The Real Housewives of New York City, affectionately known as RHONY, is a staple amongst Housewives fans. It’s known for the silliness, directness, and overall cohesiveness of its cast. However, viewers like myself have felt a void for the past few seasons, especially with the current one. The vibe just seems off, and it’s not for one particular reason or cast member. To be frank with you, RHONY has been on the decline for a while. It’s not that the show is necessarily boring, because there wouldn’t be so much social media conversation surrounding it if it were. However, there seems to be something missing with this season, and it’s been subtly happening for some time now. So the question that is on everyone’s mind is, what exactly is wrong with RHONY? Let’s take a deep dive into how the casting, direction of production, and the lack of resolution has put the show in an awkward place.
The cohesiveness of RHONY’s cast is what initially set it apart from other Housewives franchises. At its peak, the core cast members seemed to be an actual friend group, even if they were not necessarily friends before the show. The women would hang out when the cameras went down and when the show was in off-season. They would even grab dinner together after going in on each other at reunion. It made their on-screen chemistry absolutely fantastic and gave us arguably the best seasons of RHONY (7-10). I’ve never watched Sex and the City (and I probably won’t, so please don’t start), but I feel like they gave real-life SATC vibes: women with ambition who know how to have a good time.
And then, there was a shift. While The Real Housewives is supposed to depict women who are part of the same friend group, we know this is not the case anymore, especially for franchises that have been on for years. These women are hired to be friends, and honestly, they show it more and more as the season progresses. There’s no way in hell that the five main cast members on the show would hang out in real life. Ramona, Luann, and Sonja are used to their Upper East Side bubble. Leah and Eboni are used to dealing with women like the other three, but they don’t have enough in common to form a genuine friendship.
In essence, it feels like we’re watching two shows, one about women who like to have fun on the Upper East Side and another about women who have influence on NYC and its culture. They’re both amazing groups of women, but they all give off the vibe that they are contractually obligated to hang out with one another, and that makes for a disastrous season of Housewives. This is why you need that one person who acts incredibly enthusiastic about being there, the person you can tell loves doing the show and will welcome new people to the group. Someone who can be in a room with people from all walks of life and fit right in. The bridge between the veterans and the newbies.
That person was Dorinda. What are we doing here without her? She was the middle ground between Leah and Ramona when they would feud, and she also felt like the glue to the group. Her absence is incredibly felt this season, and Bravo would be out of their minds to not hire her back. Also, we’ve seen everything we could see out of Ramona, Luann, and Sonja. One of them has to go next year. They’ve done a lot for the show, but their stories are not as intriguing as they once were.
You Need Your Narrators
With all of the differences and the drama of any Housewives franchise, you need your narrators. Every city has them. They are usually the ones who come across as the individual(s) with the most common sense and the least amount of delusion. (The keyword here is *least* amount of delusion, as every Housewife has to have to be a little delusional and kooky. That’s why we love them.) But your narrators should also be neutral. During its peak (seasons 5-9), Carole and Bethenny were the narrators. And listen, I’m not a fan of the margarita lady—she runs her mouth about Black women a little too much for my liking. However, I do know that it’s hard to replace her presence on the show. Last season, the network tried to make Dorinda and Leah its narrators, which didn’t work because they were the two most embroiled in drama. This season, it’s setting up Leah and Eboni, which doesn’t work either because their conflicts this season are with the other three women. Their takes are obviously going to be more biased. To fill this void, production should have hired one more Housewife—someone unbiased, witty, and the most “calm” one in the group. Someone like Carole.
Conflicts Aren’t Resolved
Despite what some viewers might think, this isn’t the first time RHONY has tackled serious topics. As Eboni has publicly stated, RHONY has had conversations surrounding divorce, abuse, depression, alcoholism, financial loss, and the process of grieving, to name a few. However, the handling of these conversations is different this time around. In layman’s terms, production and the women made the space for these topics to be covered without awkwardness. They acted sympathetic to each other’s situations and seemed like they cared about what was going on in each other’s personal lives. That is not the case this season. We are watching these conversations unfold without resolution. Obviously, race is always going to be an ongoing conversation, but the way it’s being handled is what makes it hard to digest. It’s created this snowball effect of awkwardness, which then makes the viewing experience uncomfortable. What we used to love about RHONY is that the women would go all the way off on each other and then immediately hug and make up. Now, the “resolutions” we do get feel forced and disingenuous.
Conversations About Race
I feel like Eboni came onto the show wanting the women to understand her on a deeper level, being the only Black woman in their group of white women. She probably wanted the women to take a moment to step outside of their bubble and understand her. Imagine that you were hired as the first Black cast member on an incredibly popular reality show that only featured white women for 12 years straight. The show is set in one of the most diverse cities in our country, and you are filming your first season during one of the most critical elections in modern American history. On top of that, there is a global pandemic and a massive uprising for the rights of Black people. So, there’s going to be pressure. Not just pressure from viewers, but perhaps pressure that you put on yourself.
I don’t blame Eboni for wanting to see where the women stood on political and social issues. As someone who has been the only Black person in spaces such as academia and work, I tend to ask the same type of questions. To some, it’s taboo to talk about serious issues in formal settings, such as dinner parties. However, this isn’t a formal setting. This is The Real Housewives. These women are filming a show where they are paid to be a part of a specific friend group, and these conversations are vital in order for a friendship to start in the first place. The issue is, the women don’t give a f*ck because they’ve never had to experience racism, and therefore they don’t comprehend the severity of the conversations being had. From Luann repeatedly calling Eboni angry, to that god-awful conversation about the election with Ramona, Eboni has been put in a position in which she has to cater to white fragility.
As a Black viewer of the show, I do feel uncomfortable watching these conversations because not only does it look like the burden of having these conversations is placed on Eboni’s shoulders, but they’re also triggering to watch. Having to deal with white people constantly talking down to you in the most passive-aggressive way is overwhelmingly frustrating, mainly because if we are reactionary, we are labeled as “aggressive”. On the flip side, I do think these conversations could be enlightening to white and non-Black POC viewers of the show. This is an actual glimpse of what Black people, Black women in particular, have to deal with in workplaces that are predominantly white.
I’ve seen conversations from white people about how the political issues and social issues discussed are “ruining the show”, and to be honest, it puzzles me. I can understand why Black people might not want to watch such triggering conversations, but I can’t seem to wrap my head around white people blaming Eboni and her willingness to have these conversations for the demise of the show. It seems to me that the fragility that we’ve seen on the show has extended to its audience. When all is said and done, should the blame be on Eboni for the reported decline in ratings, or on the “offended” audience who can’t sit through a few uncomfortable scenes?
RHONY is iconic. You can’t deny the fact that the franchise has a stamp on pop culture. You also can’t deny that this season will probably go down in history as one of the most polarizing seasons in reality TV. I think that for RHONY to get back on track, some things need to happen. The network needs to rehire Dorinda and possibly the margarita lady. The production team needs a clear understanding of what direction they want the season to go in, and they need to give us more of a balance between the serious topics and fun. Finally, the fandom needs to realize that we will never have the glory days of RHONY and a lot of popular Housewife franchises back, and the demise of the show isn’t on one particular person.
Also, give Bershan an apple, she’s incredibly entertaining.
Obviously, a revamp, à la RHOC, can steer the show in the right direction. It’ll give us a refresh that the show desperately needs, while still keeping the overall vibe of RHONY that we love. However, if you are yearning for the glory days of RHONY, binge the old seasons online. Problem solved.
Image: Heidi Gutman / Bravo