Charleston) talks about how it’s uncouth to discuss where money comes from, but we know where that money comes from – owners of large plantations. It’s a weird thing to lightly dance around – because it’s embarrassing.”
One Savannah character from last season (who is likely also not returning — based upon cast trip photos that recently surfaced) used the Yiddish “S word” to joke around with Daniel. McEady observes: “In that case, it was social awkwardness and social unawareness when it comes to race. This is also a character who needs to be more self-aware. The statements came across as boldly racist. However, it was almost less offensive coming from him because he seemed not to possess the appropriate thought processes.”
McEady adds: “I’m hoping that things turns around with Southern Charm Savannah. It feels like those characters were uninteresting for the most part. The things Bravo used as filler (in Season One) were there because there wasn’t much to show. I’m not surprised that there’s an upcoming Season 2 because Bravo decided to give it another chance, but I doubt there will be a Season 3 unless there are major changes. Personally, now I’m invested so I’ve got to watch regardless. Unless they shake up the cast in some way, these people are uninteresting – with the exception of Ashley…and perhaps Daniel. While watching, I actually had to remind myself what was happening in terms of story lines. There didn’t seem to be too much there.”