The New York-Hollywood-Beltway nexus of power/celebrity coalesces in the most irritating manner possible on "The Real Housewives of D.C.," the fifth permutation of Bravo's signature (if increasingly tone-deaf) look at upper-crust living in recessionary times. Of course, "D.C." gets off to a running start, inasmuch as the show comes presold by the publicity associated with participants having potentially committed a crime by allegedly crashing a White House state dinner. Beyond that, it's a particularly galling group -- one that, alas, will probably reward Bravo's misdemeanors in aiding and abetting this sorry exercise.
Michaele and Tareq Salahi, the fame-hungry wannabes at the center of the aforementioned scandal, come across as so phony they wouldn't be remotely interesting without that lure. Indeed, the only real heat surrounding them in the first hour involves another central player, Lynda Erkiletian, questioning whether Michaele is too thin -- implying an eating disorder -- while sniffing at the couple for being poseurs in the rarefied air of D.C.'s shakers and movers.
Despite a previous association among some participants, this group feels more thrown together for the purposes of concocting drama than previous "Housewives." When they assemble for an evening with a prestigious chef, for example, haughty Brit Catherine Ommanney uncomfortably triggers a political discussion by lauding George W. Bush (gasp) for being more of a gentleman than Barack Obama, who didn't bother to RSVP for her wedding. The exchange dutifully horrifies the one African-American housewife, Stacie Turner.
Ostensibly, the pomp and glamor of politics would lend itself to the show's formula. But Bravo's decision to proceed with this edition after months of being coy about the Salahis' participation has created an inadvertent distraction: The White House incident won't be presented until near the season's end, making the entire run a form of extended foreplay prior to that payoff. And the couple has already implied in interviews on NBC's "Today" (more synergy, there) that the producers knew what was happening, suggesting possible complicity in whatever transpired.
The truth is, viewers who flock to these shows tend to be quite forgiving about their unreality, willing to accept the "characters" as depicted. But by crossing into the political realm in such an ostentatious way, Bravo has invited the kind of unflattering scrutiny such programs seldom receive from a jaded entertainment press.
Granted, all that might very well lead to boffo ratings in the short run. In the bigger picture, however, any aspirations to inside-the-Beltway cred have evaporated, making the network look as silly as the Salahis.
By that measure, with "D.C.," Bravo merely becomes the latest wide-eyed ingenue to arrive in Washington and come away with little to show for it, except perhaps the equivalent of a stained blue dress.