ONscreen – The Real Housewives of Auckland: really grating (Review)

The Real Housewives of Auckland cast.

The Real Housewives of Auckland cast.

It’s grating but we keep watching… kind of like when you jar your knee but you do it again because the pain feels good. SARAH MCMULLAN reviews The Real Housewives of Auckland. Welcome to yet another chance for New Zealand to snap at the heels of a foreign reality show format proving that while we’re proud to claim the mantle of first in the world to let women vote, we’ll never pass up the chance to make cringe worthy TV that sets back the women’s movement decades.

We’ve already had desperate singles vying for a chance to (not) marry The Bachelor NZ; the glorious (cult and dubious social, sexual and psychological) antics of Gloriavale; this time it’s The Real Housewives of Auckland.

Except they’re not all from Auckland.

And their definition of housewife is a wee bit wider than most people still so outdated to even consider using that phrase in the first place would use.

But first, let’s meet our girls!  Not women, girls. Because girls is fun! And cheeky! And conspiratorial! Which is supposed to make us feel included, one of the gang. Which also is supposed to make us feel ok about the fact that we’re watching grown women set up to scrap like girls half their age. Actually, younger than that because these women, sorry, girls are all over the age of 35. And that’s being kind.

So the fact the show is sponsored by an acne skincare product typically aimed at teenagers does strike me as mildly amusing. (To be fair though I know people in their 20s and 30s who swear by it so whatever works.)

Michelle Blanchard.

Michelle Blanchard.

Michelle is a leggy brunette and ex-model (that just means she’s attractive and still a size 8) who likes to wear sunglasses inside, and is married to a wealthy man.

Julia Sloane

Julia Sloane

Julia is a leggy blonde and ex-model (like Michelle but more Women’s Weekly than Vogue) divorced from one wealthy man, recently married to another.  She spends her time being made to look good for her husband. 

Louise Wallace

Louise Wallace

Louise is a feisty ex TV presenter and trained actress who inherited her own money and whilst not leggy, seems to be unusually self-aware. (How did she slip through the vetting process?)

Angela Stone.

Angela Stone.

Angela is an Amazonian brunette ex model (that just means she’s gorgeous, extra tall, with curves) from Christchurch who works as a stylist. She’s married, but seems to have made her own money.

Gilda Kirkpatrick.

Gilda Kirkpatrick.

Gilda is described as a “veritable Persian Princess”, who married a man significantly older than herself BUT, they are quick to tell us, is an architect by trade who now she’s divorced, runs her own marketing agency and is a mother.

Anne Batley Burton.

Anne Batley Burton.

Anne is a petite brunette powerhouse who refers to herself as Anne the Champagne lady. Because she loves champagne! And because she’s bubbly! And the life of the party! Anne comes from money, loves cats and is just a wee bit older than the others. The grand dame, if you please.

And we’re off!

Louise was responsible for the first gathering –a fashion show at a well-known Auckland bar. I’m not going to tell you which designer or which bar because it would appear that everyone on the show was contractually obliged to say “The XX fashion show at XXX” at least three times in that one segment. They’re probably still saying it in their sleep. (We get it. Sponsorship is the future but integration is key, Mediaworks!)

According to Louise, everyone who’s anyone will be at the fashion show. Which makes me think that the others should already have been invited if they were anyone, but apparently that logic does not apply in reality TV land. Or at least we the audience are supposed to be so dumb, we won’t figure that out.

Gilda seemed excited because as a mother of two small children she hardly gets out of the house anymore. (I suspect her interpretation of never getting out of the house and most mums of two children under three will be wildly different – time will tell.) Julia seemed excited as well – as an ex-model she knows about fashion, plus I’m starting to think she gets excited about being seen anywhere; and Angela from Christchurch is excited about meeting “the girls” for the first time.

Which would have gone better if she hadn’t gone into self-promotion mode and a) gifted them a copy of her own style guide; and b) talked non-stop about fashion and her tips on styling as if she wasn’t having drinks with grown women who have been dressing themselves for years and in the case of Gilda Kirkpatrick, hasn’t met a fashion house with an atelier in Paris or Milan that she doesn’t like. That woman has a wardrobe to die for. (As in its total value would probably give you a heart attack.)

Disclaimer: I don’t know Angela Stone. I don’t know any of the RHOAKL*, but I too come from Christchurch and I will say this: Auckland women are scary. Especially in groups. At functions. And fashion/media functions are the WORST.

Ever heard a woman talk about how uncomfortable she feels walking through a crowded bar of men, on her own, feeling their eyes rake over her body head to toe, assessing every inch of her? Hearing murmurs in her wake?

