While viewing any episode of The Real Housewives, I find my jaw dropping. Not, mind you, out of shock. This is more of a slow, gradual slackening. Glancing at my reflection in the window above the TV, I become the very image of a slow-witted mouth-breather.
Yes, these shows are likely making me stupider. But I am here not to disparage, but to sing the praises of the oft-overlooked Real Housewives of Atlanta, and will defend this show to my last (huffing) breath. I firmly believe that out of this whole godforsaken franchise, the Atlanta series is the only one bearing the sweet scent of authenticity.
Watching, one isn't bludgeoned by the same tedious, trumped-up conflicts ("She said I didn't have friends!" "She left her child unattended!" "Spa Day was not the time or the place for this discussion!") inter-cut with shots of hideously be-marbled kitchen islands. Sure it's as crass and exploitive as the rest, but somehow the Atlanta antics don't provoke that soul-crushing queasy sensation, e.g. Taylor Armstrong's melting-scarecrow breakdown over in Beverly Hills.
And it's actually funny.
When Sheree imitates NeNe ("I have neva...did you wrong!") or any time Phaedra opens her mouth, I am cracking up. Give that woman her own show. I could listen to her dispensing wisdom in her classy-lawyer-lady cardigans all day: "You know what they serve in County? Macaroni and cheese with no cheese."
Ok, Noel Coward this isn't, but I do appreciate the extent to which these women do not give a damn. They seem far less concerned with the camera, and even the shameless hawking of their own personal brands is hilariously misguided -- methinks "The Cynthia Bailey Agency School of Fashion" is this season's "She by Sheree." Their financial woes, child support issues, and inter-personal travails are played out in a bracingly honest manner, without the help of US Weekly "leaks." When they go to dinner, they eat. And when they fight, they fight.
"It's going down... at Kim's baby shower."
Take the infamous baby shower brawl (Season 4, Episode 3). Phaedra's strapping ex-con husband (Adonis? Atlantis? Oh, wait, Apollo) and Cynthia's allegedly deadbeat husband Peter exchange a few un-pleasantries. And man, does it escalate. This was one of those spontaneous moments you can just tell the producers had no clue what was going to occur (if you watch closely you can see Bravo crew members scurrying in the background, and the sound and film quality are off.) It's tense, cinematic, and, yes, real.
I suppose it is that pursuit of the "real" that we all long for when we tune in to these shows, because so many of our own emotions and experiences are diluted by our carefully curated online facades and cool-at-all-costs social maneuvering. True human conflict -- the ability to duke it out, to take offense when warranted and act on it, as opposed to deploying our simpering digital snark -- is a compelling thing to behold.
These women are not heroes, paragons of virtue, or even particularly relatable to those who do not have personal wig stylists, but to this viewer they are far more likable than their wax-museum-of-horrors counterparts in Beverly Hills, Orange County, New Jersey and New York. I do not want to go to fashion week shows of dubious merit with Jill Zarin or foreclosure-hunt with Tamra Barney or mix medications with Kim Richards or -- god forbid -- bikini shop with Teresa Giudice.
But share a slice of sorry-about-the-stripper poundcake with Kandi and Phaedra? Kickboxing class with Sheree and Lawrence? Yes, and yes. In fact, for this past Sunday's Kim Zolciak baby delivery episode, I prepared a tequila sunrise and lit a menthol in anticipation of the arrival of Kroy Junior -- a moment that, somehow, through the layers of Bare Minerals makeup and synthetic hair, was actually quite sweet.
Similarly, in the previous episode, when the ladies headed to the opening of Peter's bankrupt-before-it-opens venture Bar One, they were shocked by the downtrodden location, but nonetheless put on a staunch show of support. There was poignancy in these ladies' pride in their upward mobility, and issues raised regarding class and black identity in the south, issues that your author is not erudite enough to address... but luckily I don't have to.
In the words of Phaedra, "Bar One will be successful. Cause 'hood folks gotta drink too."
Within this easy, unpretentious logic (can you imagine any other cast member from any other series saying this?) lies the key to the series' appeal. And slack-jawed or not, I will be watching.