“Obviously, I’ve had my boobs done. They speak for themselves. They walk on their own,” a tan, blond, middle-aged mom giddily told a Bravo film crew.
It happened to be Liza Sandler on Bravo’s latest reality television venture, Secrets and Wives, which starts tonight. However, it could have been pretty much any woman on any Bravo Real Housewives series.
The network that gave us Teresa Giudice knocking over a table in a fit of delicious, catty rage—and Kyle Richards running traumatized into an Amsterdam street after a glass-smashing incident—has been marketing Secrets and Wives as its own unique animal, but it really could simply be called The Real Housewives of Long Island.
“Sisterhood” is a word oft repeated in the Bravo press releases for Secrets and Wives.
The whole gimmick that is supposed to make this show different from the usual corral of rich, well-kept moms on Bravo was the decades of camaraderie among the six women: Andi Black, Susan Doneson, Cori Goldberg, Gail Greenberg, Amy Miller, and Liza Sandler. Here were “longtime girlfriends” with “decades of real baggage” and “years of memories intertwined.”
Frankly, it’s insulting to women and the concept that adult females can form mature, platonic relationships with each other to pass this off as sisterhood.
As much as you hear the women refer to each other as “girlfriend,” and say “I love (fill in supposed best friend’s name), but” it’s clear this batch is no less catty than the usual Real Housewives fare and, unfortunately, the drama does not seem particularly different.
All the women have oodles of designer clothes, all the women are obsessed with appearing younger than they are, and (almost) all are quite open about their plastic surgeries. They all seem more than eager to pick fights over the tiniest of slights.
I can already predict who the new Kyle Richards and Brandi Glanville will be: Greenberg and Doneson.
It is completely unclear why they dislike each other so much, with their only background connection that they’ve taken the same aerobics class for 10 years.
Greenberg’s main complaint seems to stem from the fact that Doneson was raised on the dreaded South Shore (a socioeconomic distinction between the two parts of Long Island that will be all but recognizable to anyone not from a New York City suburb).
“I don’t know if it’s her upbringing, but Susan is not classy. She’s not the type of person I hang out with,” says Greenberg with a look on her face that suggests someone passed gas right in front of her nose, while she simultaneously suffers from constipation. She makes this face a lot. It is irritating to watch.
The future brawl between these two women is all but certain. Their dynamic follows the structure of many Bravo reality series.
The opening—a series of shots of fancy cars, high-end shops, and ladies lunching—seemed uncannily interchangeable with any Real Housewives series or, for that matter, Shahs of Sunset, Southern Charm, or the failed Princesses: Long Island (Andy Cohen’s last voyage out to Long Island).
Setting the scene with that glorification of a wealthy, leisure class invites viewers to engage in the materialistic voyeurism that is Bravo’s bread and butter, and Secrets and Wives is no exception.
The women’s massive homes are introduced to the viewer before they are. Most of the actual action in this first episode takes place in one of two opulent settings.
There is an over-the-top pre-prom party for Sandler’s daughter with luscious, longing shots of the way her pool-filled backyard is transformed into a party venue with an open bar and gorgeous delectables.
There is the even more ludicrous fashion for plastic surgeon, Dr. G (Stephen Greenberg), who is the husband of Gail.
While the six cast members of Secrets and Wives drink fancy cocktails, a parade of women walk down the runway showing off the “work” they’ve had done by Dr. G. At the risk of sounding like an East Coast snob, it all seemed very Los Angeles.
I was actually hoping I would find the series a bit more relatable.
In full disclosure, I grew up in a town in Westchester that is often mentioned in the same breath as towns on the North Shore of Long Island, like Roslyn and Great Neck.
Before watching Secrets and Wives, I envisioned how my suburb, Scarsdale, and ones like it could be fodder for Bravo: catty fights over who did and didn’t get invited to a bar mitzvah or heavy-handed bragging over which Ivy League school their children attended.
However, while my suburb is hardly Amish, the opulent, mindless world I saw on Secrets and Wives was as foreign to me as a series based in Beverly Hills, Atlanta, or, for that matter, Monaco.
I say foreign and by no means better. I know people from the North Shore. As with my suburb, wealth is part of the culture, but so is education. It is its own mark of sophistication to namedrop where you went to school, dramatically more so than to brag about where you went on vacation or what car you owned. It was a bit jarring to find out that Sandler, a North Shore resident who grew up in the area in the mid-1980s, never graduated from college.
The women’s total financial dependency on men or, more specifically, their divorce settlements seemed par for the course for Bravo, but not for the New York City suburbs from which I and many of my friends hail.
Jobs held by mothers and fathers are also part of the usual cache and status markers, but the Secrets and Wives women are unabashed in how much they depend on men for money.
Perhaps what makes Secrets and Wives slightly different from the Real Housewives series is the detrimental, even dangerous light in which this financial dependency is depicted.
In one scene, Sandler is crying in her car while her ex-husband shouts at her to get the house ready to be put on the market. She has to sell her home as part of her divorce deal—a divorce we later find out was a direct result of her cheating on him.
It’s hard not to immediately think “she made her bed, now she must lie in it,” but Bravo plays up her tears and terror at the hands of her ex’s wallet. It’s pathetic and scary.
“The men on the North Shore, they have the power and they have the control,” Black says to the Bravo crew. Meanwhile, she reminds Sandler that “You know, he’s taken care of you, so say ‘yes,’ and move on.”
The dangerous undercurrent of the financial power held by men is played up in other Secrets and Wives’ cast members’ lives. The episode also focuses on Miller’s “volatile” (her words, not mine) relationship with her on-again, off-again fiance, Arthur.
“Amy Miller was the ‘It’ girl in high school. She doesn’t work, because she gets support from her boyfriend, Arthur,” Cori says. “He’s very controlling. All of us want to see her nip it in the bud.”
In one scene where Black and Miller are having lunch, Arthur comes by and starts shouting at Miller. Though the camera does not follow her into the restaurant, she comes out shortly after confronting him, in tears. She tells Black that he “made a scene” and told her “Don’t come near me.”
Even Doneson, who regularly brags that she works, is seen asking her boorish husband Jonathan for more money and complaining she needs her “own money card.”
Jonathan, by the way, bears a remarkable similarity to Joe Giudice: He is not only crass and grumpy, but has also been convicted of finance-related crimes.
Although the women on Secrets and Wives seem exceptionally pathetic, their financial dependency doesn’t exactly buy them sympathy.
Even though Sandler cries about how she regrets ruining her marriage with her affair, she cracks a joke about why she didn’t have sex on her wedding night. “I was too busy counting the money,” she says with a laugh.
I couldn’t stifle a cringe when I watched her say that, while selfishly thinking, “Oh, god, I hope people don’t think Scarsdale is like this.”
But maybe I’m overthinking this. It’s patently absurd to ever expect a Bravo show, despite the presence of “real” in their titles, to be anything even close to that. Secrets and Wives is no better nor worse than any Real Housewives offering.
The accents may be different, but the day-glo world of cocktails and catfights remain the same—as will be my willingness to tune in every week.
Secrets and Wives premieres tonight, Tuesday, on Bravo, at 10 p.m.