"Real Housewives" draws fire from TV critics

LOS ANGELES Tue Sep 6, 2011 2:39pm EDT

The cast of ''The Real Housewives of New York City'' present an award during the 2011 TV Land Awards in New York April 10, 2011. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The cast of ''The Real Housewives of New York City'' present an award during the 2011 TV Land Awards in New York April 10, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The tragedy-marred "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" reality show went ahead with a 'life must go on' attitude Monday night, but the newly-edited version left an uncomfortable taste in the mouth of many TV viewers and critics.

Los Angeles Times TV writer Mary McNamara said the second season of the Bravo show -- shot months ago -- should have been scrapped after the suicide last month of Russell Taylor, the estranged and reportedly deeply indebted husband of cast member Taylor Armstrong.

"There's nothing that a little cosmetic surgery can't fix, including, apparently, suicide," McNamara wrote Monday.

The new season premiere was prefaced with a discussion among the "housewives" -- except for Taylor -- about Armstrong's suicide and how none of them had seen it coming.

Slate magazine's Jessica Grose said the new segment "was uncomfortable and felt false." But Grose defended the network's right to go ahead with season, saying "It's not Bravo's responsibility to predict how someone will react to minor celebrity."

Meanwhile, some of the "housewives" appeared on the "Today" show Monday and taped a segment for Anderson Cooper's CNN program later in the day.

Former child star Kyle Richards told the "Today" show on Monday the cast had not seen the Los Angeles Times commentary. But she added; "It's very difficult in a situation like this. Yes, we shot this six months ago, and I think Bravo has tried to handle this as responsibly and respectfully as possible."

New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley said Monday's premiere "was as spritely and mean-spirited as ever. Even by the low standards of reality television, Bravo's determination to slither past suicide and accountability was, well, chilling."

A scene in which Taylor goes shopping for sexy underwear to spice up her crumbling marriage was cut from the version broadcast Monday. But an uncomfortable dinner party scene where Taylor says she and Russell are in therapy was left in.

McNamara noted that part of the attraction of watching the "Real Housewives" shows was knowing that the biting dinner party conversations and catfights were partly manufactured.

"But now we know that as these...little scenes were nursed into being, the petty tensions fed, the catty diatribes coddled, offstage a man was slowly moving toward self-destruction.

"How can we now watch and think of anything else?" McNamara said.

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)