For viewers familiar with reality TV, the best thing about Hulu’s parody The Hotwives Of Orlando is an oft-overlooked technical skill: sound mixing. The editing is spot-on, the performances are highly entertaining, and the writing is punchy and fun, but it’s the sound mixing that really makes it all come together. Reality television—or “unscripted” television, as it is sometimes called—is unabashedly manufactured. The cast is prompted to say the right things and then it’s edited so all the right things are said together; meanwhile, the audience is primed to judge the characters one way or another, and the transitional sound effects and stingers are there to guide sentiment in the appropriate directions.
Of course, it is also possible that the best thing about Hotwives Of Orlando is that it takes place in Orlando, Florida, “the 97th most glamorous city in America.” Florida is an easy target, but narrowing it down to Orlando, a particularly desolate stretch of suburban non-culture, makes the snark even snarkier. Either way, the combination of the two makes for a very entertaining little project on Hulu. At times, Hotwives feels like a killer comedy sketch whose conversion to a full TV show is slightly premature—but that looseness tends to add to the show’s charm, too. Much like a low-budget reality show, Hotwives is a low-budget parody; even the scenes’ movement from funny to awkward and back to funny could be seen as a faithful adaptation of the unscripted genre.
What Hotwives really does right is the structure of a reality television show, right down to the previously mentioned sound mixing. Every episode features lengthy and at times slow-motion flashbacks to the previous few episodes; every episode ends with some kind of party or another, which all of the “hotwives” insistently hope will not have drama. Every party ends in drama. Everyone gets a chyron with their name and a description. Every episode even ends with a post-show talk-show promo—an ad for the fictional Hotwives Cool Down with Matty Green, played by Paul Scheer (who produces the show). There is so much parody and self-referential comedy that it’s difficult to fully describe; if nothing else, Hotwives is dedicated to parodying the form, and it does it well.
What the show is still working on is quality writing. The actual jokes in the first two episodes are hit or miss, and given the incisiveness of the satire, it’s a bit of a letdown. There are some moments that are absolutely devastating, but more often than not, the humor of Hotwives is in the absurdity of the situation and the continued inside joke of its existence than in any individual punchline.
In that sense, Hotwives reads a little more like savage cultural critique than comedy. That facet of the show comes out in revealed information, like how hotwife Crystal (Angela Kinsey) claims to know Christianity: She doesn’t read the bible, because her husband reads it for her, and tells her how to best respect him. And then there are scenes like the one that follows Veronica (Andrea Savage) to the plastic surgeon, where the doctor starts writing “FAT” and “UGLY” on her face before she tells him she’s there for a vaginal lift. It’s fantastic, but it doesn’t land exactly as funny. And that goes back to the show’s lightweight feel: Shagginess is one of Hotwives’ charms, but that also makes the show feel like a first draft that could use one or two more passes.
Fortunately, it’s easier to improve on joke-writing than it is to find a point of view. And Hotwives’ collection of performers are outstanding, falling into and eviscerating their chosen archetypes—“the sluttiest one” (Casey Wilson), “the big spender” (co-creator Danielle Schneider), “the former child star” (Kristen Schaal), “the religious one” (Kinsey), “the sassy black girl” (Tymberlee Hall)—with gusto. And it’s done, as the best parodies are, in a way that shows true affection for the source material. The actresses in Hotwives throw themselves into reality-show brawls (“You need to calm down.” “Don’t tell me to calm down! You calm down!”) with an enthusiasm that revels in the excess and splashy emotionality of unscripted television. Only Schaal seems a bit out of place, but that might be because her character is a drug-addled flake.
The result is a show that isn’t always “ha ha” funny, but is scathingly brilliant. And as the hotwives raise money for underprivileged dogs who don’t have access to high heels, they do so as a cast stacked with more female talent than any other current TV comedy. Hulu might still be making a play for legitimacy with its original programming, but The Hotwives Of Orlando is a lovely reminder of how working outside the traditional system produces rare fruits, indeed.