In a Dubai hotel suite in more luxurious and sprawling than actual castles, six women bicker about the schedule of a chronically ill woman.
In a Jamaican resort, a grown woman berates another for being passed over for a job opportunity.
In a beach house in Maryland, one woman insults another for allowing her husband and owner of the house to stay the night during a “girl’s weekend.”
These incidents of cringe-worthy pettiness have all taken place on various editions of Bravo’s The Real Housewives’ series--Beverly Hills, Atlanta and Potomac, respectively. If what used to make for addictive, live-tweetable television now feels like an exasperating, brain cell killing waste of time, you may have Housewives Fatigue.
A decade ago, the flagship The Real Housewives of Orange County set sail, detailing the ridiculous and complicated lives of rich, self-involved housewives, and not only launched Bravo from the network that aired Inside The Actors Studio and Queer Eye For The Straight Guy to a staple for more sophisticated guilty pleasure television; but it also made executive producer Andy Cohen a household name and expanded the money-making power of reality stardom.
Bravo’s intrepid camera crews and dedicated audiences have helped New York City’s Bethenny Frankel build her bajillion-dollar Skinny Girl empire; NeNe Leakes create a varied and historic acting resume with stints on Glee, The New Normal, and Broadway’s Cinderella, and launched clothingline; and the Grammy-winning singer/producer, Kandi Burruss, launch her uber-successful line of adult toys.
Like millions of others, I've enjoyed the drama of nasty arguments in inappropriate yet chic locations, the disastrous dinner parties, the awesome one-liners and the failed business ventures over the years. The housewives’ popularity is now so woven into pop culture that even Beyonce Knowles isn’t immune of the catchphrases. She references “twirl on my haters” in her newest song, “Formation”—a reference to Atlanta’s Kenya Moore’s infamous one.
But as Bravo prepares to expand the Housewives brand with its ninth American iteration in Dallas, I find myself suffering from a debilitating case Housewives Fatigue that no amount of Pinot Grigio or hate-tweeting can cure.
The symptoms began during this season of Beverly Hills when, in the struggle to find a juicy storyline—these women who are arguably the richest and most connected of all the franchises—began to question the validity of Yolanda Hadid’s (formerly Yolanda Foster) battle against Neurological Lyme Disease. And it all happened immediately after Brooks--OC's Vicki Gunvulson’s boyfriend—was outed for fabricating his cancer diagnosis. When Yolanda managed to peel herself out of her sickbed to attend Lisa Rinna’s birthday dinner, the women were more flabbergasted that she wasn’t wearing any make-up than happy to see her socializing.
Things took a turn for the worse when Potomac, Bravo’s newest spin-off, debuted in January featuring a squad of murkily married and divorced women who simultaneously preached about their class and pedigrees only to attack each other over the pettiest infractions like seating arrangements at a birthday dinner, a longtime friend going into a bedroom unannounced, and the aforementioned man spending the last hours of a girl's weekend in his own home because they might be seen in skimpy outfits. Robes, common sense and kindness, apparently don’t exist in Potomac, Maryland.
Housewives Fatigue was inevitable. Not only has Bravo nearly saturated the market with shows in America (though I’ve abandoned all hope for a Chicago series) and abroad, after a decade, newest castmates know what fans respond to, and are armed with the shadiest of tendencies, catchphrases and business plans before the cameras even start rolling. It’s an effective way to kickstart drama and an influx of cash, but it also takes the real out of reality TV.
In today’s incendiary times, Housewives isn’t the escapist television it once was. Watching wealthy women squabble and throw shade and prosthetic limbs over revoked party invites, miscommunications and lies can be infuriating in light of Captial-I Issues, like police brutality or the attack on women’s rights, especially when those issues are rarely addressed on the show. Save for Atlanta, which openly and sometimes problematically discusses racism, police brutality and the tragic overuse of a good beat, the rest of the shows feel insulated from our current times.
It also doesn’t help when the housewives and their husbands are creating the headlines, mostly for breaking the law. There have been many housewife and housewife-adjacent arrests, most notably with New Jersey’s Teresa Giudice and her husband, Joe, facing extensive prison time in federal prison for bankruptcy fraud. The reality gods couldn't even cook this deliciously ironic turn of fate: Joe, who reported to a federal prison in Fort Dix in late March, is actually housed in the same facility as Phaedra Park’s husband, Apollo Nida, who was convicted of fraud charges last year.
So how do you cure Housewives Fatigue? Dr. SSG prescribes the following: Shake-up in casting and diversity. The once topical and groundbreaking franchise has yet to feature a gay housewife, and the shows also confusingly segregated. New York City and Beverly Hills features all white women, despite being set in two of the most ethnically diverse cities in the country, #HousewivesSoWhite.
Bring back the fun. The drama draws eyeballs to the screens and tweets to the hashtags but it needs to be tempered with hilarity and ridiculousness like it once was. Who could forget the uber-posh Lisa Vanderpump getting her ample bum stuck as she tried to climb over a balcony in Hawaii? Or the sheer insanity of Heather's Dubrow's groundbreaking party replete with cowboy theme and a tearjerking speech? If I was breaking ground on a 17,000 sq. foot house, I’d cry too.
Leave us wanting more. Fans hailed the return of Bethenny Frankel in the seventh season of New York City. After an ongoing and messy divorce, the once dynamic businesswoman with the hair-trigger wit was now a rude, overbearing wreck who often (and understandably) ugly-cried at the drop of a Jimmy Choo. Add her into the other neurotic nutbags of New York—namely Sonja Morgan and Ramon Singer—and regular viewings ramped up my blood pressure and my blood alcohol, but it did offer a brief and massive spike in ratings. Scaling back long-running castmates from Housewife to Friend status for a season or two would leave longtime viewers wanting more and keep the wives fresh for whatever the next season throws at them. Or it could possibly tempt the thirstiest of wives to act a damn fool when they do get screen time. Either way, it would make for good TV.
Original peach NeNe Leakes took an extended leave from the eighth season of RHOA but returned for a few episodes near the end rejuvenated and full of spot-on shade without bulldozing everyone with negativity.
If the symptoms progress, you could always just stop watching, but that aggressive course of treatment is only for the most dire cases.
Photo Credits: bravotv.com; usmagazine.com; people.com
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Small Screen Girl
I am an unabashed pop culture and TV-aholic with no plans to ever seek treatment. Explore this blog and see just how deep my obsession goes.