Walking into a gathering of Auckland women you don’t know is like that but ten times worse because while most men who are ogling you are assessing whatever it is they like in a woman: tits, arse, legs, great personality, whatever…. ; women have clocked all of those things in detail in 30” PLUS the state of your nails, the condition of your hair; where you got your dress, your bag, your shoes; an approximation of how much you paid for your mascara AND then they’re going to talk to you (or not) and judge you for what you say and do. WELCOME TO GIRL HELL in the ’09.

And Auckland is not like Christchurch. You can’t carefully place your tan purse brass hardware down, utter which school you went to and then battle it out over which of the first ships into Lyttelton your ancestors were on. In Auckland there are no points for being related to the Deans Family, and no one cares if you know Francis Upritchard’s REAL name, or if you went to school with Anika, or how many years you completed thee triumvirate of formals. (And if you don’t know which schools I’m referring to you’re obviously not from Christchurch. Be thankful.)

Poor Angela. I get it. She was nervous. She just wanted to fit in and prove she could play with the big kids. You see when you’re south of the Bombays you spend a lot of time hearing about Auckland and you get sick of it. Especially in the South Island. Then you get to Auckland and you find out they don’t think about anyone south of the Bombays at all.

Except when they do.  Angela learned the hard way that that’s usually when they have something nasty to say. Enter stage left Gilda Kirkpatrick.  But she wasn’t the only one with tales to tell.

Julia and Anne met for bubbles and a gossip over just how awful Angela was. Anne was horrified at Angela’s apparent lack of etiquette, and took time to remind Julia (and all of Aotearoa) the correct way to hold a champagne glass. Brilliant advice imparted in a voice not that far off Lynn of Tawa’s.

We were then treated to an in-depth look of life with Anne which mainly centred around her shouting at her staff, and delivering strangely laboured sentences about her cats and her likeness to cats, all with heavy emphasis on the word pussy, always followed by an odd forced laugh. Perhaps someone should explain that unless she wants to be permanently stuck with the Mrs Slocombe role, she best improve her material lest she be labelled Spumante rather than Pol Roger.

Gilda meanwhile, has wasted no time in bringing her old pal Michelle up to speed about the dreadful Angela and they’re both salivating at the prospect of seeing her at Julia’s birthday lunch at another well-known Auckland eatery I shan’t be naming. Julia has cleverly Julia has hired the private dining room because “it’s not quite private which means everyone can still see you.”

*eyeroll*

Because it’s her special day, she’s hired a limousine to take them all to lunch – much to the upset of her husband who wanted to know why he couldn’t come.

“It’s a girls’ lunch. Remember who wears the pants in this relationship,” she teased him as they wandered through their olive estate.

“I pay for the pants and I get into the pants,” he replied as she giggled coquettishly, seemingly unaware he implied that their relationship was like that of a sex worker and client.

Ahh love. Or maybe that was the sound of an entire nation cringing? I just hope someone alerted EQNZ so they could adjust their readings.

Finally the big day arrived. Julia’s birthday. Everyone was ready for the limo, except Gilda and Michelle who would meet them there. Why?

“I don’t want to be squeezed in like a sardine,” said Gilda.

“I don’t do limousines.” said Michelle. “They’re tacky.”

Whoop! Whoop! Sound The Alarm! Louboutins at Dawn.

Angela has already said she thought Gilda was rude not to have stood up and greeted her at the fashion show, so she wants them all to make a point of them standing up at the lunch to greet her and Michelle properly. THAT’S RIGHT ANG, SCHOOL HER WITH YOUR CHRISTCHURCH MANNERS!

Julia is worried that Angela might jeopardise her friendship with Gilda and Michelle.

They arrive. Everyone stands. Handshakes and kisses abound.

Angela attempts to make conversation, asking Michelle about her background. Michelle says she was a model. Surprise! Angela asks who for. Michelle names her agency in London as opposed to any clients/campaigns. (Ok, that seems needlessly obtuse.) Angela nods, knowing Michelle is deflecting the answer; Julia jumps in reminding everyone she used to model, as did Angela, and in fact Angela still does.

“Plus size?” says Michelle smiling, eyes wide and innocent.

Angela’s smile freezes. Anne looks horrified. Gilda looks like the cat that got the cream. Or that she has gas. It’s hard to tell. I’m going with the first.

“No,” says Angela sharpening her smile to deadly and flipping on her #ImGoingToEviscerateYouBitch deliberate blinking, as her voice takes that slightly moderated clipped tone that is the female version of the theme music to Jaws

“Who do you model for? What labels?” pushes Michelle, somehow thinking the entire viewing population of New Zealand is blind and therefore her wide eyed innocent act is working.

“I’m the face of Tourism New Zealand’s International campaign.”

“What has that got to do with clothes?” says Gilda.

“It’s modelling” says Angela.

‘Yeah but I mean…” makes fingers walking motion.

I know Gilda is trying to belittle Angela but does she realise it makes her look a little dense?

“Catwalk?” laughs Angela “It’s called a catwalk. I do that too.”

