Image may be everything for the women of Atlanta, but these women should try looking into a mirror.
Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise expands tonight with the premiere of The Real Housewives of Atlanta. The newest installment chronicles the lives of five of Atlanta’s new-money socialites—NeNe, DeShawn, Sheree, Lisa, and Kim—the wives of members of the NFL and NBA. These women are all starting their own fashion lines and look incredibly good for their ages, decked out in $4,000 bags and bling. We follow them as they balance work and play, choose the perfect Cadillac Escalade, and hire managers for their estates.
The show does a clumsy job of differentiating Atlanta from the franchise’s previous cities, or any other city for that matter. The montages of deluxe malls and gated communities could be located anywhere from Las Vegas to Baltimore. In one of the opening scenes, DeShawn announces, “Image is everything in Atlanta!” The housewives of New York and Los Angeles would probably argue that image is everything for them too—and those of the next three cities will probably agree. The clichés about opportunity abound as well. DeShawn calls Atlanta “the land of opportunity.” Sounds oddly familiar to what people say about every other city.
In fact, the only thing to differentiate this city from past cities is the complete lack of the interpersonal. The greatest sources of conflict throughout the opening episode are weak, even by Bravo’s standards. Because of this, Real Housewives feels like an extended episode of MTV Cribs and the show does little, if anything, to improve upon Bravo’s gawking-at-money-and-what-people-decide-to-do-with-it formula that has dominated most of their shows since Inside the Actors Studio lost its edge.
The greatest moment of dramatic tension during the episode comes when Sheree inadvertently (we think) leaves NeNe off the guest list at her who’s-who birthday party. NeNe proceeds to curse at the valet for five minutes and drives off in a huff. The second-most dramatic moment is when Sheree’s florist fails to show up for a party-planning session. NeNe learns a hard lesson when her husband asks her not to order grouper and mashed potatoes and she reluctantly “does a lobster tail and crabcakes” as a concession.
The reason the show fails to gain any emotional momentum is because all the women seem like imposters. In the opening scene of the show, DeShawn opens the doors to her brand-new McMansion—complete with free-form swimming pool and shining granite countertops, but devoid of any personality. She says, “Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to live in a house like this.” She goes on to say that the best part of being married to an NBA player is “the lifestyle.” What makes her so repellent is how she seems to have consciously entered this world with her eyes on the prize. All of the women feel the need to keep reminding us how classy they are and how they belong in and control this world. It feels as if some Bravo producer is yelling into their ears: Be as ostentatious as possible. And they’re all just along for the ride.
The one issue the show does tackle, albeit sloppily, is the issue of race. This is a noble task considering how underrepresented African-Americans are in these sorts of shows. Real Housewives does a good job of establishing Atlanta’s racial acceptance—the color of your Louis Vuitton baguette is far more important than the color of your skin, as the women are constantly reminding us.
“I’m hoping people don’t see black or white,” NeNe said in a phone interview. “I hope that women see that we are all strong women who stand on our own two feet and that we’re all human too and that we have our highs and lows.” This would be a great sentiment, if only we saw any of it pan out onscreen. Later in the interview, Lisa reminded us that she and her friends “don’t just sit around and spend their husbands’ money.” Yet, throughout the episode, this is all they seem to do.
There is a point at which a show becomes too guilty to be pleasurable. The only reason it was fun to gawk at the previous housewives is because we believed that they believed in what they were doing. We felt like we were truly joining them in the middle of their ridiculous everyday lives. The housewives of Atlanta, though, feel more like actors, and that’s troubling. In the end, the show feels about as authentic as the stonework around DeShawn’s pool.
The Real Housewives of Atlanta will premiere tonight at 9 p.m. on Bravo.