They Made It Nice
We Need ‘The Real Housewives of New York City’ Now More Than Ever
The best of Bravo’s ladies-who-lunch franchise returns Wednesday night with the most compelling case yet for why it deserves your attention in this post-Trump world.
There is so much good television right now. One might say there is too much. And yet among the glut of excellence, there is only one show of which I will never miss an episode. One show that I implore all who ask to watch, too.
The greatest show on TV is The Real Housewives of New York City.
Sure, I may be exaggerating the truth a bit for dramatic effect—my girls at Beautique have taught me well.
But there is such great entertainment value to this show that it would be imprudent to ignore it in this conversation of #PeakTV, which has extended to demand greatness and precision from reality television just as it does from scripted fare.
But Tom and Luann are still going forward with their wedding even though Bethenny found proof that he cheated, and Ramona refuses to let it go—a now two season-long story line that still plays out mostly in flashbacks of Bethenny quivering while Luann murmurs “no” over and over again.
It will never not be the most engrossing plot on television.
The Real Housewives of New York City is not a guilty pleasure. It’s a necessary pleasure.
It is disturbing and hysterical—both emotionally and comedically. It is meticulously edited to ensure maximum and even casual enjoyment. It is commentary and it is exploitation. It is political and it begs judgment. It is nonsense and it is harrowingly resonant.
I will never be like these women and I am all these women. It is my lifeblood.
In the maelstrom of our current world, Bethenny, Dorinda, and the gang are just trying to make it nice.
By doing so, and even with the amount of ire they incite from those who decry their mere existence as the dissolution of culture, RHONY—in my opinion the strongest of the Housewives franchise—both breeds and shames our worst tendencies, while making the occasional call for compassion and flipping tables at retrograde misogyny. It’s also hella fun.
Wednesday night’s premiere opens with a trailer for the upcoming ninth season of the show. A boozy Ramona Singer and loopy Sonja Morgan slur over whether the proper adjective is “momentous” or “momentum,” ultimately settling on “monumental, like New York City!”
There is crying over Hillary Clinton’s loss.
The girls travel to some exotic-looking beach vacation, during which Bethenny skinny dips. “Would you accept your daughter behaving this way?” Bethenny asks Sonja. “Oh god, no. My daughter would never act like us.”
Cue a supercut of screaming, crying, laughing, drinking, and incessant dancing while on the verge of completely falling over. Enter recent-seasons breakout star Dorinda Medley: “I’ll tell you how I’m doing: Not well, bitch!”
The trailer at once seems to tease a soap opera, an anthropological dissection of society women, a girls-just-wanna-have-fun spring break comedy, and a horror thriller. The Real Housewives of New York City is very much all of these things.
This year’s cast is an all-star lineup of stalwarts, boasting the returns of Ramona Singer, Sonja Morgan, Bethenny Frankel, Luann De Lesseps, Carole Radziwill, and Dorinda Medley. Former New York society queen Tinsley Mortimer makes her debut in episode two, but we question how she’ll jibe the already-perfect formula of endearing lunacy, reality TV acumen, erudition, delusion, self-awareness, and self-aware conniving.
The difference between RHONY and other installments in the franchise—not to mention the dozens of rip-offs—is that, sure, like most Housewives casts, they don’t necessarily like each other and aren’t, generally speaking, “real world” friends. But they seem to find each other genuinely entertaining, even when they are in the midst of fights and betrayals, manufactured or otherwise.
Plus, they use the word “lover” more frequently than any human beings alive, and that is just a hoot.
The season opens very much the satire of New York entitlement and these women’s outsized personalities that the show’s always been.
Ramona welcomes her new apartment contractor while wearing a pink negligee and a face mask. Sonja is putting her vibrator in the dishwasher. Bethenny is meeting with real estate Bravolebrity Fredrik Eklund about selling her sprawling 4-bedroom Tribeca apartment.
Eklund wants to list the apartment at $6.75 million. Frankel thinks it’s worth $6.995. It comes with a parking spot, after all. That’s worth at least half-a-million dollars, she says. [Not-so-spoiler: It sells in less than a day at the full asking price with an all-cash offer.]
