Who's Afraid of Rachel Zoe?: A Comparative Essay


Reveling in orchestrated dysfunction is a hallmark of reality television, particularly when it comes to the Starbucks-and-appointments blitz of Bravo's The Rachel Zoe Project. It's also paramount to the plot of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, an absurd film (adapted from Edward Albee's legendary play) from the '60s about a maniacal couple named George and Martha who come unhinged -- on purpose, generally -- for invited house guests. Has Bravo unintentionally programmed an Albee play within Rachel Zoe's stylista circus? Following yesterday's season two premiere, let's break it down.

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Pictured: Rachel Zoe and Honey (as portrayed by Oscar-winner Sandy Dennis)

Honey is a woozy blonde housewife who stumbles into George and Martha's deceptive marriage with neither the cogency nor the sanity to grip their unfolding dramas. Rachel Zoe is a woozy blonde stylist who stumbles into boutiques with neither the cogency nor the sanity to stop buying animal-print dresses. Upon spotting a barroom scuffle between George and Martha, Honey gasps, "Violence!" Upon spotting an incredible handbag between two uglier handbags, Rachel gasps, "Die!" Both combat general naïveté and the complications of life with drunken-seeming self-absorption.

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Pictured: Rachel Zoe's husband Rodger and Honey's husband Nick (as portrayed by George Segal)

Nick is a new scholar who blithely dismisses his wife's past hysterical pregnancy, even though it's a sure sign something's not right behind her eyes. Rodger is a new-media entrepreneur who dismisses his wife's hysterical shopping, though it's a sure sign the cameramen are grateful behind the lens. Ultimately, Nick is swallowed up in the ebb and flow of George and Martha's theater, an inevitability of his innocence that we see reflected in his cheap suit. Rodger is swallowed up in shifting tides of the fashion industry, an inevitability of innocence that is reflected in his tragic American Apparel zip-up. Both remain tangential characters to a larger plot about withering substance and exhibitions of taste that regularly overstep "fashionable" bounds. Also: These two are used to being forgettable.

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Pictured: Rachel Zoe's Assistant Brad and George (as portrayed by Richard Burton).

Buttoned-down and beaten up! George is the most intentionally humorous character in Albee's play, calling Honey, at some point in the intoxicated proceedings, "Monkey Nipples." Brad is a homosexual and therefore most reliable for colorful commentary -- particularly when encouraging his fellow assistant to try on a dress in last night's season two premiere, though her monkey "breastasses" may come right over the top of that thing! Brad and Georges' authority is only undercut by one unfortunate occurrence: Taylor makes them weep. Hard.

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Pictured: Rachel Zoe's Assistant Taylor and Martha (as portrayed in an Oscar-winning turn by Elizabeth Taylor)

Harried, disheveled, and uncompromising, the two Taylors call the shots in their haphazard, yet ritualized productions. They're admirable, maybe, but their motivations seem deep-seated and pain-based. Zoe-Assistant Taylor runs a stylist's day-to-day rigmarole, and Elizabeth Taylor floats a day-to-night charade of marital disarray. Plus, maybe there's a ruined child/childhood somewhere in both scenarios. Rachel Zoe's Taylor derides the messy workroom and Brad's inability to run a tight ship, and when she first introduces him to his job, she brings to mind Bette Davis' sentiment from the 1951 film All About Eve: "Fasten your seat belts; it's going to be a bumpy night." When Martha lays eyes on her messy living room, she proclaims, "What a dump!" recalling Bette Davis' line in the 1949 film Beyond the Forest. Both show a remarkable amount of awareness, but in the context of their predicaments, that means they both deserve to be committed.



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