It would be an understatement to say that Galentine’s Day is a big deal in my friend group. It’s a day to celebrate friendships, new and old, without the overbearing presence of cis-heteroxual male energy. It’s a day to turn an absolute look, because you cannot spell “lifelong friendships’”without “photo shoot.” And it’s a day to drink prosecco. So much prosecco. Scholars and theorists alike might even say too much prosecco. Galentine’s Day is always one of my favorite days of the year, but when I think of Galentine’s Day 2020, it can be characterized by one defining moment: the day my friend Danny and I reached peaked anti-social status, and left mid-party to start watching The Real Housewives of Potomac. (Also, it’s the day I discovered what a ring light is, and that I firmly believe that access to free health care and an affordable ring light are basic human rights).
If you’re like me, The Real Housewives are your lifeblood: you breathe Herman Munster Louis Vuitton; you bleed SHE by Shereé Joggers (release date: tbd). You would never accept a stuffed bunny for your grandson unless it had the right energy. You meet the knowledge of someone being engaged 19 times with the flip of a table. You know every franchise inside and out, which means you also know there is currently an opening for the best Real Housewives franchise.
It’s an unfortunate, yet known fact that previous Real Housewives front runners are, frankly, losing their elite status. New York is currently in a transition period, still trying to find its footing without Bethenny, while our usual favorites (Dorinda, Ramona, Sonja) are growing less and less lovable. Beverly Hills is begging for plotlines—making an entire season not even about an actual threesome, but the mere discussion of hypothetical threesomes, and bringing back Brandi Glanville in what can only be described as an act of desperation. Atlanta is a close front runner, but current speculations of a future without NeNe Leakes create an air of uncertainty surrounding the strength of the franchise. This all leaves the perfect opening for The Real Housewives of Potomac to take its rightful spot as the supreme Real Housewives franchise.
As we watched in our too-much-prosecco hazed state in the aftermath of Galentine’s Day, my friend and I immediately realized that The Real Housewives of Potomac wasn’t like any other franchise—and that’s what made it so hard to look away. While all of the ladies of Potomac are Black women, their lives are diverse in ways that make for excellent TV. Of course you have the women who are uber rich, with mansions galore and glam-squads at the ready (Karen, Monique, Katie), but you also have women who are just, dare I say, middle class—they’re doing well, but also have to go to work to pay the mortgage, and in some cases, the rent (Robyn, Gizelle). You have women in happy marriages to lifelong sweethearts, and you have women who are divorced, dating, and thriving—and you have one woman who is divorced from, but still living and sharing a bed with, said lifelong sweetheart. The women of Potomac also widely vary in age, with Karen Huger, the self-proclaimed Grand Dame, who began her Housewives tenure at the age of 52, and Ashley Darby, who made Housewives history as the youngest Housewife at the age of 27.
Potomac is also different from any other franchise because it takes place in, well, Potomac. Andy Cohen is known for giving us inside looks into the lifestyles of the rich and famous with women reigning from notable, big-named cities like Beverly Hills, New York, and even Dallas. But, he took a sharp left turn in choosing to establish a franchise in a place like Potomac, a small town in Maryland that, while boasted as one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the country, very few people could place on map. In short, I will boldly claim that The Real Housewives of Potomac reinvents the wheel and challenges what it means to be a Real Housewives franchise in new, exciting, and unique ways.
That’s not at all to say, however, that Potomac doesn’t know how to deliver classic, Housewives-defining elements that every franchise is required, by Bravo law, to possess. You have your overbearing mother (à la Atlanta’s Mama Joyce and New York’s Dale) in Candiace’s mom, Ms. Dorothy, who never provides a dull moment in being both a therapist but also someone who hits her daughter with her purse at social events. You have sightings from random celebrities you have not thought about in years (à la Fetty Wap in New Jersey) in Macy Gray, when she appears in season 4 to teach Karen’s daughter, Rayvin, how to sing. And of course, you cannot have real Real Housewives drama without the husbands getting involved. Much like PK and Ken in Beverly Hills, and the New Jersey Joes, the husbands of Potomac also reluctantly become roped into plotlines, most notably with “Did Michael Touch That Man’s Butt-gate”—a fascinatingly complicated plotline that transcends season lines.
