There's a certain art to Real Housewives parodies. You've got those that get the form right but aren't consistently sharp enough, like Saturday Night Live's "The Real Housewives of Disney." There are those that have a familiar element or two, but don't quite know what they want to be, like SNL's reunion parody. Every once in a while, you'll find a home run, like 30 Rock's "Queen of Jordan" episodes.
Then there's Hulu's new series, The Hotwives of Orlando. The first season of seven episodes, now available in its entirety on Hulu Plus, has a strong cast and a committed production team to its credit. The creative minds behind the series clearly didn't set out to make a half-assed parody. They succeeded ... somewhat.
Hotwives is a pretty funny show, but it prefers to keep its parody broad versus going for the details. For example, a running gag in the first few episodes is the characters' extreme aversion to the phrase "calm down," as if it was the C-word. You chuckle the first time, but then the show keeps making the same joke. A gag about the women deciding not to be friends anymore gets the same treatment in the third episode. The show is best when it stops trying to be a parody and loosens up a bit.
The best evidence of that is in the characters, who parody specific housewives with varying levels of effectiveness. The most enjoyable performances, though, are the ones that let their characters shine both because and in spite of their origins.
Below, meet the six hotwives (and the actresses behind them) as a primer to diving into the series.
NOTE: Unlike Real Housewives series, the show-opening taglines for each wife change every episode. So we stuck to the lines from the first episode. Still, A for effort, Hotwives of Orlando team.
Tawny St. John (Casey Wilson)
Inspired by: Gretchen Rossi, Orange County
In-show description: The Trophy Wife
Tagline: "Girls just wanna have fun! Even when their husbands are dying."
We could never fall out of love with Casey Wilson after Happy Endings, but she is an admittedly odd choice for the Orange County-type housewife. If anything, we'd love to have seen her in the role Kristen Schaal has (see further down the list). But she has strong moments, and she seems to be the performer who gets the Housewives franchise best. But Casey: Never go blonde.
Phe Phe Reed (Tymberlee Hill)
Inspired by: Half Phaedra Parks, half Nene Leakes, Atlanta
In-show description: The Entrepreneur
Tagline: "I always speak my mind. And my mind thinks you're ugly."
Hill may not understand the Housewives franchise – her Phe Phe is a little too catchphrase-driven in a franchise that has, for all its failings, avoided that trope – but she knows her character. Short for "Phenomenon," because of course it is, Phe Phe is the character who most easily gets big laughs. She just has to keep it real, and we love her for it.
Veronica Von Vandervon (Andrea Savage)
Inspired by: Lisa Vanderpump, Beverly Hills
In-show description: The Cougar
Tagline: "I'm all about class, style, and sophistication. Also, I'm not wearing any underwear."
Veronica Von Vandervon, played pretty perfectly by Savage, is a good bit hornier than Vanderpump (in that way, she seems more like New York's Sonja Morgan). But that ridiculous English clip is totally Vanderpumpian. Veronica is the embodiment of thirst, but she's just so delightful about it. We'd watch Vandervon Rules in a heartbeat.
Crystal Simmons (Angela Kinsey)
Inspired by: Alexis Bellino, Orange County (with a dash of Kyle Richards, Beverly Hills)
In-show description: The Religious Zealot
Tagline: "The Lord is my savior; my husband is king. And my body is redon-ka-donk."
Crystal Simmons is one of the characters who suffers from broad characterization. Alexis Bellino is a devout Christian, yes, but her storylines diverged from that. Crystal also gets to be the Kyle Richards to Amanda Simmons' Kim, but the show doesn't do much with that. All that said, Kinsey is here for this and looks the part. It's a really solid portrayal.
Shauna Maducci (Danielle Schneider)
Inspired by: Teresa Giudice, New Jersey
In-show description: The Bankrupt Overspender
Tagline: "Money is everything! I mean, money isn't everything. You know, it sounds weird that way."
Here's the thing about Teresa Giudice: She could not exist in any of the other Real Housewives series. She IS New Jersey. And watching a parody of Teresa fight with a parody of an Orange County housewife (Wilson's Tawny St. John) is not particularly entertaining. It's like a pitbull facing off with a corgi. Worse, Shauna feels as broadly drawn as Crystal, but Schneider doesn't feel as committed. Bit of a missed opportunity, honestly.
Amanda Simmons (Kristen Schaal)
Inspired by: Kim Richards, Beverly Hills
In-show description: The Drug-Addled Former Child Star
Tagline: "I was a child star; I grew up on TV! And I plan to die there."
Speaking of missed opportunities: Schaal is wonderful and funny in a lot of things. This is not one of them. Amanda Simmons doesn't even feel like she belongs in Hotwives. She's a bit of a cliché (washed-up, alcoholic child star) and Kim Richards struggling with the same problems on Beverly Hills wasn't funny. It was sad. For Amanda Simmons to be funny, she'd have to be something other than that.