Calum Henderson writes about (mainly terrible) television.

Bravo opens window to its very plastic soul

Real housewives, chefs, Kardashians and ‘moms’ fill new channel.
The real Housewives of Orange County is one of the television series on the new Bravo channel.
The real Housewives of Orange County is one of the television series on the new Bravo channel.

It's like the old wall hanging says: when God closes a door, he opens a window.

And so it was on Sunday morning when the door quietly clicked shut on FOUR, a large, gaudily-decorated window swung open.

From this window burst forth a blinding white beam of "premium unscripted programming", radiating Real Housewives, Kardashians, Dance Moms, Top Chefs, and half the United States real estate industry.

New Zealand's fourth free-to-air television channel, which since 1997 had been a vessel for music and youth-oriented programming, was born again as the reality monolith Bravo.

The new channel brings an impressive array of never-before-seen-in-New Zealand exclusives, all of which seem to be fundamentally the same show remade over and over again in various communities of obscene wealth.

The Real Housewives empire is a good place to start. Like a reality television Hard Rock Cafe, new franchises keep popping up all over the globe in increasingly unglamorous locations (Real Housewives of Auckland is currently in production). These various franchises provide the bedrock of the Bravo schedule.

Monday night's Real Housewives of Orange County introduced a housewife/actress called Heather, who busily pored over the plans for a new eight-bedroom, 13-bathroom house with her family before flying to Hawaii to be killed off in an episode of Hawaii Five-O.

A pair of other housewives, Vicki and Tamra, went with her so she would have people to talk to.

They talked and talked, about themselves, and each other, and about their friends: "Gretchen is a narcissistic compulsive liar who is basically dead to me" declared one. Then they ran out of things to talk about and began to slowly unravel. Near the end of the hour-long episode there was an argument over the recommended serving temperature of red wine.

Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles is another premium reality TV series on Bravo TV.
Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles is another premium reality TV series on Bravo TV.

"Let's just agree it's somewhere between 55 and 62 [degrees Fahrenheit]," suggested Heather. "Let's just agree it's room temperature," countered Tamra. Vicki threw her hands in the air: "This is so," she hesitated, searching for the right word, "useless conversation."

Vicki's frustrated outburst may be an astute summary of the whole show, but there was a relaxing, Zen-like quality to the incessant blather of the Real Housewives. Less tranquil was Million Dollar Listing New York, in which a trio of impeccably-groomed real estate agents drove around town juggling their expensive property portfolios.

They all operated in alarming states of agitation, none more so than Frederik, who made the show feel like a camp reality reboot of American Psycho: "Did you see Luis is driving a Maserati?" he seethed, a sheen of sweat forming on his brow.

There was at least some catharsis in watching Flipping Out star Jeff Lewis, a Los Angeles real estate speculator, erupt in fits of incandescent, inarticulate rage the moment anything went awry.

Top Chef is another premium reality TV series on Bravo TV.
Top Chef is another premium reality TV series on Bravo TV.

"I'm responsible for a lot of projects," he explained at the top of the show, "and in order to get everything I need done I sleep less, which I think is why I'm ageing at such a dramatic rate." He seemed to be living in the middle of a perpetual deep sigh; everything everyone said or did just exasperating him further.

Lewis was the closest thing to a relatable character on the channel all night. Most seemed barely real at all, the kind of strangely soulless characters who could only exist within the vacuum of the Bravo Cinematic Universe.

Still, at least the strict uniformity of style means you know what you're getting. Ultimately it functions the same as talkback radio - a low, constant chatter, fine as long as you don't pay attention to anything anyone is saying.

- NZ Herald

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