One of my favorite Housewives tropes is the classic power struggle between the queens of the franchises: Teresa Giudice and Melissa Gorga, Lisa Vanderpump and Kyle Richards, Jill Zarin and Bethenny Frankel. Potomac follows suit with the constant back-and-forth between Karen Huger and Gizelle Bryant. These women have a unique friendship, in that Gizelle’s achilles heel is not being able to recognize when she’s wrong, and Karen’s achilles heel is only being able to recognize when Gizelle is wrong. The women begin their tussle early on in season 1, and the cycle of “fight, no apology, fight, bad apology, fight, real apology” has, without fail, occurred every season since. However, what sets Karen and Gizelle’s friendship apart from other franchises is that it’s clear that there is genuine respect and love between them. We learn that the two have been friends for years, far preceding the Real Housewives cameras—and that is apparent. Yes, Gizelle hits below the belt when she wears a T-shirt that says “#FreeKarenHuger #TaxReform,” after Karen and her husband’s tax debts come to light, but she is also the first one to wipe away Karen’s tears when she breaks down at the season 3 reunion after the deaths of her parents. The ladies fight hard and love hard, a prime example of how Potomac gives you classic Housewives, while also pushing and redefining the Housewives narrative.
Past seasons have been nail-bitingly thrilling, but season 5 is where I expect The Real Housewives of Potomac to really come into their own, and secure the currently empty slot of best Real Housewives franchise. The season 5 trailer gives us broken wine glasses, the introduction of a new Housewife, and wigs both good and bad. But, I’m most excited to see how the fifth season of Potomac will handle and discuss our current social climate as it pertains to race. It is true—we are living in unprecedented times, and the culture we consume, especially culture that is centered upon the lives of seven black women, should reflect that. Simply going based off Instagram posts, the women of most other franchises (except, you guessed it, Atlanta) have missed the mark incredibly when it comes to the anti-racism discussion. But the ladies of Potomac have never been strangers to the discussion of race on the show, from season 1 when Robyn and Gizelle cling tightly and proudly to their blackness, despite the lighter hues of their skin, to season 4 when Gizelle hosts a trip to New Orleans and the women emotionally tour a slave plantation. I’m excited and optimistic to see how the ladies of Potomac approach the current racial movement and show the women of other franchises that posting a black square to the grid, or simply ignoring the movement entirely, simply ain’t it.
I was asked the other day who my favorite housewife was on Potomac, and I didn’t have a clear answer. Not because there are not personalities with a capital P within the franchise, but because these women are all connected, a cohort of women who pristinely works off each other to serve the plotline. You can’t have Ashley without Monique and Karen; you can’t have Robyn without Gizelle; you can’t have Candiace without her mom paying half the mortgage. The Real Housewives of Potomac is storyline-driven, which I think is where their lasting power lies. I simply cannot wait to see these women sweep the #1 Real Housewives spot with the premiere of their fifth season.
If you love RHOP, check out our video with Ashley Darby:
Photo by: Sophy Holland/Bravo
The ladies of The Real Housewives are the gifts that keep on giving. I love the franchise because it’s a space where women are not only allowed, but encouraged, to be unabashedly themselves. Many are quick to dismiss the show as frivolous and superficial, but for me and my fellow Bravoholics it’s a fascinating sociological study on what it means to be a woman in today’s world. This inevitably gives us a glimpse into the men our gals choose, and more often than not, the results are pure, unadulterated trash not pretty. Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I ventured into the deepest, darkest depths of House Husband Hell and compiled a list of the most garbage men to grace our screens over the years.
9. Bill Aydin
Bill is a relatively new addition to The Real Housewives of New Jersey, but he immediately made an impression with his condescending attitude towards his wife, Jennifer, and insistence that she stay at home with their children at all times. Jennifer memorably had to ask Bill for permission to go on a “girls’ trip” (in other words, do her job), a request that displeased her controlling traditional husband. This should end well.
8. Brooks Ayers
While not technically a husband (despite Vicki’s numerous attempts to make him fill her love tank), Brooks may as well have been one with the amount of screen time he took up during his tenure on The Real Housewives of Orange County. He immediately pinged fans’ creep radars when Vicki’s daughter Briana recounted that he sexually harassed her while she was pregnant. Brooks really cemented his status as the Dirty John of Bravo when it came out in season 10 that he perpetrated a cancer scam that Vicki was definitely *not* in on. Just thinking about him makes me want to take several showers.
