The UnReal D.C. Housewives

There’s a saying in Washington, “It’s not the size of your office, but who it’s close to.” The rest of the country calls this “location, location, location,” but any way you define it, proximity to power is vital in D.C.

Unfortunately, the starring ladies of Bravo network’s “Real Housewives of D.C.” are remote from the action. In this latest installation of the Real Housewives TV show template (standard elements: one city, four-to-seven superfluous women, unlimited alcohol), the producers aim to achieve that which none of the previous versions, from Cali to New York, have attempted: actual power.

Certainly, the show’s divas are notorious for their capital-area consumerism (“I don’t make money – I spend it!” boasts Housewife Mary Schmidt Amons in the opening credits), but flashy jewels, houses, cars, and little dogs are merely the trophies that dollars buy. In D.C., the currency isn’t money, it’s access, and the Housewives are socially insolvent.

A frequent scene, a shot of the White House viewed through the black bars of the Secret Service-guarded fence, symbolizes the Housewives’ outsider status. To be sure, there’s no shortage of attempts to hop that fence.

Even the promo materials, featuring various D.C. landmarks and a faux Oval Office backdrop, are calculated to lend these social hopefuls an air of authenticity. The cast members never miss an opportunity to toss out a famous name or two either – even though it’s usually no one higher ranking on the social ladder than a celebrity hairdresser.

Of all the Housewives, only one of them possesses any real connections, albeit briefly. Splashy British transplant Catherine “Cat” Ommanney (sporting a less than posh London accent) begins the season newly married to Charles, a member of the White House Press Corps and a genuine insider.

From the moment their wardrobes flash onscreen, it’s obvious the marriage is doomed. He’s clad in fleece and jeans, the casual camouflage of top journalists; she dresses as if fabric were a rationed commodity (in one episode, whipping out a dress with a sheer top and strategic beading). Her aspirations are as transparent as her clothes, and Charles, despite an all-consuming work schedule, manages to squeeze in time for a divorce.

The antics of the show’s bawdiest stars, Michaele and Tareq Salahi – allegedly crashing a State Dinner at the White House, allegedly crashing a Congressional Black Caucus dinner, and allegedly crashing their own finances with unpaid bills for everything from birthday parties to charity events – reek of desperation.

So do Housewife Mary’s frequent mentions of her association with the Kennedy family, which amount to childhood play dates at a Kennedy home. Only Stacie Scott Turner, a grounded mother of two and D.C.-area native, avoids lapping up every drop of recognition or approval.

For real D.C. housewives, Washington social life is not a swirl but a competition: Everyone is rooting for a team, and everyone is there to play the game. The farther from the center of power, the less team loyalties matter, and the Housewives’ apolitical connections and jobs – modeling agency owner, real estate agent, and (self-identified) “socialite” – reveal just how inconsequential these women are. They’re the supporting cast, the water boys and ticket-takers of the great power contest. The only circle they rate in is their own.

Fortunately for the “Real Housewives of D.C.,” television will beam their efforts beyond the Beltway, perhaps into less judicious and more appreciative living rooms. As the Bravo Housewives in other cities have proven, being famous for being famous can be profitable financially, if not socially. In the meantime, these Housewives have one significant advantage over their influential neighbors this election season – all of their dirty laundry has already been aired.