Unpleasant Reality: ABC's 'Ex-Wives'
By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 28, 2007; C01
At first, things looked promising for Rebecca's marriage to the "very good looking" man of her dreams. "But then," booms an announcer on the premiere of ABC's "The Ex-Wives Club," "the honeymoon was over." Yes, that's a cliche, but he means it literally: Rebecca's honeymoon marked the beginning of the end, especially when her new hubby responded to her invitation to go dancing by telling her to "shut up."
Definitely not a good sign.
The concept of till death us do part was obviously not one of that hubby's priorities. "I lost hope in everything," Rebecca recalls, still sounding wounded by the gruff abruptness of it all. But now here come Marla Maples, Shar Jackson and Angie Overheat -- I mean, Everhart -- to the rescue. "The Ex-Wives Club," a new reality series premiering at 9 tonight on ABC, will, says the announcer, "finally answer the question 'How do you mend a broken heart?' "
Among the answers given to Rebecca, 30, and another victim of divorce, Kevin, 35: Put on a blindfold and start screaming bloody murder; tear up photos of your ex and throw anything reminiscent of the union into a bonfire; and, in Rebecca's case, take your husband's beloved 1970 Olds Cutlass on a flight over the desert and push it out of the airplane at 10,000 feet.
"A scorned woman's ultimate revenge!" shouts the announcer. But wouldn't the scorned woman's truly ultimate revenge be if the car landed on top of the guy who done her wrong?
Although a token attempt is made to include men as victims of divorce, rather than seeing it as something horrible that is done to women, the show operates from a female point of view most of the time. It's a practical pose; women 18 to 34 are still the most desirable demographic to advertisers, so it's best to pander to them. The three emcees are all women who've been through celebrated breakups, with Maples occasionally referring to experiences she had while married to self-promoting real estate monarch Donald Trump.
Rebecca and Kevin are placed under the tough-love care of Debbie Ford, a "life coach" who runs a kind of boot camp for divorce survivors. She's the one who urges them to scream their troubles away, participate in a big "bonfire purge" and try other techniques of dubious potential efficacy to banish demons and, as the saying goes, help them get on with their lives. "You are beautiful," the other campers tell Rebecca as a way of boosting her self-esteem, and one of the glamorous hosts observes, "Rebecca needs to embrace the beauty in her."
When the beautiful one goes on an arranged date with a lanky dude and proves chillier than Ben & Jerry's Phish Food, however, one begins to suspect that Rebecca's husband may not be solely responsible for having put the kibosh on their wedded bliss. As for the other subject, Kevin, he seemed to be living the American dream, the unseen announcer says, "but the dream was shattered when he caught his wife cheating with his best friend" -- and "just when he was transitioning into a new career in real estate."
Kevin becomes so overwrought during the session devoted to "the anger process" that he quakes and shakes, and one's heart goes out to him -- more perhaps for the embarrassment of being exploited on reality TV than for the emotional damage he sustained at the hands of his wife and best friend.
The marriage stories told on the premiere of the series (scheduled for five weeks, with a possible pickup if it does well in the ratings) are perhaps more dramatic than typical. There's no attempt to look into antiquated state laws that automatically assume women to be the victims of any divorce proceeding. It would be refreshing if the show would profile a victimized husband, one financially crippled by having to pay child support that ends up going to Chanel for milady's trinkets and bling-bling.
It's just a thought.
"The Ex-Wives Club" may be a therapeutic experience for some angry divorced people who tune in, but one needn't be much of a cynic to find it exploitive soap opera aimed at satisfying the voyeur in us all. So much of television does that now that it's become a national pastime.
The screamers in the anger session echo Paddy Chayefsky's immortal mantra (from "Network"), "I'm not going to take this anymore!" Maybe someday even fans of reality television will stand up and shout the same thing. In fact, it's several shows overdue.