Look, I don’t think anyone, not even Bravo fans, really wants to hear that the single greatest sequence of television that we have seen or likely will see this year happened on an episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
But it is summer of 2022. Left is right. Down is up. Polio is back. I’m sad a Cheney didn’t get elected. Nothing makes sense anymore. Of course it’s Real Housewives that is gifting us a master class on good TV.
I can already hear Nathan Fielder fans cracking their knuckles, getting ready to let their fingers fly typing tweets of protest and harrumphs. There’s someone out there who’s going to be like, “What about that one-take kitchen scene in The Bear?,” to which I say, Chef! What about it, Chef?!
Yes, I’ve seen Abbott Elementary. Yes, I cried during the finale of Hacks. Yes, I saw Sharon Stone slap Kaley Cuoco, and watched Toni Collette fall down the stairs 43 times. I watched Tommy Lee’s penis talk on Pam and Tommy and I watched a penis explode on The Boys. Obviously, I am aware of those Kim Wexler scenes in Better Call Saul.
As far as I can tell, none of those series featured eight grown women dressed in disco drag debating whether or not it is appropriate to laugh at a charity that inexplicably named itself “Homeless Not Toothless,” followed by a battleground of insult grenade-throwing so intense that it made Saving Private Ryan look like an episode of Teletubbies.
My apologies to Severance. Maybe next year, Yellowjackets. Squid Game wishes any moment matched the emotional violence of Garcelle Beauvais articulating with calm, cutting certainty to Erika Jayne—again, while dressed in what amounts to a high-fashion Halloween costume—“You don’t need help looking bad, Erika. You do a good enough job of that yourself.”
It is my goal to explain this in a way that will make you appreciate why the last eight minutes of Wednesday night’s episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills was so spectacular even if you have no idea who any of these people are or what any of them are fighting about. I want you to get it even if you’re one of those unenlightened joy assassins frozen in time circa 2016, still huffing and puffing about the Real Housewives representing the decline of society, like pop culture’s most exhausting Big Bad Wolf.
If you can read reviews of, like, She-Hulk or this weekend’s upcoming movie releases without having actually seen them, then surely you can tolerate a few hundred words on why Kathy Hilton being physically incapable of stating the name “Homeless Not Toothless” is the comedy event of the year.
If you’re able to appreciate essays that explain the virtues of a movie like Nope even though you’re “probably going to wait until it’s on Netflix or, like, on a plane to watch,” then I’m sure musings on Lisa Rinna’s ascendance to cursed status as the High Priestess of Reality TV’s Most Unpleasant Monsters are also palatable
OK, to digest why the first part of all this—the hilarity—is so good, one must only understand that “Homeless Not Toothless” is a patently ridiculous name for a charity.
Earlier in the episode and throughout the episode prior, Dorit Kemsley, who sits on the board of the organization, says the name with such sincerity so often that it transcends into some experimental form of anti-comedy. The editors at Bravo know this, as they edit a supercut of her saying the name, an absurdist montage that ends with Kyle Richards being unable to get through saying it while keeping a straight face.
At this point, I must mention several things.
This is not meant to mock the homeless, or those without the means to access dental work, or even the unfortunately-named foundation, which boasts Sharon Stone as a board member alongside Dorit—and, apparently, has a failing grade on the charity assessment organizer Charity Navigator.
But questions are raised: Why this name? Why are we being forced to choose homelessness or toothlessness as a cause? Why not both? The philanthropic binary: You can be homeless, or toothless. But both or neither? Not on Dorit Kemsley’s (and also Sharon Stone’s) watch.
Now I’m going to describe a scene full of names you either know better than your own cousins’ or that you’ve never heard before in your life. In this instance, the characters do not matter. This conversation is classic comedy. It is the Three Stooges. It is Abbott and Costello doing “Who’s on first?,” but among high-society women terrified of seeming insensitive on national TV. In order to laugh, you have to just go with it and understand we’re not laughing at the disadvantaged, but at the impossibility of an organization’s title.
The women are in the middle of doing their favorite thing: Arguing about the same thing they’ve been arguing about for no less than 14 episodes at this point. The latest fight occurred at Dorit’s dinner for, as notorious scatterbrain Kathy Hilton points out, “the Toothless and Homeless Foundation.” Immediately, several members of the group lose it. Crystal Kung Minkoff, bless her heart, tries to right the ship: “Don’t laugh.” Dorit is appalled at the misnaming and the mocking response: “This is a really important charity, Kathy.”
Garcelle is giggling like a girl at church who just heard the priest fart during mass. Kyle tries to be the voice of reason: “The name is not amazing, but they do good work.” She takes a beat to gather her next point. “Forgetting about the Toothless Not Homeless charity…” (Again, the totally wrong name.) At this point even Crystal is laughing. In the line reading of the year, Sutton Stracke is shown in a confessional deadpanning in her sweet Southern drawl: “They should maybe rename that organization…”
It all climaxes with Kathy trying to make an apology. “Honey, I am so sorry,” she says. “I have worked with the homeless. I have worked with the toothless...” She has worked with the homeless and the toothless. Even ice queen Erika can’t hold it in anymore: “That’s what just came out of her mouth…”
I’ve watched the scene a handful of times now, and it keeps getting funnier. There is a preposterousness that anyone can appreciate, Housewives fan or not. And it’s even better when juxtaposed against what happens next—a pendulum-swing in tone akin to a wrecking ball barreling toward a cement wall.
There is tension between Erika and Garcelle. You need not be a Bravo-obsessive to assess that.
Erika—and this is the one biographical beat you should know—is the infamous Housewife who is accused of being party to her former husband’s embezzlement of money that was intended for widows and orphans, which was used to fund their lavish lifestyle and, in part, her music career. As that story made national news, Erika has doubled down—an infinite exponential, at this point—in her cold defensiveness. In this season of RHOBH, that has also manifested in a very clear drinking problem, which Garcelle has pointed out.
Erika thinks she’s going to break Garcelle for perpetuating the drinking talk. But Garcelle stands up for herself. Accused of just wanting to make Erika look bad, Garcelle calmly speaks back: “Erika, I don’t have to make you look bad. You can do that on your own.”
How do I explain to you what a moment this is?
Imagine if every firework in the world exploded at once. If there was screeching feedback on every speaker at a concert. Every feral cat in New York City was in heat at the same time, communing outside your window. To put it in Beverly Hills terms, imagine if Garcelle had just set the entire Escalade dealership on fire, and then walked calmly from the scene in slow-motion as it burned.
I’m a person of varied tastes. Obviously, I live for this Bravo nonsense. But I am also rapt by prestige TV, consider myself well-versed in sophisticated comedy, and can appreciate everything from a kids’ series to a 97-hour season of Stranger Things. So, it is with deep understanding of the weight of this title when I say, unequivocally, that it was the greatest eight minutes of TV I’ve seen this year.