Lucille Ball has not come over to say hello and Lady Gaga is indignant. The plastic bubbles affixed to her leotard are threatening to pop, she’s so heated about it.
Britney Spears smooths out the pleather on her red bodysuit as she tries to get Lady Gaga to cool off, but Gaga’s doing that thing she always does when she’s had too many martinis, gesticulating wildly, punctuating each barked threat like a well-manicured Mafioso. Meanwhile, Amelia Earhart and Madonna can be found where they usually are: in the corner grinning, unbothered.
Next thing you know, Diana Ross—or, rather, a white woman in ill-advised Diana Ross blackface—saunters is in, wig blazing. Why haven’t you called me since my divorce, she demands from Amelia Earhart. As for you, Lucy, stop spreading lies about me to the press! It’s already mayhem when Barbie walks in, apologizing that her look has been oversexualized. It turns out two drag queens helped with her makeup: “I’m shocked my tit hasn’t popped out yet!”
The drinks are flowing. They always are when this group of ladies gets together, and many haven’t seen each other all summer. Lady Gaga is stumbling around in a stupor, slurring that Andy Samberg’s costume guy from SNL helped with her outfit. She has another drink, and tells another friend: Adam Sammer’s guy from NSL made it for her. One drink more: Adam Sandler’s thing made her dress.
Lady Gaga is cut off. Bubbles leap to their deaths from her intoxicated body as she exits the party, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs that lead to quite the scene between Barbie and Britney. “I OWN FIVE PROPERTIES AS WE SPEAK!” Barbie bellows at Britney at one point. Affronted, Britney wails. “You’re crucifying me for no reason!!!!”
Before your head steadies from all the spinning, the scene ends. Fade to black on a masterpiece.
This year marks the 10-year anniversary of The Real Housewives of New York City, the second installment of Bravo’s both infamous and indelible reality TV franchise. It’s been a decade in which its existence and value has been parsed, debated, celebrated, condemned, embraced, questioned, and, ultimately, 10 years later, toasted.
A commentary on the ladies who lunch? An exploitation of women craven for fame? A comedy of manners? A sexist fostering of stereotypes? A funhouse-mirror reflection of society? A cautionary tale? A pathetic zoo exhibit? Crass? Drunk? Depraved? Distraction?
The Real Housewives of New York City is all of those things, and it is none of things. It is the best, bar-none, of the Real Housewives franchise. And it is the best reality TV show currently on television.
The scene above—a deranged summit of emotionally brittle pop stars—really happened as described, the climax of Wednesday night’s premiere episode of RHONY. It’s a Halloween party hosted by Dorinda Medley, catchphrase queen and recent breakout star of the franchise.
Despite the dust-ups, the viciousness, the insults, and the victimizing, they’ll all wake up in the morning as if nothing happened. After all, there are luncheons to attend, Berkshire estates to be made nice, handcuffs to be escaped, interventions to stage, and Puerto Rico to be saved.
Whether reality TV is a guilty pleasure, a necessary evil, or genuine entertainment is, by this point—26 years after The Real World premiered, 10 years since Bravo introduced us to the likes of Ramona Singer, Bethenny Frankel, and Luann de Lesseps, and at a time when there are more shows on TV than there are countries in the world—the most tired conversation in pop culture.
Reality TV isn’t just entertaining. It doesn’t just have value. It doesn’t just influence society and culture and even politics in very real and tangible ways. It can also be good. RHONY is crazy, hilarious, moving, honest-to-god good television.
This anniversary season’s cast, which boasts Carole Radziwill, Sonja Morgan, and Tinsley Mortimer in addition to the previously mentioned Medley, Singer, Frankel, and de Lesseps, is the strongest Real Housewives lineup Bravo has. They possess, in their respective ways, varying amounts of reality TV acumen, grace, gracelessness, intelligence, delusion, vindictiveness, compassion, ambition, and alcohol tolerance. Personality-wise, it’s the perfect cocktail. Presumably one to be thrown. (Just kidding. These ladies would never waste alcohol.)
Singer, Frankel, and de Lesseps have been with the series since the first season, albeit the latter two with hiatuses. We have history with them, and they with the public eye. Bethenny Frankel is a cultural touchstone at this point, a business mogul and bonafide media star. De Lesseps is no longer just a fixture of Page Six, but of national gossip headlines following her wild, drunken Christmas Eve arrest, near the anniversary of her doomed marriage to a philanderer.
And the women, most of whom knew each other prior to joining the series, have their own histories and relationships off camera.
If the biggest complaint most of us have about reality television is that so much of it seems manufactured and artificial, this is one in which the tumultuous friendships, if stretched out because of contractual filming obligations, seems rooted in something actually real. Put these women in a cramped Upper East Side lounge, and watch them rip each other’s heads off. Send them all on a trip to Mexico, each with their own IV drips of tequila, and watch them genuinely have the time of their lives.
To that end, the show is incredibly funny.
Is it exasperating how quickly any quote that goes viral from one of these women is immediately merchandised? And is it slightly shallow that, because of this, viewers can transparently see cast members auditioning potential new catchphrases in each episode? Yes, and sure.
But are these phrases hella funny? Do I own a “be cool” mug? Have I used the phrase “I made it nice!” four times since last Sunday? Yes, obviously, and duh. Honestly, milk it for all it’s worth, you entrepreneurial inspirations.
There’s, of course, an absurdity to it all. Judging by the Season 10 trailer, 80 percent of all the fights that will happen this season will occur while the women are drunk and wearing wigs—as should all confrontations in life, really.
Here’s a TV show that depicts the cushy life of socialites. But as they fluff their feathers in a gilded cage, they can’t even be called aspirational, because they’re all such lunatics. Such lunatics, and yet so familiar. Are Real Housewives desperate? Or are they really more like us than we care to admit?
These are women who are grappling with harsh realities. Their intentions might be misread. Their behavior has consequences, and they might not be equipped to deal with the fallout—especially while it’s depicted on national TV. They’re flawed, and mocked for those flaws on-camera by people they know and love. They are judged for their privilege and their narcissism, meanwhile their branding power, image control, and agency is unfairly dismissed.
All that, and they’re maybe changing the world?
Give Bravo credit for devoting the first segment of Wednesday’s premiere to Frankel’s much publicized relief efforts. It’s not played up to make slight work seem important. Frankel is really responsible for getting millions of dollars of aid and supplies to Houston and Puerto Rico, and put boots on the ground there herself.
There’s cheeky genius to the editing of all this, of course. While giving Mortimer and Singer credit for donating to her cause, Frankel also details how much money each of them gave; cattiness by way of charity. I mean, yes, there’s cultural value to this show. But we’d be lying if we said we’re not tuning in because it’s so juicy.
A truly Shakespearean trailer for what’s to come reveals screaming matches, arrests, grappling with alcoholism, and hysteric nudity. All that, and we haven’t even seen a lick of footage from the vacation-from-hell in which their boat caught on fire and started sinking, at least one cast member contracted a parasite, and the whole ordeal was so traumatizing that they reportedly threatened to sue Bravo. The Kardashians could never.
As we were saying: Best reality show on TV.