The dog days of LVP

In which I reluctantly defend Lisa Vanderpump, cry over "Ragtime" and the country, and continue to make amends to Megan Fox.

Let’s just get this out of the way first: Danielle Staub is engaged again. I have been engaged approximately zero times; she has been engaged on at least 21 occasions. I’m not jealous so much as impressed. Danielle is an iconic Real Housewives villain in part because her villainy is so transparent: she is very clearly a scammer. And she still manages to keep people under her thrall, either because they’re too tequila-drunk to notice what she’s doing, or because they just aren’t that bright. (I will let you figure it out for yourself without naming names!) I believe Danielle is a liability for Bravo — anyone who breaks glasses during fights with that much frequency is — but I also believe she has inadvertently saved The Real Housewives of New Jersey. Sometimes you have to make a deal with the devil. And because Danielle is now set to become a duchess (somewhere, Countess Luann shivers), it’s safe to say that the devil works hard but Danielle Staub works harder.

But seriously, RHONJ went from borderline unwatchable to having its best season since before Teresa “went away” (a euphemism we are still being forced to use lest Tre flip a table). And credit where it’s due, that would not be the case if Danielle weren’t around to very overtly stir the pot, disrupt alliances, and deliberately turn friends against one another. Again, it’s not that she is particularly good at any of this — she just has really easy marks. All you have to do is tell Teresa that someone else is trying to tell her who she can and can’t hang out with, and she will defensively double down on whichever ill-advised friendship is currently making her life worse. No one tells Teresa what to do! Even if “stay away from the woman you knew was bad news a decade ago” is objectively good advice. Keep doing you, Tre.

Speaking of obvious manipulators who somehow get away with it: Lisa Vanderpump is already having a not great season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, which has only been back for a few weeks. But while Danielle has succeeded for the past two seasons because she knows how to play mind games with dummies, Lisa survived for years simply because she was too powerful to fuck with. Those that tried to call out her bullshit found themselves on the outs (RIP Brandi Glanville), and Lisa’s allyship with Kyle has largely protected them both from any serious drama. Things have certainly taken a turn this season, and while that would normally be thrilling, the circumstances are making it hard for me to enjoy watching this play out. Is Rinna right that Lisa set up her employees to talk about Dorit’s ditched dog in front of Kyle and Teddi (read: the cameras)? Absolutely. (And of course there’s the unspoken accusation that she leaked stories, which, I mean.) But it’s hard not to see that Rinna is also being calculated here. She’s attacking Lisa because Vanderpump has never been more vulnerable.

But Lisa is vulnerable for a very valid reason: her brother just died. We’ve rarely seen her cry before, and now she cries in every episode. She is going through it, to say the last. That doesn’t mean the other women can’t go after her — this is a reality show, after all — but it does leave a bad taste in my mouth. Rinna waited till Lisa was wounded and then went in for the kill, and from what we know about this season as a whole, she took down Vanderpump for good. And while we’re on the subject of poor taste, Erika getting huffy because Lisa pointed out her condolence card was cold and impersonal (it was!) was a really terrible look. I’m not going to keep defending Lisa because she’s grieving — most of what everyone says about Lisa is true! — but when someone says you hurt their feelings because you didn’t really reach out when they were mourning, you don’t get to be a total asshole about it. You apologize and perhaps say you wish they had brought this up in private (fair!), and then resolve to talk about it in the future. Why did Erika take a photo of her condolence card? Because she knew it was a limp nothing gesture she would get called on.

I’ve had more time to watch Housewives because I’ve been in LA for the past week and a half, but that also means I’ve been neglecting theater. (Listen, I know this isn’t a great transition, but we’re going to figure this out. Bear with me.) Rest assured that I have been RSVP-ing to every invitation in my inbox, both because I’m unemployed, what else am I doing, and because there are so many spring shows that I’m dying to see. I get back on Sunday, and next week I’m seeing — brace yourself — Hurricane Diane, If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka, The Cake, The B-Side, Kiss Me, Kate, Alice By Heart, and Fleabag. Stay tuned for thoughts on some (likely not all) of those shows. As on Twitter, I’ll likely be keeping things positive here and focusing on shows I want to celebrate and that I think you should see.

