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Sniping on ‘Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ not as fun after suicide

Taylor Armstrong is shocked dinner party where guest suggested she husbRussell were weak for trying marriage therapy.

Taylor Armstrong is shocked at a dinner party where a guest suggested she and husband Russell were weak for trying marriage therapy.

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Updated: November 9, 2011 12:23PM

‘Taylor — she has lost a lot of weight,” Lisa Vanderpump purrs, referring to fellow Beverly Hills housewife Taylor Armstrong. “This girl, I promise you, needs help.”

Vanderpump’s prescient but catty observation — along with several other zingers, such as Taylor’s mood going “up and down like a whore’s drawers” — wisely ended up on the cutting-room floor after Bravo re-edited the season opener of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”

The show’s 11th-hour retooling was prompted by the suicide of Taylor Armstrong’s estranged husband just three weeks before Monday’s Season 2 premiere. In deference to Russell Armstrong’s death, the series opened with a recently taped segment that showed all of the housewives — except Taylor — at Adrienne Maloof’s mansion, where they talked about Russell’s suicide and tried their darnedest to shed some tears for the camera. (Taylor’s BFF on the show, Kyle Richards, looked like the only one genuinely grieving.)

“I just feel so bad for Taylor,” a half-convincing Vanderpump says during the four-minute suicide segment. “She needs our support more than ever.”

Vanderpump had always ranked as a first-round draft pick in my “Real Housewives” fantasy league. Her scathing wit and tough-love sensibility that applied to everyone but her pampered pooch made her fun to watch.

Until now.

Vanderpump’s disdain for Taylor and bottomless quiver full of barbs didn’t make me laugh anymore; it made me cringe. Trivial squabbles that once might have been amusing, such as Maloof and her henpecked hubby bickering over decorative towels, felt especially inane and petty. And Season 1 story lines that used to sizzle — Camille’s split with actor Kelsey Grammer, and Kyle and Kim Richards’ sister wars — seemed to fizzle.

That’s what happens when grim reality interferes with reality TV. Russell’s suicide cast a heavy pall on this escapist fare, shot six months before the 47-year-old father of three took his own life Aug. 15 in a friend’s L.A. home.

The financially troubled venture capitalist was never a major player in the series. But his deteriorating marriage to Taylor was a key story line last year and seemed ready to keep on giving in Season 2.

Some, including Russell’s mother, have argued that Bravo should scrap or at least postpone the new season in the wake of his death. Producers opted to stick with the original run date and hunker down in the editing room to make a few nips and tucks — something these Botox-filled housewives know well.

The original premiere, which was sent to TV critics before Russell died, shows Taylor shopping at a store called Trashy Lingerie in an effort to get out of her “mommy rut” and liven up her love life. This was (again wisely) axed.

What was added: a slightly contrite line from Vanderpump’s husband, Ken Todd, who came off as enlightened as a Neanderthal in the season opener when he drove Taylor to tears by implying that she and Russell were weak for going to marriage therapy.

“I’m an old Englishman and maybe I shouldn’t have said anything,” Todd confesses to the camera.

Footage of Russell doesn’t appear in any of the initial episodes, and he might not be seen at all this season, executive producer Douglas Ross told Us Weekly.

But Taylor’s story — one of an imploding marriage — stays. That much was obvious in Monday’s trailer depicting a distraught Taylor sobbing and screaming.

(One thing — make that one of the only things — I’m looking forward to this season is the addition of Brandi Glanville, ex-wife of “The Playboy Club” star Eddie Cibrian. The trailer showed Glanville and Kim Richards getting into it, with Richards calling Glanville a “slut pig” and Glanville accusing Richards of using crystal meth. Now that’s some good old-fashioned “Real Housewives” fun.)

Cast members and the show’s executive producer spent a good part of this week defending their decision that the show must go on.

“It would really be sweeping suicide under the rug, and that’s what I think we didn’t want to do,” Maloof said Monday on NBC’s “Today.”

She, Vanderpump and Kyle Richards returned to the “Today” set on Tuesday to say Bravo and the cast agreed “to take the high road and do something positive” by educating viewers about suicide and mental illness, citing a suicide prevention hot line number that aired briefly at the end of the show.

“If we could save one life, then our message is getting across,” Maloof said.

Puhleeze. I’m not buying the housewives-as-mental-health-advocates shtick.

They want the show to go on for the same reason they signed up in the first place: They like being on TV.

And I liked watching them as a guilty pleasure. But for now at least, it feels more guilty than pleasurable.

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