It's not easy being one of the 67 Real Housewives (68 as of this Tuesday, but this is just paragraph one; let's ease into it). Beyond the public scrutiny, the Twitter warfare, and the very real divorce rate (Ramona Singer's recent separation from longtime husband Mario is the ninth to transpire during filming), the vast majority of these wives stand to play a role directly contrasting that of a more traditional housewife à la June Cleaver. And it's because of this -- witnessing the fiery second act for many of these women (sorry, it's true) -- that the show has surpassed guilty pleasure and become, like it or loathe it, a cultural phenomenon that even medium Allison DuBois touting her electronic cigarette could never have predicted. And yet, all eyes turn to Tuesday night's sixth season premiere of The Real Housewives of New York -- a franchise that has been off the air since October, 2012 -- to see if America's appetite for table-flipping, weave-snatching, pinot grigio-gulping remains part of today's ever-rejiggering cultural landscape.
Let's break down the current state of the franchises, beginning with the deceased.
The Real Housewives of D.C.: A real-life House of Cards this was not. It remains the only misstep unless you count...
The Real Housewives of Miami: A rocky first season tried to shape this as the spicy, younger, tanner, Versace-Versace-Versace of the other franchises. The women seemed bent (often verbosely so) on proving that Miami was unlike any destination viewers had ever witnessed. A retooled second season ousted two originals (among them, wife of basketball phenom Scottie Pippen) and brought in four newbies. Improved the show was, but the reunion special -- a signature part of any season that sees host Andy Cohen sit down and hash out the season's diciest moments -- became all out war, revealing overly-intense animosity that was never evident on the show itself. Season three did some more cast retooling, aiming to further cement the divided state of the group, however, these women, more than any other franchise, remain genuinely unlikeable.
The Real Housewives of Orange County: The OG of Housewives series (with one original cast member remaining, reality television goldmine Vicki Gunvalson), this series has gone through the most facelifts. The original premise was not done with franchising in mind, focusing more on a "behind the gates" with a focus on the the separate lives of these "women of a certain affluence." Go back and watch Season 1 of the show: From the fashions to absence of heavy make-up, it plays like an entirely different show. Somewhere around the time Teresa Giudice flipped a table across the coast in New Jersey (we'll get to that!) producers scrambled to create more connective tissue. This played in several ways, most memorably, what is now a season highlight across every franchise, the "housewife vacation" (with or without husbands, these never fail to deliver). A strong eighth season -- this show premiered in 2006 if you can believe it -- seemed to breathe new life in the aging franchise, with tired story lines from seasons past "kinda," "sorta," "ish" put to bed (no one was buying that Tamra/Gretchen friendship), but rumors of three new housewives joining the fold for the upcoming ninth go-round spell out a franchise without clear direction.
The Real Housewives of Atlanta: This series has been the strongest performer in viewers, and it stands for good reason, as it has fulfilled its original mission statement to show affluent African American households and the powerful women who stood at the center of them. This series feels the least "put-on," and has kept a solid roster of women with enough in common to bond them during customary lunches and society functions, but enough going on to keep their "everyday story lines" veering from contrived. At the center of it all has been breakout star NeNe Leakes who landed a recurring role on Glee, and was a cast member on the short-lived The New Normal opposite Justin Bartha and Ellen Barkin. However, this season -- the show's sixth -- has waded where seasons of the past have paddled, largely because of the flux of many of its cast members (NeNe is back home from Hollywood and without much to do, Porsha's divorce was interesting off-season fodder, but has been juiced to a bloody pulp, while last season's breakout star Kenya Moore -- don't come after me on Twitter, Kenya! -- has relied on her arsenal of last season's tricks, twirling among them, to keep her villain status gorged. The season has not been without standout moments, like Kandi Burruss' heffer-spewing, tough-as-the-sharpest-nail mother rising up off the couch in an attempt to physically attack Kandi's best friend, Carmen, or Phaedra Parks' as hunkishly handsome as he is extremely volatile husband, Appolo Nida, mercilessly beating Kenya's friend Brandon. But overall, this season has felt like a continuation of last season, and left many wondering how (and if) the show plans to evolve. Nonetheless, the recent "I will drag you in this, bitch!" pajama party blowout brought the series its highest viewer count ever with 4.6 million viewers, so they continue doing something right.
