Perspective | A fresh look back at ‘The Real Housewives of D.C.’


Remember “The Real Housewives of D.C.”? No, not Potomac. D.C.

It’s the one where the blond lady crashed the White House state dinner wearing a red sari. And took a picture with Joe Biden. And then set off a media frenzy that led to her and her husband testifying before Congress. Yeah, that one!

Well, it’s back. Peacock added “The Real Housewives of D.C.” (RHODC) to its platform last week. It’s the first time the series has been available to stream since Bravo aired its one and only season nearly 14 years ago.

The central drama of the show — that cast members Michaele and Tareq Salahi had breached security at President Barack Obama’s first state dinner — had already played out in public before the first episode aired. The Washington Post broke the news in November 2009. By the time RHODC premiered, in August 2010, people were already sick of the story — especially people in D.C.

In The Post’s scathing review, Hank Stuever lamented the “rot” of Bravo’s “transgressive trash” and called the show “an afterthought nobody needs to actually watch.”

Cast member Mary Schmidt Amons, who is best remembered from the show for installing a biometric lock on her closet in an unsuccessful attempt to keep her daughter from borrowing her clothes, thinks the show was unfairly panned.

“I felt like our show was very authentic,” she said from her family farm in St. Mary’s County, Md., where she runs an interior design business and is working on a documentary about her grandfather Arthur Godfrey.

“As much nonsense and ridiculous behavior that was conducted by the Salahis that basically crashed the show, I still feel like it was a great snapshot of D.C.,” Schmidt Amons said.

Her castmate Lynda Erkiletian, who memorably combined Judaism, Christianity, astrology and sage burning in a house-blessing ritual for the cameras, agreed.

“I never believed that it was going to be canceled until I actually read about it being canceled,” she said in a phone call from her home in Chevy Chase, Md. She still runs her talent company, the Artist Agency. She also mentioned that, since opening up her heart chakra, she has gotten engaged, a turnabout from when she was dating Ebong Eka on the show and insisting that marriage was overrated.

On his SiriusXM radio show on Wednesday, the show’s executive producer Andy Cohen said he lobbied hard for a second season of RHODC, which he now understands was an impossibility.

“When the FBI subpoenas your raw tapes, there ain’t no way,” Cohen said. “This was such a big internal shonde at NBCUniversal that there was no way this show was coming back.”

Scandal and crime are not always fatal blows to Bravo shows. On “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City,” the raid of Jen Shah’s home — which ultimately led to her fraud conviction and imprisonment — was deftly folded into the drama of the show. After the press reported on the off-camera shenanigans of the cast of “Vanderpump Rules,” the show was rewarded with the most-watched episode of Bravo TV in some nine years.

But the fallout from RHODC cast members sneaking into a White House party didn’t bolster the show’s drama. It subsumed it.

Cat Ommanney’s razor tongue and slurry British accent could have made her a legendary villainess. Stacie Turner’s search for her birth parents could have been genuinely touching. Erkiletian’s blend of Southern manners and New Age woo-woo could have been iconic.

But all were drowned out by the din of the Salahis and the chaos they sowed.

Paul Wharton, a stylist who was a regular character on the show, thinks RHODC could have been saved by different production and postproduction choices. “It’s like baking a cake,” he wrote in an email from London, where he lives part time and works in the television industry. “Our show had all of the ingredients but needed one of those fancy electric mixers to smooth out the lumps and be tasty.”

But the city of D.C. is a tricky ingredient for Real Housewives. D.C. runs on politics. Politics runs on politeness. Politeness is poison to Real Housewives.

“Anybody who’s involved in that political world enough to have made it interesting never would have done it in a million years,” said Brian Moylan, the author of the best-selling book “The Housewives: The Real Story Behind the Real Housewives.”

There are political players who appear in the show. Ommanney’s then-husband, Charles Ommanney, was a photographer who was assigned to cover the White House during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. Republican lobbyist Edwina Rogers pops up a few times, as does then-D.C. Council member David Catania.