What privilege means and how it manifests itself in a culture trained to have a heightened awareness of how such things are displayed, downplayed, owned proudly, and/or flaunted has always made for the best Real Housewives segments. It’s alternatively escapist, taunting, and shameful.
Bethenny tells us she is a partner and supporter of the charity Dress for Success, and then she visits Sonja, who is donating some of her designer clothes to the cause.
Each Gucci, Bob Mackie, and Valentino piece has a story, and the two joke about what use thousand-dollar “yacht jeans” will be to underprivileged women who need professional attire. It’s both tone-deaf and cognizant in a way that is deplorable but also very funny, which is telling about the complicated way we all deal with guilt and privilege.
Incidentally, I would watch a three-hour film of Sonja going through the clothes in her closet.
But, like all things in today’s in age, even Real Housewives of New York City is about Donald Trump.
The first scenes of the season take place roughly 20 days before the election. Carole is in such an election-obsessed state of mind that it worries Bethenny.
There’s something tragic, in a way that only something like a reality TV series can truly document, in listening to Carole go on about her theories that, “Obviously she [Hillary Clinton] wins because he’s [Donald Trump] a buffoon…obviously she wins in a landslide.” We’ll also apparently see each of the cast’s reactions to watching the results pour in on election night.
The gilded cage these ladies who lunch reside in is more of a liberal bubble. The series should offer an intriguing look at what happens when, through a historic election, that cage gets tarnished—the bubble is popped. It’s a reminder, perhaps to the viewer as much as the cast, that the world of Real Housewives, in all of its ridiculousness, exists in the real world.
But more than that, these are wealthy white women, the very demographic that many believe decided, against many of their own interests, to vote for Donald Trump, tipping the election in his favor. Sure, Carole wears her Hillary support like the season’s hottest handbag, but other Housewives, like Luann—who caught the ire of her gay fans after she was spotted dining at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago compound—have declined to publicly say who they voted for.
There’s a lot of pinot grigio and pettiness in RHONY. But there’s also a fascinating look at behavior and consequences, albeit through these blown-out, bedazzled, and typically sloshed avatars.
When I spoke to Carole Radziwill last year, it was the height of the Republican primary debates, and she talked about how it related to her cast’s behavior on her show: “I must say, having watched the Republican primary this season, I feel like you know what? We’re OK. These grown men are talking about their penis size and who has the prettier wife. It’s pathetic. Oh my gosh. The debates? That’s a Housewife reunion.”
Whether you appreciate that the rise of the kind of entertainment that happens on reality television has consumed, with extreme result, the rest of politics and culture, it’s still intriguing to watch the series that predicated it all.
But it’s not just politics. It’s our culture at large, and how we look at and view women—particularly society women.
The women of Real Housewives are often judged for their privilege and their powerlessness, viewed as pawns for entertainment and slaves to petty rivalries that threaten to consume them. Their lives, based on this, are viewed as insignificant, or desperate—like a desire for social standing and status is meaningless.
But these housewives aren’t technically housewives. At the start of the season, none are married.
They are entrepreneurs, and extremely powerful. They are celebrities in their own right, and brand ambassadors for themselves. They both have plenty going on outside of this show and a life that relies on the show for its relevance. Their images are controlled to the point that even their lack of vanity is a purposeful decision. (At one point in the premiere, Bethenny asks her driver, “Do I have soup all over my face or no?” before walking into a meeting.)
As real-life, politics, reality TV, fact, and fiction blend into this rancid smoothie that is American Culture Right Now, these women emerge, somehow, as the characters—excuse me, people—that most represent those disparate things, and also best primed to entertain the rest of us.
There’s a history of sexism when it comes to judging the Real Housewives series and their fans. Some of the most educated and intelligent people I know love it. It is a comedy of manners. It is a study of narcissism. There are subtleties that are the most satisfying to watch and enjoy and laugh at the absurdity of, if you have social intelligence.
So watch the Real Housewives of New York City. Don’t be all…like, uncool.