Netflix’s new docuseries Murder Among the Mormons details a very bizarre investigation into three bombings that shocked Salt Lake City in the 1980s. Forged documents threatening to collapse the Mormon faith didn’t initially sound sinister enough for my taste, but they got me at “salamander.” I like to think that I can handle myself after a true crime doc, but after Crime Scene: The Vanishing At The Cecil Hotel, I couldn’t drink tap water for a week. Happily, Murder Among the Mormons left a different taste in my mouth. After three episodes of gothic cathedrals, fall foliage, and serene mountain vistas, I couldn’t help but wonder… should I… become Mormon? And scarier, would they even want me? Could I sacrifice my integrity for a 1950s husband that actually encourages me to stay home? And is relocating to Utah the exact answer to escalating housing prices and smog-filled hikes I’ve been looking for? (lol at pretending I hike). There were more than a few fun twists throughout the series—like encountering the sultry, soft whisper of who can only be described as the real-life Mr. Peanut Man. However, considering moving to Pleasantville and tossing away every feminist T-shirt in my dresser was not the outcome I expected. Netflix’s Dream Home Makeover certainly makes finding a mansion for $15 feel feasible. I could get used to an entire house of white built-ins, right? After all, The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City makes Mormonism feel more like a Girl Scout Badge than an actual belief system. Dare I say….it might be worth it?
That said, considering joining the Mormons wasn’t the only unexpected takeaway. Never before have I watched a crime doc in which every single man frighteningly looks like they just got cut from the Santa Claus mall auditions. (White hair. Very white skin. And a puffiness that only milk and cookies can bring.) I finished the doc dreaming of sugarplum fairies. Murder Among the Mormons clearly offers a lot in terms of entertainment and thought-provoking meditation. So, let’s dive into some other subjects the Mormons might have you considering, second to a career in forgery.
Hear me out—evolution is real and great. However, several moments throughout the series they ask you to picture a childhood where dinosaur books are banned. My answer to that: please! The trauma of watching The Land Before Time cannot be underscored enough. The startling death of Little Foot’s parents will haunt my generation for years to come. Can we all agree dinosaurs are to blame for millennials feeling like there’s no use in saving for a future? It’s not not true.
Bring Back The Pussy Bow
If Blanche Devereaux taught me anything, it’s that anyone can pull off a shoulder pad with the right amount of swagger. There is a plethora of mod sweater vests, oversized Princess Diana-esque sweatshirts, and matching plaid suits decorating the series. Yet, nothing shines brighter than the women of Salt Lake City fully rocking the lost art of the pussy bow blouse. Maybe I’ve been in sweatpants too long…but the large, floppy silk bow ties look chic as hell. Full stan!
It’s Time to Buy A Drill
Mark Hofmann is not your typical murder show bad guy. This is a man who told his wife he wanted to go into “the document business,” which I’m pretty sure was my improvised answer when the college counselor asked for my future plans. Still, he was able to construct a pipe bomb before the days of Google. I have to say, unless Amazon starts to ship dynamite, I can’t imagine most millennials being able to do this. Which got me thinking… it’s time to learn how to work a drill. I’ve Allen wrenched enough IKEA bookshelves to furnish the entirety of the LDS Church. Yet, I have no actual construction skills. It’s 2021, damnit. It’s high time I stop relying on ex-Mormon friends (they exist!) to hang my shelves. Going to a hardware store tomorrow!
The Importance of Your Quarantine Lewk
Midway through the series, they begin to describe the suspect as the man “in a green letterman jacket.” They repeat this so many times I start sweating thinking of how I might be described once the LAPD starts taking parking tickets seriously. Horrifying descriptions like: “the girl in the ripped pajamas,” “the girl wearing 2008 Ugg boots,” and worst of all, “the girl in the Twilight hoodie,” have mortified me into entirely rethinking what I’m sporting to walk my dog at midnight. You just never know.
The No-Global-Warming Aesthetic
Growing up in the heat of Texas, I never fathomed it was possible to sprout real-life evergreens in the front yard. And yet, so many LDS houses are tucked into cocoons of magical forest and the lushest green grass you’ve ever seen. There are clearly no water restrictions in Salt Lake. Turns out living in a small town where climate change isn’t real means Douglas Firs can grow in place of house plants and sad succulents. Is Utah maybe the North Pole, but like, with a few dead bodies here and there? It’s worth a visit.
Don’t Cheap Out
If you’re gonna pay someone to do something sketchy for you, make sure you pay in full. After the FBI hits a dead end, the case springs back open when a man working at the printing press finally names the culprit. His reason for snitching? Mark was “a couple of bucks short.” Enough said. Keep your friends close and pay the people that matter most—like your neighborhood hitmen and Postmates drivers!
We’re All Lazy, Even The FBI
I have to say, the most inspiring realization watching Murder Among The Mormons is that anyone can have a bad day at work and choose to give up. The FBI, as in the very official United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, did such a rush job authenticating the forged documents that it clearly must have been Monday night and everyone in D.C. needed to get home to watch The Bachelor. It’s comforting to know that even the FBI decides to phone it in every once in a while. So basically, give yourself another sick day! You’re only human!