The Real Housewives of New Jersey: This show delivered a powerful and compelling first season, introducing the notion of "family," casting sisters Caroline and Dina Manzo and sister-in-law Jacqueline Laurita. They also introduced two names forever synonymous with Housewives: Teresa Giudice and Danielle Staub. Giudice calling Staub a "prostitution whore" before pounding on the dinner table repeatedly then flipping the table in its entirely (yes, of course, children were present) remains one of reality television's most talked about moments ever. This franchise, more than the rest, has rooted itself in throughlines: Caroline watching her children struggle to find their way in the world, Jacqueline dealing with her son's autism, and perhaps the show's most headline-worthy ordeal, the Giudice's recent court drama (Giudice plead guilty to several counts of loan and bankruptcy fraud in court last week; she and her husband Joe face sentencing on July 8). However, this show sputtered last year playing out Teresa's ongoing feud with her sister-in-law Melissa (who joined the cast along with Giudice's cousin Kathy, in Season 5). As a viewer, you want them to find solace and put the past behind them, but the continuous peace offerings countered by confessional digs (Teresa referred to her cousin Kathy's canolis as "edible") seem unendingly hopeless to the point of lost interest. It remains to be seen how the show will conitnue on with Caroline and Jacqueline saying hasta la vista, Kathy relegated to "Friend of a Housewife" status, and a trio of new girls set to shake things up for season 6.
The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills: A strong, strong first showing from a franchise full of powerful, opinionated and smart women, this series has had quite a run in its short life including the real-life suicide of a househusband Russell Armstrong, a Kelsey Grammer divorce, cameos from Suzanne Somers, Paris Hilton, Jamie Lee-Curtis and Stevie Wonder (it's true), even a recent rumor that a select number of Housewives will appear in a new "top secret" Lady Gaga video. Things went off course in a big way in the current season with the attempted feud between fan-favorite Lisa Vanderpump -- or as her husband Ken calls her, Leeza -- and fan not-favorite Brandi Glanville. It's a proven winning formula having any cast members go toe-to-toe, but this rumble seemed so entirely out of left field, entirely for viewer's side-picking, and irksome watching Vanderpump get betrayed yet again (remember season 1's fame-hungry, bathing suit-loving houseboy/best friend to Lisa, Cedric Martinez?). Furthermore, newbie Carlton Gebbia, and the show's agenda-pushing of her witchcraft, has felt dissonant, with her brash and vocal distaste for castmate Kyle Richards, who really didn't do anything to warrant such venom. New girl Joyce Giraud has yet to gel with the girls, which, as proven time and time again, can be a good thing for a series like this, but she never carved out strong enough independent storylines. Remains to be seen where this franchise goes when it returns for Season 5, with rumors of the Richard's sisters jumping ship.
And then we have...
The Real Housewives of New York: It's the biggest city in the U.S., so it's easy for one to expect the most bang for their buck on this one. New York, at least for me, will always be dictated by the Jill/Bethenny feud. Jill Zarin, the loud, opinionated, self-appointed matriarch of the series, decided to pick a fight with longtime friend Bethenny Frankel because Bethenny hadn't called while Jill's husband, Bobby, was in the hospital. The fight inflated to epic proportions with the demise of the friendship in its entirity (commencing with a peace wreckoning during the reunion that never felt... peaceful). Jill has since claimed that the fight was contrived for ratings purposes, but invented or not, it sure felt real, and something tells me this friendship has been reduced to nothing more than the occasional cheek kisses at a charity event. Bethenny left the show in season 3 at the peak of her popularity, moving over to to star in her own Bravo spin-off, while Zarin overstayed her welcome for the fourth go-round, before she and fellow cast members Kelly Killoren Bensimon and Alex McCord were fired. New blood arrived in Season 5 -- and not with a whimper -- with the addition of Aviva Drescher (sister-in-law of Fran), Carole Radziwill (Emmy-winner news journalist and New York Times Bestseller), and Heather Thomson (the creator of a shapewear line). The friction was immediate between veteran Singer and newbie Drescher, which catapulted the lead story all season-long, culminating in Drescher infamously calling Singer "white trash" and Singer perhaps more infamously telling Drescher to: "Take a Xanax; calm down". The reunion was tepid -- Bravo granted it two-parts, most reunions are spread out to three -- with the bulk of the feud having run its course. And then, on October 22, 2012, the show vanished. Whispers of season six's continuously delayed production flew rampant, with many reporting on contract disputes (LuAnn is suspicious missing from this season's opening taglines) and reshoots upon reshoots. It's all hearsay at this point, as Bravo finally revealed that the show would return on March 11, in what promises to be the best season yet according to Andy Cohen (but that's said every go-round, so grain of salt, perhaps). The preview reveals newest housewife, number sixty-eight to the Housewife franchise, Kristen Taekman (who it's rumored was brought on board via Beverly Hill's Brandi Glanville), the long-awaited return of Ramonja (the drunken shenanigans of Ramona Singer and Sonja Morgan), and the suspiciously detached leg of amputee Aviva Drescher, which sits by its lonesome sprawled across the floor at the end of the preview. How did it get there...?
Buckle your seat belts.