'Hollywood Exes': A place for nice girls in reality TV?
It speaks volumes about current reality programming that a lack of hair pulling, gossiping and arguing is what sets an otherwise unremarkable show apart -- but it does. Four episodes into its first season, the most groundbreaking facet of "Hollywood Exes" is that the entire cast is sympathetic and agreeable. Viewers would like to have a glass of wine with them, set them up with a nice guy they know, or go out on the town. It's refreshing to see that there might be a place for women who play nice every now and then in reality TV.
Of course, the volatile personalities, immature interactions and fabricated drama that's become abundant on all the "wives" reality shows is the norm, and audiences expect it. The reality TV mean girl dynamic has been called out many times -- series have been critiqued by the media, mocked on SNL (Bravo's "Real Housewives"), and even boycotted (in the case of VH1's "Basketball Wives").
For that reason, it might be worth keeping a closer eye on "Hollywood Exes" -- not because it's fascinating television, but it is a nuanced turning point for the network that produced face scratching, drink tossing, screaming match-filled shows like "Mob Wives," "Charm School" and "Love & Hip Hop" (pictured, left). Featuring some relatively stable females goofing around and supporting each other could be a smart trend for VH1 to continue.
The "Hollywood Exes" are on TV because of their defunct marriages: Nicole Murphy (ex-wife of Eddie Murphy), Mayte Garcia (ex-wife of Prince), Jessica Canseco (ex-wife of Jose Canseco), Sheree Fletcher (ex-wife of Will Smith) and Andrea "Drea" Kelly (ex-wife of R. Kelly) make it no secret.
In classic reality TV form, they are slightly vulnerable, needy, and in the case of a few of them, in a bit of denial (i.e. Mayte, who still has her Prince-branded wedding china on full display). The ladies lament the spotlight and profess concern for their children's well being while thrusting their personal lives in front of the camera. They toast to each other's independence and deride each other's ex-husbands, yet three out of five cast members keep their ex-husbands' last name. The cast bonds over the heartache that their crumbling marriages caused them, yet fondly reminisces about the perks and elegance that those painful marriages afforded them ("We would fly all the time on private jets. All the time.")
Indeed, audiences of formulaic "wives" reality series have seen enough of those recycled traits in other shows to predict drama with a capital D from the "Hollywood Exes." But despite all those elements of instability, bougie social interactions and trite day-to-day routines, the women handle themselves as cheerful, friendly, tolerant peers.
Even in moments that seem to beg for some fierce rebuttal or castigation (i.e. Canseco's offensive comment about African American men's sexual preferences), the audience has yet to see any massive conflict, temper tantrums or betrayal. The cast is fairly happy, patient, and they appear to like each other.
So, can a show about a group of fab women be entertaining without the histrionics? The short answer is yes. "Hollywood Exes" is certainly not the most compelling series of the summer, but it has its moments. Jessica Canseco brings the raunchy humor and Drea Kelly drops punny one-liners like it's her job (think Nene Leakes circa Season 1 of RHOA, minus the anger -- "Bam!").
Fans of the famous ex-husbands also get a voyeuristic glimpse into how they treated their wives, and it's clear that some handled marriage and subsequent divorces better than others (R. Kelly and Prince seem to have done significant damage).
It would be naive to deny that the top-rated reality series with female ensembles are winning because of the train wreck effect -- fighting, crying and insincerity is teased and delivered, and audiences continue to lap it up. But with "Hollywood Exes," that appeal is absent. It's a pleasant diversion in the larger space of reality TV, so here's to hoping that the tiny niche it's carved out manages to endure.