2012: The Year in TV Moments
Entry 18: The Real Housewives of Atlanta: NeNe Leakes and Ryan Murphy call Tyler Perry.
Bravo, Nov. 4, 9:35 p.m. ET
Increasingly, Bravo’s Real Housewives franchises are becoming context-of-no-context vortexes, closed loops of self-referential recursions. Launch parties for vanity projects that exist only because of the show serve as plot points; minor slights from past reunion episodes are magnified into vendetta-level dramatic material in subsequent seasons. Staying within this airless hall of diamond-framed mirrors too long can habituate the viewer to Bravo mastermind Andy Cohen’s twisted logic (which probably explains why Bravo’s programming schedule is flush with RH marathons), so when mega-producer Ryan Murphy materialized in RH-Atlanta-land to visit with NeNe Leakes—a housewife who moonlights as a minor character in his new series The New Normal—the cleansing breeze of perspective that accompanied him was both refreshingly objective and devastatingly campy.
In the clip, Murphy and Leakes lunch in L.A. The latter is in town on business, you see—and while they do discuss a little of that in the form of Leakes thanking Murphy at length for plucking her up from Celebrity Apprentice and “changing her life” while he tries to cast both her younger brother and “love interest,” she soon steers the conversation into McMansion marginalia. After refusing escargot because she only eats chicken, Leakes has the arresting tactlessness to ask Murphy how much a ticket to an Obama fundraiser cost. The look of—what? certainly not surprise; perhaps taxidermic appreciation?—that flashes in Murphy’s puckish eyes is priceless. Add that to the condescending, Rosalind Russell-in-Auntie Mame laugh he issues when Leakes jokes about not wanting to pay for a “plate” at a similar function at Tyler Perry’s house. And through it all, Murphy, who always seems a little ADHD personally and professionally, keeps glancing off into space as if to consult with some ethereal panel regarding the ratio of being to nothingness in this woman.
Of course, the crowning moment of the clip comes when Leakes suggests they try to call Perry on her cellphone, because the two are “such good friends.” Murphy looks on in giddy horror as the number proves to have been disconnected. Leakes tries again. Leakes fails. Leakes laughs nervously. Murphy cackles heartily. Murphy suggests that Leakes maybe has Meryl Streep on line two. Leakes does not.
This, children, has been a lesson in reading. As we all know from Paris is Burning, reading is the gay (and vaguely Southern) craft of eviscerating a rival or friend with wit, ideally in such an artful manner that they don’t even realize what happened until their intestines fall out hours or weeks later. I suspect it may be just about time for Leakes to inspect her midsection.
J. Bryan Lowder is the Slate editorial assistant for culture.