All assassinations considered, Murder Among The Mormons is as comforting as true crime can get. It’s not going to get your heart racing, but 80s fashion, cute wraparound wooden decks, and 10 minutes discussing the minutiae of cracked ink will leave you feeling wistful. I’m reminded of the days of Mary-Kate and Ashley using invisible ink to send important messages to each other like: can you read this? In a world of cults, pedophilia, and serial killers, something as simple as forgery is a nice palate cleanser. Somehow, after watching three bombs detonate a city, I feel oddly…motivated. Do I truly want to sign up for a religion that celebrates racism and misogyny? No. Do I actually want to live in a land of MAGA hats and blonde extensions? Hells no. But being able to fall asleep dreaming of affordable housing after the high of binging a murder show feels pretty damn good to me. Cue the SNL song—this is as good as it gets.
Imags: Courtesy of Netflix © 2021 (2); Netflix
In a television landscape where most shows never make it to a second season, the success of the Real Housewives franchise is nothing short of remarkable. What began 15 years ago as a sort of half-baked ploy to capitalize on the popularity of ABC’s Desperate Housewives has ballooned into a sprawling TV empire complete with thousands of episodes, numerous spin-offs, and more than a dozen international franchises. The women who have starred on the shows have used them as launchpads for countless business ventures ranging from tequila and shoes to pink dog food and a very elusive toaster oven.
But while the Housewives franchise is an undeniable, genre-defining success, it’s hard not to wonder what the future will look like. With its five longstanding flagship properties—Orange County, New York City, Atlanta, New Jersey, and Beverly Hills—all past the 10-season mark, each facing varying degrees of growing pains in recent years, it’s become an unavoidable line of questioning: what’s next? Where do we go from here? Are we nearing the end of Real Housewives?
In a word, no, I don’t think so. Despite RHOC’s much-maligned recent 15th season, and a slew of major cast departures in the last two years, these shows are still generally consistent performers in the ratings, and the brand identity they’ve helped to build for Bravo is arguably even more valuable than actual viewer numbers. But there’s another key reason I see Housewives continuing to thrive when I look into my crystal ball for the new decade: Salt Lake City.
When Andy Cohen first revealed the location of the newest Real Housewives installment at 2019’s BravoCon, the reaction was one of excitement tinged with confusion. To many people, the idea of Utah was synonymous with modesty and sobriety—two concepts that seemed fundamentally at odds with the time-honored Housewives traditions of getting drunk and starting fights. But from the moment the first teasers for The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City arrived last fall, we knew our fears were unwarranted. The women of RHOSLC—most of whom are not members of the LDS church—have no problem getting drunk and starting fights, and their 13-episode first season has been not only a rollercoaster of drama and shifting group dynamics, but a template for what housewives can be.
On any reality show, casting is key, and I could talk about the RHOSLC cast for days. First, and most importantly, these women actually know each other. Heather Gay and Whitney Rose are cousins. Heather and Lisa Barlow went to college together (though Lisa may not remember). Lisa and Meredith Marks go way back, with the throwback photos to prove it. The perfect Housewives cast shouldn’t be six best friends (we need drama, duh), but we can at least believe that this group of women might be at the same party, whether cameras showed up or not. We’ve seen plenty of drama onscreen, but there’s always the feeling that something deeper is simmering under the surface—is Jen Shah really that upset about Mary’s “hospital smell” comment, or is it a metaphor for something they don’t even want on camera? This tension raises the stakes for everyone involved, including the viewers.
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Besides seeking out complex interpersonal dynamics, another key element of casting is diversity, and not just in the box-ticking, “I guess it’s time” way that we’ve seen in recent seasons on other reality shows. RHOSLC is one of the most well-rounded, truly diverse casts we’ve seen on Bravo, with a variety of racial, cultural, and religious backgrounds represented. With Salt Lake City’s deep ties to Mormonism, the religious aspect is especially interesting. Religion has rarely been a major topic on Real Housewives, but with current Mormons, ex-Mormons, a Jew, a Muslim, and a Pentecostal First Lady in the cast, the RHOSLC producers have done an excellent job of exploring these dynamics, without derailing what we already love about these shows.
Whether or not you feel RHOSLC’s first season lived up to the considerable hype, there’s no denying that its success, and that of 2016’s The Real Housewives of Potomac, has opened up a new world of possibilities in the Real Housewives universe. It makes sense that big cities were the early focus, but these mid-size cities and suburban locales have just as much money and personality, with the added opportunity to bring the viewers something new. In the past year, Bravo has aired seven different shows centered in greater Los Angeles, but Salt Lake City is one of a kind, and that mountain air is FRESH.
Rumors abound that Bravo plans to revive its long-dormant Miami Housewives franchise this year, but beyond that, it feels like there are more choices than ever for where the empire could go next. As a St. Louis native, I’ve always seen the potential in my hometown, with its historic roots and a major old money vs. new money divide. Popular ideas online include Boston, Las Vegas, and Nashville, but RHOSLC has shown us that there can be diamonds (or snowflakes, rather) in the rough where you least expect them.
Andy Cohen, the godfather of the Real Housewives empire, was quick to deem RHOSLC a hit, and on the heels of its season finale, it was officially renewed for a second season. With a three-part reunion—a rarity for a first-season show—beginning this week, it’s clear that Bravo sees the value in the mountains of Utah, and hopefully this success story will fuel creativity and originality within the Real Housewives franchise in years to come.
Images: Fred Hayes/Bravo; bravobybetches / Instagram; Giphy