There are inherent problems with attempting to spoof reality TV: The genre so frequently borders on self-parody it's difficult to outflank its extremes; plus, those who don't watch the stuff probably won't care, and those who avidly do don't always have a terrific sense of humor about it. With that disclaimer, enter Hulu's "The Hotwives of Orlando," an impeccably cast take-down of the "Real Housewives" monster, with its players lustily chewing all the scenery they can swallow. Still, the half-hour episodes feel a bit like a "Saturday Night Live" sketch stretched to its limits - fun for a while, then a trifle repetitive.
Written by Dannah Phirman and Danielle Schneider, who also co-star in this Hulu original, the series features a half-dozen "hotwives," each with their own peculiar tics, including the moronic men in their lives. There's Veronica Von Vandervon (Andrea Savage), for example, who insists on explaining her own naughtily suggestive jokes; or the very Christian Crystal ("The Office's" Angela Kinsey), who says she hasn't actually read the Bible because "it's written in Jewish."
Casey Wilson) is a trophy wife cheating on her much-older husband (Steven Tobolowsky), who she insists is dying; Shauna (Schneider) is a brassy Italian-American, whose husband (Matt Besser) clearly hates her; and the African-American Phe Phe (Tymberlee Hill) says outlandish things, then refers to herself in the third person -- determined to coin her own catchphrase -- blurting out, "That's Phe Phe!" Phirman also appears as a woman who isn't a "hotwife," but likes to tell everyone she could be.
And so it goes. There are some very clever, knowing moments scattered throughout the half-hours (or 23 minutes sans ads), such as having every character proclaim a desire to have a drama-free evening, only to do or say things that will of course ensure there's plenty of drama. Later, one of the hotwives throws a "Hos and Pimps"-themed party, even enlisting a real ho-pimp combo to show them the ropes.
It's a shrewd vehicle for appealing to TV critics - at least, those who might not love these shows, but feel obligated to watch them - but that's a pretty narrow demo. Although in a sense, the show feels like a kind of mild revenge for actors who have lost primetime real estate to the popularity of these programs, as well as a primer to those who participate in them regarding just how ridiculous they can look while auditioning to become the next Bethenny Frankel or Nene Leakes.
For Hulu, "Real Hotwives" feels like a shrewd play - an attention-getting property with a savvy media hook. Yet if the "Real Housewives" are the off-Broadway version of actual celebrities, something as narrowly conceived in its appeal as "Hotwives" will have to settle less for the humidity of Orlando than the distinction, in TV terms, of being off-off-Broadway.