The Real Housewives of Melbourne
Can six women from Melbourne succeed in a genre that has, until now, struggled in Australia?
If Andrea Moss, Gina Liano, Jackie Gillies, Chyka Keebaugh, Janet Roach and Lydia Schiavello are real housewives then I’m a monkey’s uncle.
These ladies are dripping in high society bling, with cars, lear jets, plastic surgery, rock star husbands and Toorak mansions.
One of them, by her own admission, has only just moved to Melbourne. I’m not sure how many of them have had to work the school canteen lately, or fretted over an overdue electricity bill, or taken refuge in a parma night at the local because it meant one night less of trying to come up with a dinner that kept the kids happy.
But then none of that is what this show is about. It’s about seeing how the other half lives, pointing fingers, and thanking God we have not descended to their level.
The Aussie version of the Real Housewives franchise is one of only a handful of international adaptations (France, Vancouver and Athens are others). The US has already treated us to Orange County, New York City, Atlanta, New Jersey, Beverly Hills, Miami and D.C. They have attracted a legion of addicted fans, who are hooked on soapie storylines, grotesque characters, tantrums, glamour and excess. From this side of the Pacific, it’s easy to look on from a safe distance at those crazy Americans.
But the Dramality genre has struggled when produced in Australia: Being Lara Bingle, The Shire, WAG Nation, Brynne: My Bedazzled Life, The G.C. Broad audiences have been cynical about the authenticity of such shows, but there may yet be a space for them with niche audiences, especially one that has been weaned on the international predecessors.
A significant change in the local version is in casting 6 women who are ‘more’ than housewives, because they all have occupations: barrister, plastic surgery proprietor, interior designer, property developer, event management and psychic (yes, you read correctly). But they are all married to (or separated from) men with money. Lots of it.
Matchbox Pictures has cast this show extremely well. The women look and play the part to (soft) script. They turn it on for the cameras, whether as glam society gals living above their station, or as first class bitches ready for a catfight. For this show they must tick both boxes individually and as a group and that they do.
While some of the six appear to know one another as acquaintances, there are others, such as psychic Jackie Gillies (married to Silverchair drummer Ben Gillies), who are awkwardly embedded into the group. Watching one suddenly decide she needs to get a psychic reading, when in all likelihood producers have told her to, is particularly clunky. These kinds of story links to get the group together don’t feel natural and only highlight producer manipulation.
But the conflict that emerges from the six is effective dramality. There are also some amusing moments of inappropriate behaviour and language.
But there’s not nearly enough self-deprecating humour, and charm is left at the door. Australian women like Maria Venuti and Jeanne Little made careers out of being society women in entertainment, but they did it with a sense of humour.
One charity benefit for an Asian orphanage was especially hollow. Sure there was a donation offered at the end of the night with a lot of self-congratulations, but not before a lot of champagne, jewellery, frocks, gossip and plastic surgery chit chat took place in front of a huge poster of a despairing child in poverty. The visual chasm was stark. If the end supposedly justifies the means then we all need better means than this.
While this show certainly doesn’t resemble any Melbourne that I am overly familiar with, I have no doubt that it exists. Just as it would in Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, the Gold Coast….
I will also acknowledge that this has fulfilled the Real Housewives brief rather well. If you’re a sucker for the US version, I’m tipping you will be hooked on this from the get go.
Personally, after watching two hours of this stuff my head was hurting. Empty vessels, as they say, make the most noise. I get what the show is trying to do but frankly, life is too short.
Give me scripted over softly-scripted any day. Give me fake over ‘Real’ any day.
And give me Housewives from Fountain Lakes over Housewives from Toorak every day.
The Real Housewives of Melbourne premieres 8:30pm Sunday February 23 on Arena.