With the “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” officially in its off-season, it’s time for executives to initiate the grave business of cast reconfiguration. In their pursuit of perfection, producers must recognize the utmost importance of Denise Richards returning to the show next year, lest her glittering Bravo star fade prematurely.
Denise overshared and underdressed. She planned a wedding in 48 hours and got married on camera. She mocked the other Housewives without condescending to them. (An enduring lesson of Carole Radziwill’s arc.)
Like Eileen Davidson before her, Denise filled the essential role of bemused outsider: unusually casual, frequently indifferent, yet provokable under the right circumstances. It’s a difficult part to play in the exceptionally glamorous Beverly Hills franchise, but she did it better than anyone before her. Surely, Real Housewives has turned out to be her best role since “Scary Movie 3.”
Cucumber-cool amid Camille Grammer’s hysteria, Denise breezed through her first reunion unscathed. Over the course of one season, she endured the trauma of wildfires, co-parented with Charlie Sheen, and brought great joy to a camping trip.
As her veteran castmates agonized over dog drama, Denise functioned as a perplexed, nonpartisan observer, almost a proxy for the viewer torn between Lisa Vanderpump and the others. With her penchant for candor, she’s basically a low-maintenance Lisa Rinna, which makes for compelling contrast with the real Lisa Rinna—and pretty much everyone else. (She’s even getting in on Rinna’s solo dance trend.)
Let us not gloss over the candor. Even for Bravo, Denise’s willingness to gamely reveal personal information was shocking. That’s a feat, to say the least.
Her potential as a Housewife was obvious as soon as she arrived underdressed for breakfast in the Bahamas: “These girls even dress up for breakfast? They’re lucky I put a f-cking bra on.”
It culminated in the finale. There she was, in both a fur and a baseball cap, as natural to the Housewives habitat as Kyle Richards, snapping at Camille to “f-cking back off.” It wasn’t exactly a happy ending, but it was a great one.