Recently I was talking to a friend and said I would never want to be a full-time critic. It’s something I’ve thought about a lot recently, especially since becoming unemployed. I do write criticism and I’m a member of the Outer Critics Circle, but as far as making that my job — I can’t see myself going down that path. I have so much respect for good criticism. (I ran into Vulture’s Sara Holdren at a show a couple weeks ago and told her I was a big fan, because I couldn’t help myself. Read her stuff if you haven’t. She’s brilliant.) But it’s a job that requires you to write pans alongside raves, and while negative reviews absolutely have value, I genuinely have a hard time writing them. There are exceptions! I have no problem ranting about big budget Broadway shows that seriously irked me; maybe I’ll finally share my thoughts on Network here at some point. In the meantime, I’ll focus on the positive. (It’s worth noting that this is a theater-specific thing for me. I don’t publicly trash movies and TV shows for the most part, but I have a much easier time writing those negative reviews.)

I have seen one show since coming to LA: Ragtime at the Pasadena Playhouse. I wasn’t planning on going, but a friend suggested I grab a ticket and join him at the last minute, which ended up being a great choice. This is a gorgeous production of a show that has long been one of my favorites — I mean, I have special affection for all the shows I grew up with — and it once again made me long for another revival. I cried… so much (no one is surprised) largely because there is something unbearably depressing about seeing Ragtime in 2019. It’s a show that is ultimately (naively) optimistic about the future: for god’s sake, it ends with a WASP marrying a Jewish immigrant, and the two of them raising their own kids and the black son they’ve adopted. (In 1916! OK!) But despite the tremendous strides this country has made since then, the US today feels far more Act I finale than Act II finale. Edgar is psychic; surely he knows that. So it’s bittersweet, but frankly, that’s all the more reason to put this show on. It’s running till March 9, and if you live in the LA area, you should grab a ticket.

I’ve also been neglecting horror — the fact that I haven’t seen Greta yet is deeply troubling. A sad consequence of losing my job is that I’m no longer getting screening invites, but I’m determined to rectify that before Ma hits theaters. (I also need to figure out what I’m doing for health insurance before then. Anyway, priorities.) I secretly hate going to press screenings of horror films, because despite the fact that it’s my favorite genre, I am incredibly skittish, and I basically have to watch while slunk down in my seat with my hands over my ears. (LOUD NOISES! WHY!) This is somehow less embarrassing in a regular movie theater, but critics often do their best to act like they’re not bothered by whatever is on the screen in front of them, which means I usually feel like I’m the only one losing my shit. I saw Hereditary at a press screening and didn’t understand why we weren’t all fucking screaming.

An editor I talked to the other day asked me what I thought about the changing conversation regarding horror: are people taking horror more seriously because the movies are getting better, or have the movies always been good and people are suddenly just paying attention? I said I thought it was mostly the latter. The discourse around Get Out seemed to suggest that the idea horror could serve as a vehicle for social commentary was brand new information for many people, even though that’s been a fixture of the genre since… always. At the same time, Get Out was a meaningful step forward for the genre, and horror continues to broaden with more filmmakers who are women, POC, queer, or any combination of the above. Horror has long been dominated by straight white cis men, because, uh, all genres are, but many (if not the majority) of mainstream horror films have also been geared toward a straight white cis male audience, and that bias has held the genre back.

I thought about this endlessly when I was reporting on Jennifer’s Body and where it all went wrong. There’s no doubt in my mind that the movie would be far better received in 2019 than it was in 2009, but I ended up being just as interested in how marketing fucked Jennifer’s Body over. Audiences are so susceptible to what they’re told about a film, and in the case of Jennifer’s Body, straight white teenage boys were invited to come ogle Megan Fox while teen girls (the intended audience!) were advised to stay away. The result was a poorly received box office disaster; the audience that might actually have appreciated the film largely missed out on seeing it because the marketing team couldn’t imagine trying to appeal to teen girls, even when the writer and director of the film insisted that’s who Jennifer’s Body was for. (I’m getting angry all over again, which is healthy and normal!) Anyway, I know it’s too late to get Toni Collette an Oscar nom for Hereditary, but how about a very belated nod for Megan Fox? We owe her so much.