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 [husbands were at one time] 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.
Photo by: Sophy Holland/Bravo