There is a new show on Bravo called My Fab 40th, and all I can say is, some clever intern must have pulled a fast one while all the network executives were in the Hamptons. Or a rogue producer has the goods on someone in the C-suite. Either way, something is amiss here.
We all know Bravo as the home of the Housewives (though, for the most part, there is nary an extant marriage in sight). This juggernaut franchise ensures that on any given night those of us with work-a-day lives can tune in to watch women with too much money drink their faces off, cat fight on yachts, and promote their mythical "lifestyle" brands.
Our parents had Walter Cronkite. So, you know, tomato, to-mah-to.
But while no one apparently was minding the store, in walked Brandy Flores, the featured 39.9 year old subject of a show marketed as the mid-life answer to MTV's My Super Sweet 16. The concept is simple: a woman, her friends, and a few assorted professionals throw the subject a lavish 40th birthday party.
I hadn't intended to linger too long, as the teaser on my cable guide described this week's plot: Brandy, an amateur race car driver and fitness model, hopes her boyfriend will propose at her 40th birthday party, which her friend Bethany is throwing at the racetrack. From that description, my Venn diagram of commonality with Brandy appeared to be that we both like celebrating our birthdays. In fact, had HGTV been running anything but Flip or Flop (I'm sorry, that couple just puts no love into their renovations), I would have missed the whole thing.
I'm glad I didn't.
Brandy is divorced. She has two sweet daughters, who are featured only in a few scenes, but who seem like nice kids who love their mom. In the cutaway scenes, Brandy talks about how hard it is that they have to split time between her home and her ex-husband's, and how she tries to find ways to make their time together special.
Brandy has a good cadre of girlfriends, who all seem invested in her happiness. If I were to bend Brandy's ear, I might suggest keeping the one who spilled wine on her head at happy hour at a bit of an arms' length. But the only apparent beef between these women is the barbecue they're happily chowing at a restaurant called "Smoqued" as they try to help Brandy figure out her future.
This may be implicit in the term "fitness model," but Brandy is also a knockout. Her arm definition is exquisite. She has a killer smile and clearly follows a sound skin regimen. Did I mention she's a fitness model? Right, so about that: one scene features her enduring a grueling workout of lunges while she's holding what looks like cement blocks in each hand. Then she sits on a mat and talks about how much harder it is to book the modeling gigs at her age, and the stress she feels at needing to work twice as hard as she used to so she can support herself and her children.
That's when it hits me.
God help me, I like this Brandy. I would totally ham it up in the photo booth at Brandy's Fab 40th.
Then there is Jim, the boyfriend of six years. What Brandy wants most at her racetrack chic 40th bash is for Jim to propose. She has sent him a picture of the ring she wants - a fairly silly move with great backfire potential - but she also sits down with him over dinner in their very average looking kitchen and tells him that being in limbo at 40 isn't going to work for her. Jim looks uncomfortable, attempts some revisionist Jedi mind trick about how he always told her he never wanted to marry again, and retires to his study where he has been shopping online for a race car to present to Brandy at the party. In another scene, Brandy's friend gets wind of the race car plan and tells Jim point blank that if he doesn't buy Brandy a ring, she's going to be crushed.
Cut to commercial.
At this point, I am certain that I've doped out the remaining scenes. Jim messes with Brandy's head a bit, but in the end, he's on one knee as the candles on her towering purple cake are lit. He's brought her daughters along as a surprise, because the moment is too important for them to miss. After all, Jim doesn't seem like a total jerk, and the fool who would give up Brandy is only second in line to the fool who would make a show in which an $80,000 birthday party for a woman the viewers have come to root for ends with Jim disappointing Brandy in front of all her friends.
And yet, that's exactly what happens. Brandy's friends go all out. The party is in full swing, and she looks amazing in a silver sequined dress. There's an ice sculpture and lounge seating. She is serenaded by her favorite country singer. Out of nowhere, there's Lorenzo Lamas, who as far as I know hasn't been seen since Falcon Crest, and he presents her with a cool racing suit. Brandy is radiant, toasting her dear friends who have seen her through phases of life that she didn't plan for and that have brought their share of struggle. Then Jim brings every single guest outside to the track, gives a speech in which he says "Brandy has waited a long time for this," and pulls a tarp off a race car. It is wrenching to watch Brandy feign excitement, then get into the car and look around the front seat in the forlorn hope that the ring is there.
I brace for the explosive confrontation. At least fifty of Brandy's friends have been swilling theme cocktails for hours and have warned Jim in no uncertain terms that he'd better do right by their girl. Jim's best hope is that the massive party budget included staffing for a medical tent.
Cut to commercial.
We never see Jim again.
It's a sunny morning, the day after the party. Brandy doesn't look puffed up from crying, or particularly despondent. She arrives at Bethany's house to thank her for all the hard work and planning. We learn that Brandy left the party with one of her pals, Lindsey; they went for late night sushi and did sake toasts to the beginning of her fifth decade. No big scene, just great resolve. Our Brandy walked off that racetrack and left Jim in the deafening roar of his own dick move.
Bravo's motto is "Watch What Happens." Having watched what happened as Brandy turned 40, I got perhaps the greatest shock from this purveyor of all things shock value: a show about a woman who hoped things would turn out differently, but when they didn't, had to make a hard choice about what was best for herself and her daughters. Her friends stood by her. No one lied to her or gave her false hope that Jim was going to see the light. In the final scene, Brandy and her daughters light candles on a simple plate of cupcakes in Bethany's kitchen. Somewhere last night's ice sculpture is melting into oblivion. But this little party beats that one any day. Brandy's 40th never looked so fab.
As for the race car? I hope Brandy sells it and upgrades to a better model that she chooses for herself. Or maybe she sells it and takes her friends and daughters on a beach vacation. Or maybe she just drives it as fast as her heart desires. It doesn't really matter, in the end, because she's already made wise use of its most important part: the rear view mirror.
Happy birthday, Brandy. I don't have to tell you, but you've got everything you need, right there in Bethany's kitchen.
So I will just say this: Bravo.