Looking back, it feels strange that it has only been two years since we saw The Real Housewives of New York bow its head in shame, and putter off our television screens for a then-indeterminate amount of time. Up until Season 13, RHONY had arguably been Bravo’s most consistent franchise; it produced the most drama, the most memes, and the most memorable faces.
But when the show’s guiding light Bethenny Frankel departed the series for a second time ahead of Season 12, it was as if the wheels that had kept the show moving drove over a tack. Devoted audiences spent the next two seasons watching the show slowly deflate, until it was no more than a rubber shell of what it once was. Sure, it was still better than most reality television, but the drunken, middle-aged women we knew and loved were now filled with both rage and hyperawareness, a far cry from the starry-eyed, naive ladies who lunched from the show’s beginnings.
Truth be told, it’s not worth looking over our shoulders anymore. I’ve done it for too long, and my neck is starting to get a crick in it. We’ll always have the RHONY that was. Now, we must forge forward with the RHONY that is: an entirely new cast, composed of plucky, determined career women. Only God and Andy Cohen know whether or not Bravo’s big swing to revitalize this franchise will pay off, but we can gorilla glue our fingers crossed and see what happens together.
Sunday night’s Season 14 premiere starts off with a brief introduction to our new cast of characters. In order, we have Brynn Whitfield, a lion-maned, flirty wild child, who is allegedly a marketing consultant, though we see hide nor hair of that; Jenna Lyons, the fashion world superstar and former head of J.Crew, now a false lash guru; Jessel Taank, a publicist who is very proud of her job; Sai De Silva, a content creator, and five-foot-nothing firecracker; Ubah Hassan, a beyond gorgeous model and philanthropist; and Erin Lichy, a born and bred New Yorker, clearly being primed to be the new Bethenny.
This may not be a new franchise, but because our cast has shifted entirely, the premiere starts a tad shaky, which is typical of any modern Housewives introduction. Gone are the days when we could be eased in slowly, and meet all of these women one by one, with the show winking at it being, well, a show. Now, we must be party to bestie hangout sessions and play dates that serve as our first glimpse of group dynamics. It’s awkward, but it’s a hurdle all new Housewives franchises must clear to settle into a groove.
However, it blessedly only takes 10 minutes into the episode to get the first controversies of the season underway. In the weeks prior to filming, Erin had organized a group dinner for the entire cast at a restaurant in the city. But Sai and Brynn told a last-minute fib that they couldn’t make it, and ditched Erin’s dinner for their own ladies' night out—a lie they incriminated themselves in by posting a picture of them together on Instagram. Erin hypothesizes that her fellow cast members didn’t want to go to the restaurant she picked out, instead opting for the uber-trendy but still timeless New York staple, Casa Cipriani.
There’s just one problem: We do not know what restaurant Brynn and Sai were apparently so perturbed by, and Bravo isn’t telling us. Every time any of the Housewives utter the restaurant’s name during the episode, the editors have not only bleeped the name, but blurred the women’s mouths, so we can’t read their lips. For a snoopy little sleuth like myself, this is extremely frustrating. You may as well burn my apartment building to the ground, that’s the level of joy the producers are stripping from me by redacting this restaurant name. I understand not wanting this eatery’s poor owners to be caught in Housewives crosshairs, but if anything, I’d think this would be great promo. I’d love to try out the place that sent Brynn and Sai into a deceitful panic!
“They were like, ‘I’m so tired,’” Erin said, having coffee in Washington Square Park with Ubah. “Jessel thought they went home, but they went to dinner!” A borough away in Brooklyn, Brynn, Jessel, and Sai were breaking it down on their own. “I didn’t know how to say, ‘I wouldn’t be caught dead at [bleep],’” Brynn told the group. “Wait, it’s not 2006?” Jessel responded, to which Brynn immediately retorted, “No, it’s not 2005!” To cap off her slant, Brynn concluded, “And I’m not a D-List model. Olive Garden is chicer!” In their confessionals, Sai and Brynn also say that the restaurant is good for teenagers, or drunken relatives visiting from Florida.
Being the nosy amateur investigator that I am, I performed an exhaustive search of every new RHONY Housewife’s Instagram account, combing them for evidence. I thought that I could find the photo of Sai and Brynn and cross-reference the date it was posted with the accounts of the other cast members, to hopefully find some location tag on Erin’s account that would reveal this mysterious, apparently awful restaurant.
Either Bravo producers are a little too good at their jobs these days, or the post with Brynn and Sai was a fleeting Instagram story that never made it to the grid. Whatever the case, there is no proof of either dinner on anyone’s feed. We can only speculate from the fighting that occurred throughout the rest of the episode. (For what it’s worth, my bet is on Hearth—which has Italian fusion cuisine and was established in the mid-2000s—since Brynn can be caught speaking a breathy “H” sound before one of the bleeps.)
This kind of fight is exactly what the new RHONY should be: extremely petty—but unquestionably calculated—power moves. It’s a solid way to start off this new era, as the bickering about the restaurant really gives us an insight into each of these ladies’ perspectives. Erin and Ubah agree that it’s not about where you eat, but about the company you’re with; Jessel, Brynn, and Sai feel that where they spend their money is reflective of their own selves. And Jenna? Well, she’s just going with the flow, oscillating between the two warring factions with a glamorous smirk.
There’s an additional squabble in the premiere about a cheese plate. Not only is Erin hurt about the restaurant lie, but she’s still sore from a comment that she thinks Sai made at one of her parties. According to Erin, Sai pointed out a cheese plate in Erin’s home and said, “Cheese? That’s weird.” Meanwhile, Sai (and everyone else who was at Erin’s place that night) maintains that she never said anything of the sort, and stuffed her face with cheese all night. Ubah sums it up best in her confessional when she says, “It’s mind-boggling to me, these girls are fighting about cheese. But I get it, we’re in New York. There’s a lot of rats here.”
By the episode’s end, all the women have made up. It’s a quick conclusion to two overblown fights, but these disputes have efficiently set the scene for the rest of the season. Now, we’ve got a solid handle on how each new Housewife operates, and we can set our expectations accordingly. The drama will quickly escalate, which is exactly what we want from any series in this franchise. That drama will also be so trivial that it would seem inconsequential to the average viewer, but enrage the actual cast members, which is exactly what we want from RHONY.
It’s important to remember that early RHONY saw its cast members fighting about plugging their businesses at arthritis charities and comparing each other to Madonna. The show didn’t come out of the gate with on-camera cheating scandals, drunken stumbles, public intoxication arrests, and rehab stints. It took years to build to those pivotal moments, eventually weaving a tragically beautiful tapestry of the middle-aged socialite. We won’t know if the new era of RHONY can achieve that same stature for a minute, but we can chronicle its steps toward a new future together. So far, we’re off to a good start. Breathe in the melange of weird smells hanging in the New York air, it’s good to be back!