7. Michael Darby
Ashley’s marriage to Michael was shaky even in the earlier seasons of The Real Housewives of Potomac, with the two arguing over their fledgling restaurant and having children together, culminating in a separation just two years ago. Unfortunately, Michael is looking even worse this season with allegations that he sexually assaulted a cameraman on the show. Despite the charges being dropped, more allegations persist. And now he and Ashley have a baby together, which won’t complicate things at all.
6. Jim Edmonds
This marriage always seemed suspect to me, not only because it was lucky number three for Jimbo, but also because he appeared completely and utterly checked out in every interaction with his wife. His abandonment of Meghan during her painful IVF treatments was particularly damning. Just when it seemed he couldn’t be more awful, news broke earlier this year about Jim’s involvement in a nude text message scandal in which, among other things, he was sexting a woman while Meghan was about to give birth to their twins. Inexplicably, they are still together.
My advice to Meghan:
5. Shane Simpson
There’s no way around it: Shane sucks. This human embodiment of the word “twerp,” as he was brilliantly called by castmate and certified genius Kelly Dodd, has been a walking wet blanket since his debut last season on The Real Housewives of Orange County. He threw Gina out of his home last season for being too loud during a party and proceeded to handle the aftermath with the same grace as a whiny toddler who’s been denied his binky. Shane has done nothing to redeem himself this season and can’t be bothered to hide his disdain snark in every scene with Emily, even going so far as to leave his family at home to escape to a hotel under the guise of “studying for the bar” (which he failed, btw). Instead of being grateful to his wife for singlehandedly taking care of their children and throwing a party for his parents in his absence, he snaps at her for disturbing him. Emily can do so much better.
4. Jason Hoppy
This is where the list really starts getting dark. Like many serial killers eligible men, Jason initially seemed like the dream guy Bethenny had been searching for her entire life. He supported her dreams and together they started the family she always wanted. For a while, it looked like Bethenny really did have it all. But cracks started to show in her spin-off Bethenny Ever After and it quickly became clear that Jason had a dark side he’d been hiding from the viewers. Once Bethenny filed for divorce, Jason fully unleashed his crazy by refusing to leave their apartment, threatening her, and bad-mouthing her to their daughter. Yikes.
3. David Beador
Seeing old footage of David Beador and his White Walker eyes still sends a chill down my spine. Shannon was completely humiliated when she revealed during season 10 of The Real Housewives of Orange County that David had a long-term affair. Though the pair did try to work through their problems, David’s attempts to reconcile always seemed forced and inauthentic. During season 11, Vicki alleged that David was physically abusive towards Shannon during their marriage. Though both David and Shannon denied any physical abuse, David was arrested for domestic battery years earlier. The stress of the allegations led Shannon to gain 40 pounds, and instead of supporting his wife during this difficult time, David began aggressively working out as if to mock her and would eat in front of her in a way that can only be described as hostile. Thankfully, Shannon divorced him.
2. Jim Marchese
Until I began preparing this list, I had somehow forgotten that this O.T. (Original Twerp) ever existed. Jim was hated by just about every cast member during his mercifully short run on The Real Housewives of New Jersey for getting in the women’s faces repeatedly like a rabid dog on crack and saying unspeakable things about his castmates. Jim has continued to reach new lows after his stint on the show. He revealed during his appearance with Amber on Marriage Bootcamp that he blamed her for getting cancer, was arrested shortly thereafter for felony domestic violence against Amber and, most recently, has been accused by his own son of refusing to continue paying his college tuition because he is gay. What a mensch.
1. Joe Giudice
It admittedly doesn’t get much worse than Jim Marchese, but Juicy Joe still reigns supreme as the worst of the worst husbands. The repeated rumors of infidelity were bad enough. Who could forget that uncomfortable scene where he was caught on camera talking to his mistress one of his workers and referring to Teresa as “my bitch wife” and a “c*nt”? But Joe cemented his status on this list by committing fraud and implicating Teresa, causing her to serve time in prison and miss out on valuable time with her mother, who died less than two years after her release. It’s unforgivable, but it does look like karma is coming for Joe and he’s probably getting deported.
Of course, this isn’t a complete list because choosing among the toxic men on these shows is an embarrassment of riches. There were many more I wanted to include (looking at you, Jim Bellino, Kelsey Grammer, Slade Smiley, Paul “Peekay” Kemsley and Simon Barney), but I can’t afford to quit my day job. Sound off in the comments with your worst House Husbands!
Images: Getty Images (7); Shutterstock (2); NBCU; Bravo; Giphy (2)