TV review

‘The Real Housewives of New York City’ Loses a Leg in Sixth-Season Finale

The Daily Beast

July 23, 2014

The leg toss loomed large.

The leg toss had been seen on trailers for weeks.

The leg toss featured Aviva Drescher, a cast member of Bravo’s Real Housewives of New York City, taking her prosthetic leg off, slamming it on a table, claiming it was the only fake thing about her, and then it somehow ending up on the floor, shrieks of disbelief and open mouths all around.

The leg toss had been seen by those who never watch The Real Housewives of New York City. They loftily asked those who watched The Real Housewives of New York City what was with the leg toss. The expression on their faces said: We’d rather be speaking of Kierkegaard or Vivaldi, but we will humor you and ask about this.

“It’s a prosthetic leg,” they intoned on being given the basic overview, as if that bald fact confirmed all their prejudices about reality TV. Then they shook their heads at the tawdriness of it all. Back to the concerto, or a little light Plato, or some such.

On the night of the sixth season finale of the Bravo reality show, fans and regular viewers were cautious. They have grown weary of the skillful Housewives editors, who splice scenes to make them look a lot more interesting to make you watch after the break or next week’s episode, only to find the moment that you’ve been tantalized with is quite standard and boring. You’ve been gulled.

But the prosthetic leg toss, for real, staged, manipulated, set up, whatever it was, was genuinely mad, bonkers indeed, a high or low point, depending on your Housewives devotion and tolerance levels. The clip of the leg will continue to be shown in the coming days. Shock will be professed. But viewers know the rules of these shows, how they are crafted and stories manipulated, and are complicit with the manipulation. On this season’s Bachelorette, a man who is already dead still had a retrospective storyline role to play; the suicide of another man was creepily played out in a previous season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills; couples are dating naked in another show and marrying each other on sight in yet another. The Rubicon hasn’t just been crossed, it’s been paved over with acid-laced trampolines.

The Housewives franchise began relatively quietly—an innocent time, all those eight years ago in Orange County—but is now a multicity franchise of screaming, catfights, fallings-out, suspiciously smoothed faces, parties, holidays, shopping, blow-dries, and tears. It is now a hyper-real joke, and its makers and viewers have embraced that. When reality TV began, there was the concern that viewers would revolt if programs were shown to have dissembled, or spliced footage for entertainment purposes; now that is the accepted norm. Reality shows are as tightly storylined and produced as drama, the genre they displaced.

The prosthetic leg toss followed Drescher appearing increasingly adrift from the rest of the cast this season. She began it, fangs on display, by accusing Carole Radziwill of not writing her books herself. Drescher was publishing her own, with help, and simply didn’t believe Radziwill could write hers independently.

Drescher returned to the country barn where an injury when she was much younger on a horrible-looking contraption resulted in the loss of her leg. Then her asthma meant she couldn’t join the other women on a trip to Montana—the conceit was “fancy city ladies in the land of cowboys”—and she was rendered invisible, until Tuesday night.

Perhaps Drescher is planning to exit the show. Perhaps the choice isn’t hers. Even long-standing castmates have to create drama and absurdity to stay in a show like this one, or they are replaced by someone louder and more inclined to slap faces, and the vibe for viewers is that Drescher has somehow fallen out of favor. Certainly most of the other women—who have to fight and undermine each other, with wearying relentlessness, but always reconcile—almost as one said they found her irredeemably toxic.

If this was Drescher’s swan song, she was going to make it big. The setting was a party in the private room of Le Cirque, featuring the most bizarre group of guests you have ever seen on television. Sonja Morgan, whose financial circumstances are a mess but who blithely carries on like a 1920s Woolworths heiress, albeit one who goes commando, decided to throw a bash for her “team.” Fans of RHONY know Morgan has a mysterious houseful of “interns” who service her mad demands and whims, but here also was her facialist (hilariously indiscreet, a star of the season, no less), a psychic, her dentist, a feng shui expert.

Morgan, beamed in as ever from a planet far from ours, delivered a mini-novella, dedicated to these people being “part of me.”

So, the farmyard was already full of animals, vivid of fur and squawking.

Drescher was angry the women doubted her asthma and hadn’t asked how she was feeling. First she told them she’d lost 10 pounds, not through dieting but not eating because of reflux something-or-other, “to get rid of the asthma.”

The women charged her with lying, of hiding deeper issues. Drescher called Kristen Taekman, the model, horrible. Radziwill called Drescher “the most horrible person here.” Drescher then launched into an appallingly executed riff about her doctors being liars about her having severe asthma, which was supposed to mock the idea but ended up sounding unhinged. She threw her X-rays at the women. Morgan tried to ascertain if the boobs in outline were fake or not.

As ever in Housewives confrontations, a melange of words followed—“This is bullshit”—with people edging away and looking delighted over Champagne glasses, background cellos in overdrive, until the moment when Drescher said, “The only thing that is artificial or fake about me is this.” She then removed her prosthetic limb, slammed it on the table, and then hurled it to the floor. “Everything else is real,” she added. The women had their heads in their hands, laughed, looked shocked, and some must have been a little bit pissed off, knowing that Drescher, who had been absent for so many episodes, had just stolen the season from them.

On a chat show before the episode went out, Drescher claimed she was “disturbed on behalf of the whole amputee community” with Taekman’s expression of total shock as the leg was thrown. Really? How did amputees or amputee groups feel about the throwing of the leg itself, this viewer wondered.

Anyway, the leg and its strappy heel stayed on the floor until Radziwill picked it up and said, “Aviva, you need help. This is not OK.” The writer in her had to be saying: “I couldn’t have dreamt that up. Damn her.”

Naturally, Drescher was smiling as she left. “She’s been waiting to do that for two seasons. Hell, yeah,” said fellow cast member Heather Thomson perceptively in the chat show Watch What Happens Live immediately afterward.

“As crazy as it gets, we do have fun,” cast member Ramona Singer had said in the finale. That may be true, although her own marriage problems, well documented in the tabloids and showbiz magazines, went unshown during the season. That, along with Drescher’s lack of screen time, implied even more intriguing dramas offscreen.

But all the other dramas—Taekman struck by a glass thrown by Singer, Morgan’s shriveled relationship with longtime beau Harry—receded with Drescher’s thrown prosthetic leg. And now, of course, other reality shows, other Housewives franchises, already straining with rows and caterwauling, have to raise their conflict bar ever further.

“This is bad crazy shit,” said the Countess LuAnn de Lesseps. “They say that was the last straw. This was the last leg.” But it wasn’t. It was just a new dramatic peak, or nadir. Far better, or worse, awaits. How do you outdo a prosthetic leg, slammed and thrown across a room? Can any of us stand to see? Of course we can, even if we know an hour of Vivaldi might be better for our souls.