Michelle jumps in “Oh little Miss Front Row!” She fauns over Gilda “You’ve been to SO MANY fashion shows!” They titter like evil birds.

“I modelled! I used to model too! I was a model too!” calls Julia over the fray, working her angles furiously in the afternoon sun as if Patrick McMullan has appeared magically at their table.

She may as well have stood up and screamed WHAT ABOUT ME? IT’S MY BIRTHDAY! PAY ATTENTION TO ME! ME! LOOK AT ME! Oh wait, she did in one of those weird confessional bits that they shoot afterwards and then insert amongst the action.

Gilda swoops in for blood: “I’ve never relied on my physical appearance…. I’m not an actress or a model. If I get fatter or skinnier or wrinkly… I’m not going to lose my income.”

Says the woman who just so happened to marry one of the richest men in the country when he was in his late 70s and she was in her 20s. The same woman two of the other women at the table had been throwing around the term “gold digger” about in the previous scene.

Angela is in tears. She leaves the table, Julia and Louise follow.

While they’re gone, Michelle and Gilda tell Anne the Champagne Lady they have no idea why Angela is upset. Maybe she’s stressed? Maybe it’s her time of the month? Whatever could it be?

REALLY? Anyone who says these people are actors needs to watch this scene to know they’re not.

I don’t know about “scripted reality”, but actors? NOPE. These guys are so incredibly transparent that could qualify for double glazing incentives because there’s no warmth in here.

Angela returns and Michelle starts straight in.

“What’s wrong? Are you ok?”

“Actually no. You knew me for all of five minutes and you were really rude to me.”

Michelle goes off: telling Angela her she was too big to model, she was putting on a show, she was fake, and she’d already heard all about her from her friend Gilda (who she just threw under the bus. Good work Michelle.)

Cut to insert of Gilda commenting on how Angela smiles a lot as with wide eyes and teeth showing, as if she’s not showing emotion. Really? Am I the only one who’s noticed Gilda’s face doesn’t really move? She just sits with these constantly bored looking eyes and a permanently supercilious sneer plastered on. Her false eye lashes are the most mobile part of her visage. 
(Honestly – go back and look. Once you notice it you can’t not notice it. #sorrynotsorry)

And Michelle is still going off at Angela.

Seriously – I might just refer to them as B1 and B2. Bitch 1 (Gilda) and Bitch 2 (Michelle). It’s that childish.

Finally the episode ends with a cake arriving for Julia who is still desperately begging for attention at the end of the table.

Who sent the cake?  Angela did. She really does seems to be quite sweet, if a bit out of her depth in these shark-infested social waters of Auckland.

The Real Housewives of Auckland is The Shallows bought to life.

Its Mean Girls: Millionaire’s Row with all the regular casting tropes falling into place.

Will it be sustainable? Will people keep watching?  If it continues to be mean girls bitching other girls out then I suspect yes. Because we all like to think we’d be better than that while having those mean thoughts run through our heads from time to time.

And the fact these women are all singled out as being successful, happy, healthy, wealthy and attractive and the fact they self-identified as such and put their hands up for this means its ok for us to poke fun and comment, doesn’t it?

Does it?

I’ll be honest. I had no intention of watching this show. I don’t own a TV – what I do watch, I watch on demand, and I only watched it a day behind everyone else after I saw the social media and press coverage, and the journalist and pop psychologist and feminist in me wanted to see if this was as bad as it seemed to be.

From a TV reviewer’s point of view I can see this being the best and worst thing on television. It will be ratings gold. Social media will continue to love it and people will be scandalised by it. They will talk and gossip and these women will be torn apart every single week. That’s success in TV land.

Sadly, it does nothing to improve life for the audience, the participants, NZ as a whole. At a time when more people are sleeping rough or in cars than ever before, here’s a show about women who casually spend 65k on a necklace just because. Where conspicuous consumption is encouraged and applauded. Excess is excellent and success is defined by money and material gains.

Are these women representational of you? Of your family and friends? Of how you wish to raise your daughters? With the exception of earning your own money (inheritance can be tricky – you don’t choose your parents but it doesn’t stop you earning a la Louise), I’m not so comfortable with the implied messaging that “life is wonderful if you marry rich.”

*When I say I don’t know any of the RHOAKL, I mean in a personal capacity. I am aware of Gilda through her professional work, and I have been in awe of her wardrobe for some years. Likewise, I believe I may have been at some of the same media events as Louise a LONG time ago, far too intimidated to speak to her (I was starting out – she was a big time journo); and possibly some theatre parties slightly more recently though I can’t recall speaking to her then either.

As for Angela, while Christchurch is incredibly small socially speaking, I haven’t lived there for over a decade and I don’t actually know her. (Though no doubt somebody I know well is somehow related to her or has been in a romantic relationship with her because: Christchurch.)

Should ONmag keep covering RHOAKL? We’d love to hear your thoughts. 

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