Monday, April 4, 2011

Bethenny Never Shuts Up

We have to take a detour today, and divert from our originally scheduled topics. 

I had initially thought I’d write about our weekend in Sag Harbor, which included buying something called “Fat-Ass Fudge” from a chatty Yenta who told us she has previously been a psychic.  She kept saying things like, “Want to taste my fat ass?” and “I’m a fudge packer.”  I’m always game for sweets with a touch of the supernatural, and Neil is a magnet for the marginally insane – so it could have been quite a post.

Then I thought about reporting on our dinner with Suz, in a post entitled “My Favorite Macedonian.”  It would have allowed me to share the story about how I got her to order cuttlefish at the maiden restaurant of Top Chef Season One winner, Harold Dieterle.  It also would have given me the opportunity to riff on Macedonia (you’d only know it if you were a dork who played Risk as a kid; it was a Balkan nation-state located in what now comprises parts of Greece, Albania and Yugoslavia.  The dialect is similar to Russian and other eastern European languages….See, we can laugh and learn all at the same time.)  I love it when people tell you they’re from places that haven’t existed since the early 1900s.  I had a paragraph on Persia that would have killed.

But, lo, a request from an old friend in Boston came through during dinner.  Could I please write about 
Bethenny?  Have I not written enough about Bethenny, I asked Neil, and Suzette of Macedonia? 

Apparently I have not.

Here goes – but, I swear, this is the last time.

Because writing about Bethenny means giving her more attention and more ink – and that’s all she’s really about.  Plus, it means writing about Bravo, and that’s starting to tweak me a little bit, too.

To catch up those of you who might be unfamiliar with the princess of self-promotion, eye-rolling, hysterics and sugar-free pre-mixed margaritas, Bethenny is Bethenny Frankel – old friend of a friend of an old friend of mine (so confusing, right?  That needs a map: Eric -> old friend -> her friend -> Bethenny. J.)  After years of apparently plotting and scheming to get on television – sort of a modern twist on Lucy Ricardo, without the Cuban bandleader or the actual talent – Bethenny first graced our televisions as a contestant on The Apprentice: Martha Stewart.  Which turned out to be as welcome as “Law & Order: Trial By Jury” or “CSI: Toledo” and bombed after a single season.

She made it through most of the season based on drive and unadulterated ambition, but it was clear that her motivation for doing the show was now to emulate Martha’s success as a gracious hostess or home economist, but rather to build an empire of product and personage through television.

She returned to the collective consciousness on Bravo, cast – almost in the Sophia Petrillo/Carla Tortelli-like supporting role of comic second banana – in the inaugural season of “The Real Housewives of New York.”  Neither married nor non-working, she was clearly not a “housewife” by definition.  “Real” is arguable.  She reeks, however, of New York City, with the accent and the quips and the incessant eyerolling, made all the more comic by the fact that some might consider her to resemble a resident of Who-Ville.

Yet, despite not having been disqualified from the show on the very terms of its existence, she actually thrived there – creating just enough drama to cause a comfortable level of hostility among the women.  As the series progressed, she moved further and further towards the center of the conflict that seems to define the franchise: trumped up arguments between wealthy women of the local ethnicity (OC: blonde; NY: Jewish; NJ: Italian; Miami: Latina; Atlanta: African-American; Beverly Hills: plastic surgerized.)

We all should have seen her own franchise coming.  Augmenting her reputation with a series of books and products about food and nutrition, she’s become her own brand: Skinnygirl.  A series of books that tell women they can be fun, flirty and thin, basically by eating a little bit less of whatever they want – provided it's “natural” – she then branched out into consumer packaged food with Skinnygirl Margarita.  It’s a bottled, “just-open-and-serve” concoction that taste less like a party drink and more like a linty old Jolly Rancher you fished out of your pocket during a three-hour meeting at work.

In season one – Bethenny Getting Married – the cameras followed her as she got, first pregnant, then married (I know at least two women who’ve done this and neither got a show.  One, however, got fired.  Now she works for a company that cans fish.  THAT’S a TV show.)  Bethenny’s beloved is a cute – if doltish – guy named Jason who acts like he’s sort of above it all, but you can tell he relishes every moment on camera. 

The current season, Bethenny Ever After seems to involve her turning 40 and crying a lot. 

Get in line.

Personally, I hope they keep changing the title every season.  I can’t wait for “Bethenny Going Through Menopause.”  That kid’ll be about 15, and Jason will be over it.  I’m looking forward to watching her work her way through two or three bottles of Skinnygirl between some serious door slamming and a hot flash.

The instant fame of Bethenny – indeed all the Bethennys – in fact, all the “Bravo-lebrities” who’ve made getting on television more an act of will than one of talent, can be traced back to one source: Andy Cohen.
You may or may not know Andy – but in New York he has become ubiquitous.  This spring, every pay phone and taxicab seems to bear an advertisement for his late night gabfest with the “Bravo-lebrities.”  According to the ads, in which he appears to burst through a sheet of paper, he’s “tearing up late night.”  I suppose that sounded a lot better than “prancing across your TV screen.”

OK – it’s not that I don’t like Andy.  When he did the “Watch What Happens” reunion shows of Top Chef and Project Runway he was a pretty decent moderator.  It was sort of nice to have the programming executive who put these shows on the air interacting with the casts.  Plus, he clearly watched and enjoyed the shows, so you got to experience it through the eyes of a genuine fan.

Also, I used to see him out in New York and, objectively, he’s an attractive guy.

But when he moved from occasional host into a weekly late night slot, something weird happened.  He became all affected and juvenile – with weird facial expressions and catchphrases like “the Mazel of the week” and “Tweet Me.”  With the perpetually-hoarse-Brenda-Vaccaro voice and the fawning all over his guests, it’s like watching a show hosted by the girl who sat next to me in eighth grade homeroom.

Tweet this.

I really want to end here – because I think this post is seriously fucking funny – but I think I need to take my medicine and at least do a little self-discovery before I retire the laptop. 

This post was the most inspired I’ve been in weeks, and flowed the most easily.  Yet it is clearly fueled by jealousy.  MY OWN SHOW PEOPLE.  Where are the legions of fans lobbying for me to be the new voice of late night?  I’m one part Chelsea Handler (a little bawdy), one part Andy Cohen (a little too gay..ugh, I know- but so true) and maybe one part Bethenny (blind ambition.)

Still, if you want to laugh along with someone struggling with work and middle-age while exhibiting the personal judgment and cultural taste of a drunk 16 year old girl…I’m your man. 

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