“You kind of wanted this to be a reality ‘West Wing,’ and it didn’t ever really quite give us that,” Moylan said.

When the biggest issue at hand is a party guest list or a perceived social slight, watching people argue can become escapist, almost soothing. That’s not the case on RHODC when they’re arguing about marriage equality or affordable health care.

In one scene, Cat clinks champagne flutes with a Republican lobbyist for health care before telling her that she considered “Republican lobbyist for health care” to be an oxymoron. “I was wondering if you’d like to pay my medical bills. I’ve only got $23,000 since I’ve been here,” she purred with a smile.

It’s hard to find glee — the reason viewers tune in to Bravo — when confronted by our broken medical system.

Schmidt Amons disagreed. She thinks the show could have benefited from even more political content. “If we had gone on and had to navigate through the politics that have ensued since 2010, we would have had an epic, epic series,” she said.

Of course, since 2010, politics have become much more polarized, and reality TV stars have been legitimized in ways that would have seemed unthinkable, with Kim Kardashian becoming a billionaire and Donald Trump the 45th president.

In that sense, you could argue that RHODC was ahead of its time. That’s not to say it holds up perfectly. Unsurprisingly, there are moments that have not aged well.

Turner was the cast’s only Black housewife, a staggering fact considering the demographics of D.C.

On the show, Turner endured several interactions that we would now characterize as “microaggressions.” As her White castmates toast to being one another’s “soul sisters,” one tells Turner that she can be “our Diana Ross.”

Ommanney repeatedly butted heads with a supporting character named Erica over what Erica considered racially questionable comments.

At her birthday dinner, Schmidt Amons went on a cringey tangent about why hair salons should be integrated and was met with puzzled looks from Black attendees.

“Yeah, that was very regretful,” Schmidt Amons said of her hair salon comment. “That was dumb, dumb, dumb.” Schmidt Amons said that she regretted some of her other comments on the show, but felt as if she was mostly portrayed fairly by producers.

Turner did not respond to requests for comment, and Ommanney declined to speak on the record.

Also shocking from today’s lens is the way castmates discuss Michaele Salahi’s thinness.

“Tell her to eat a burger and fries,” Erkiletian casually said of her castmate, which set off several arguments in later episodes.

“It was true, though: I genuinely was concerned,” Erkiletian said, stressing that her 39 years as the president of a modeling agency has made her sensitive to seeing weight changes. “Working in the industry that I do, it’s a constant red flag when you see somebody that has an unhealthy BMI.”

Red flags abounded in the Salahis’ RHODC storyline, even before they crashed the White House. The couple come off as either fully in denial of their actions and consequences, or as a pair of con artists who never give up the grift, even when being grilled by congressmen on live national television.

Michaele Salahi did not respond to a request for comment.

You’d think a re-watch might bring some sort of revisionist appreciation for the Salahis. In recent years, criminals such as Gypsy Rose Blanchard and grifters such as Anna Sorokin have become quasi-folk heroes in some circles. A few months ago, “delulu is the solulu” — read: “delusion is the solution” — became a meme.

So why does watching Michaele Salahi on RHODC still provoke feelings of unease? Seeing her pretend to look for an invitation in her car that she knows never existed isn’t zany or fun. Her unchanging smile isn’t campy; it’s uncanny.

“The kiss of death for any housewife is inauthenticity, and the fans can always feel that,” Moylan said. “You could feel that these two are full of it, and not in a fun way. In a gross way.”

That was the ultimate issue with RHODC. Delusion, served quickly and without too much context, can be comedy. When it’s delivered in long, lingering shots that hold on empty, smiling eyes, it becomes horror.

After RHODC aired, Michaele was reported missing by her husband, Tareq. It was later revealed that she had been AWOL canoodling with Journey lead guitarist Neal Schon. Yes, that Journey, of “Don’t Stop Believin’” fame.

The two have been married since 2013. They have not starred in a reality TV show. Yet.

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