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John Doyle: Real Housewives of Toronto isn't escapist TV, it's a sad sign of our time

What fresh hell of reality-TV drivel is this?

Why, it is The Real Housewives of Toronto, which premiered to some fanfare Tuesday night on the channel called Slice. And, a slice of what? You might well ask that. In this case, a slice of amateurish TV garbage made with neither skill nor craft of any kind. All reality TV can wobble on the verge of tiresome inanity but it takes a particular kind of ineptitude to make something this boring and dumb.

It would be easy to ridicule this ridiculous, absurdly promoted twaddle. So let's get started.

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For a start, the idea that the Real Housewives franchise has any life left in it is laughable. The franchise is now past retirement age. The first instalment, The Real Housewives of Orange County, premiered 11 years ago and several of the spinoffs have long since sputtered and died. We're not talking the vigour and sass of Survivor here. There was The Real Housewives of Vancouver, which aired in 2012 and 2013 and nobody remembers now except the producers who cackled all the way to the bank.

These six women featured in the new Toronto edition have nothing to do with Toronto. Never have, never will. They are creatures of this digital age of narcissism and bombastic self-adoration. And if asked where they reside each would be more truthful if the response was, "Planet Kardashian."

They aren't in the least bit interesting as people or preening reality-TV clowns. They are boring, bourgeois nonentities chosen for a brief period of TV fame by incompetent producers.

Presented to us as the "most privileged, powerful and glamorous women" who "navigate the elite social scene of Canada's largest city," they are nothing of the kind.

They are Kara Alloway, Roxy Earle, Gregoriane (Grego) Minot, Ann Kaplan Mulholland, Joan Kelley Walker and Jana Webb. And honestly, there are more interesting characters in most 30-second washing machine commercials.

The introduction of these women took a small age, as usual with this drivel. They appear, are shown in slow motion doing something mundane while insultingly vapid cheesy music is used and then they natter about themselves. "I'm so fabulous" is the gist and sum of it all. And it is all a lie. These are people whose notion of intelligent conversation is declaring, "When you look good, you feel good."

After the insufferably slow introductions, time passed. Then more time. Time for the viewer to descend into despair about how depressingly small-minded, unadventurous and smug these allegedly fabulous women are. Then something happened.

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It wasn't much, to be honest. The crux of the drama, such as it was, involved the organizing of a "procedure party." And then the attendance of the housewives at the party. The climax of it all, lasting a few seconds, was the horrified look on the faces of some attendees as the plastic surgeon did something or other to a victim. Only in those few seconds was there anything that the viewer could share with the women – yep, the whole thing is horrifying.

And horrifying right down to the closing credits. Apparently this thing is made with the help of Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC), which probably means taxpayers' money and, if so, certainly means that Premier Kathleen Wynne should be ashamed.

Most damning of all is the simple fact that the Canadian TV industry, protected and coddled by countless regulations, is actually investing in the Real Housewives franchise at all. That fact underlines that so much of the Canadian industry is lazy, greedy and has contempt for the public. The franchise, like The Bachelor and Bachelorette shows, needs no real input from anyone – audience or producers – in Canada. They pre-exist, and in the context of this age of imaginative television they exist as offal thrown arrogantly at the audience.

Let no one tell you this is escapist entertainment, a respite from the daily news of chaos, politics and the rage-inducing, right-wing pantomime egotism and malevolent idiocy of Donald Trump. It is precisely because undue attention is given to this reality-TV drivel that Trump occupies the White House. It is all of one piece – the lauding of well-off, self-absorbed half-wits who wouldn't be elected Village Idiot in times other than these.

Nor is it feminism of any sort to savour the antics of these women. Some are successful business women, it is claimed. But they come across as attention-seeking fools manipulated into conforming to the boilerplate sexist representation of women as empty-headed, scheming vixens solely interested in shopping, clothes and the accumulation of shiny objects.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More


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