There’s no Sonja Morgan on “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City.” There’s no Teresa Giudice or Nene Leakes. There’s only a gang of thoroughly unsympathetic wannabes, thirsting for whatever level of fame Bravo can supply.
They are awful but iconic. By the end of the series premiere, they’d already started a legendary fight over “hospital smell,” the key allegation in a saga involving a double amputee and a Pentecostal first lady married to her step-grandfather.
There’s only one practicing Mormon in the cast (as far as I can tell), who happens to be the proprietor of multiple tequila brands, although a handful of the women are former members of the church. The LDS backdrop is probably overused, and perhaps unfairly so given that it doesn’t have much to do with the cast’s debauchery.
It may, however, have something to do with their attempts at outward perfection, as is immediately implied by one of the women, who owns a “med spa” business. Heather Gay describes herself as “a good Mormon gone bad.”
“A devout Mormon from birth, Heather Gay was married to Mormon royalty for 11 years, but has distanced herself from the church after her divorce,” reads her bio on the Bravo website.
Another member of the cast is a Mormon convert to Islam. The aforementioned Pentecostal first lady who is married to her step-grandfather belongs to the cast as well. These are the two women on opposite sides of the “hospital smell” fight.
There is no Brandi Glanville on RHOSLC. All of the women have reputations to maintain as small(ish)-town socialites. They care deeply about looking rich and happy and well-liked at all times, which is often the kiss of death for a would-be reality star. But it’s working so far. (Almost like the early, Recession-era seasons of “Orange County”?)
Having a cast full of wannabes is not Bravo’s usual recipe for success. It’s always good to have a truth-teller who may care about publicity but doesn’t care much about what people think. (A Bethenny or a Lisa Rinna.) It’s also good to have some sympathetic women in the mix, people you genuinely like or empathize with. That usually requires a mix of self-serious people and foils who deflate them.
All of the RHOSLC women are insufferable. They’ve watched the other housewives get richer and more famous off brand exposure on Bravo and want that for themselves. As key franchises like “Orange County” and “Beverly Hills” sink, and longtime housewives like Vicki Gunvalson, Lisa Vanderpump, and Bethenny Frankel depart their series and make room for new women, RHOSLC feels like an early part of Bravo’s second act.
From “Southern Charm” to “Vanderpump Rules,” time is taking its toll on Bravo favorites. But the network is adapting by introducing strong new series like the “Real Housewives of Potomac” and allowing its shows to break the fourth wall.
RHOSLC hasn’t broken that fourth wall yet, but there’s a clear sense that it’s a new kind of housewives franchise. In the same way reality television of the late aughts introduced us to a group of women shaping the reality landscape, this new era seems to be about women who are being shaped by that landscape. This is franchise for the influencer era.
“The Real Housewives” series is first and foremost a comedy. Again, that’s why you usually need a Bethenny to step in and point the insanity out. But the desperation of the Salt Lake City housewives practically jumps off the screen, from their outfits to their cars, to Jen’s insistence her parties are comparable to the Met Gala.
This isn’t to say they’re irredeemable. As we learn more about their lives, I’m sure we’ll have reasons to empathize.
Well, I’m not sure, but it’s an okay bet. Maybe an unlikely hero will emerge. Maybe they’ll continue making a sweet, consumerist cacophony for the rest of their time on Bravo.
For now, it’s at least interesting that a franchise so dominated by antiheroes is captivating. You’re not laughing with the wives, you’re laughing at them. It’s more evidence that reality television isn’t about the drama. It’s about the comedy.