You can’t swing a Fendi baguette these days without hitting someone from Bravo on a competition show. There’s Tom Sandoval doing image rehab on both The Masked Singer and Special Forces: World’s Toughest Test. There’s his ex, Ariana Madix, doing a pop-culture victory lap on Dancing With the Stars next to Kyle Richards’s soon-to-be ex Mauricio Umansky. This has turned up the heat on Mo’s personal life, and after a photo surfaced of him at dinner with his dad and Leslie Bega, an Agency real-estate agent and former Sopranos star, the gossip was that the two were dating. TMZ quashed it, though, with this brilliant headline: “Mauricio Umansky Not Dating Co-worker Leslie Bega … But His Dad Is.”
Apparently that’s not true either, but I love how one Instagram post can give us so much satisfaction. It’s almost as if Bravo has left television and entered the real world, like those mushrooms that keep eating Pedro Pascal’s friends in The Last of Us. Just like on that scripted (blech!) show, however, it feels like this could be leading to something sinister, something that threatens to unspool the Housewives World Order that we’re used to and leave us confused, bloodied, and wishing Pedro would come and cuddle with us by a campfire.
This potential unraveling of the Bravo Extended Skinematic Universe is on the Institute’s mind this month, so we’re getting into it in this here Bulletin, along with seeing how well you know the names of the Housewives’ kids and assessing Andy Cohen’s acting roles to see if he can play anyone other than Andy Cohen.
The Great Unraveling
Are RHONY and RHOSLC signaling the end of Housewives as we know it?
Reality television has always been about rituals. One tribemember’s torch is snuffed at the end of Survivor, one singer gets a kiss off from Ryan Seacrest at the end of American Idol, and some Bratz dolls in clown costumes do a broker’s open for a house that isn’t even on the market on Selling Sunset. Bravo shows are the same. Each episode of Housewives (each season, really) has a familiar flow, the same rhythm. Part of what makes the franchise so addictive and comforting to watch is knowing just what is going to happen but still being delighted when you see it. That’s the ritual that keeps us coming back, but lately I’ve started to notice the very foundations of Housewifery straining under pressure.
It started with the reboot of Real Housewives of New York City, the first time that an entire cast had been dismissed (RIP Sonja Tremont Morgan of the Glue Factory Morgans) and a new, younger, more diverse, more influencer-y cast was put in place. Chief among them was Jenna Lyons, the 2010s fashion star turned reluctant practitioner of the reality-television arts and sciences. My boy Alex Abad-Santos calls her “the last great Real Housewife” in an excellent article for Vox, pointing out that while everyone else on the show is playing by Housewives rules, Jenna not only doesn’t know what the rules are, she refuses to learn them. That’s resulted in something that hearkens back to when the shows first started, women just being themselves and hoping that we like them. The biggest difference is that Jenna doesn’t have the narcissism, lack of self-awareness, and craven hunger to put people down of a Ramona Singer. Jenna is a star because her authenticity is so potent it will crawl right through the screen and slap you in the face.
Perhaps thanks to Jenna’s lead, this new season of RHONY feels different — more upscale, more cool, less combative, less bullshitty. During the season’s biggest fight, between Erin Mew Mew Lichy and Ubah Hassan over a prank gone bad during a trip to Anguilla, Sai de Silva keeps telling the women to get over it so they don’t have to fight all day. When the women all pile on Erin (deservedly), Jenna takes her aside and plays Connect Four with her while the rest of the women calm down. In the heat of the fight, Erin goes home to decompress.
This wouldn’t happen in any other franchise. As soon as she heard the sound of raised voices, Gizelle Bryant would have been over there tending to every single pot to see if it needed stirring. Kenya Moore would never leave a lunch early, she would just stare an attacker in the face and demolish them with her words. Teresa Giudice would run to the fight just to figure out how she could blame the whole thing on Melissa Gorga. But not our New York girlies. They want to be above the fray, lest their outbursts get in the way of all those sweet, sweet brand partnerships. But if we can’t count on our Housewives to fight like Mike Tyson just used their ear as an appetizer, what even is the franchise? Don’t these people know this is their job?
Meanwhile, over on RHOSLC, the franchise is buckling from the opposite side. The show has become an experiment in what happens when you take six women who absolutely loathe each other and force them to spend time together. There is nothing too mean, nothing too petty, nothing too miserable to fight over.
Most of this is being spearheaded by their own newbie, Angie Katsanevas, the 156th Horseperson of the Apocalypse. Unlike Jenna, Angie (who may or may not be Greek, it’s unclear) wants it so bad you can taste her tasting it. She wants it so bad she invested in a full glam squad, a whole new Fendi-branded wardrobe, and enough full-face sunglasses that she never has to leave the house without looking like Cobra Commander. Spanakopita Jones over here is the classic woman playing Housewives: She’s causing fights, she’s making drama, she’s challenging the OGs in a way that feels like she’s playing by the book. The problem is, it’s so obvious, so tried-and-true, that none of us believe it. She may be the biggest flop Housewife of all time.
We really saw things go off the rails on another trip, this one to the Trixie Motel in Palm Springs. Meredith Marks is the presumptive host of the trip, but Whitney Wild Rose invited Angie along for the ride because Meredith can’t stomach her. Then, when she thinks the weekend is getting boring, Whitney takes it upon herself to start a drag contest among the women. We all know that the hostess of these trips is a merely nominal role and that the women have no power, but we believe in the rules of the game, we believe in the ritual. If anyone can just invite anyone else on a cast trip, why do we even have a cast? Why not just get everyone who wants to show up a room and a place at the table?
But the real disrupter is Mary M. Cosby, who keeps appearing on this show even though she looks like she would rather be probed either by a flock of aliens or the IRS, whichever is more painful. During the whole trip, Mary does not really participate. At one event, she even stays in the Sprinter van, preferring to get McDonald’s rather than hang out with her co-workers.
C’mon, a Housewife has to participate. We hold these truths to be self-evident, a Housewives of the people, by the people, and for the motherfucking people. If we allow the invisible structures girding these trips to fall by the wayside, if we let women opt out of even the most painless of events, what is this whole enterprise? If these women want to spread rumors about each other and trash their families, are they even a “friend group” as they are idiomatically required to call each other? And if that isn’t true, do we even have a show anymore?
Well, perhaps we do. What I’ve been holding back on saying through all this, like Sherée Whitfield carrying a bone, is that I don’t necessarily think this shift is a bad thing. What has kept Housewives with us long enough that RHOC can get a driver’s license and a nipple piercing is that it is always evolving. Some recent additions include the new recaps at the beginning of episodes, where clips from the past are woven into a conversation between two characters, like a recent one where Meredith Marks explained the trip to Palm Springs to her husband. There’s also the amazing set for the RHOC reunion, which is such a far cry from the early days of Housewives that they almost erase the memory of the floating chandeliers of a haunted RHONJ reunion.
Add to these evolutions our collective loathing of Angie and finding new fan favorites like Jenna and Mary who want it less, and maybe not at all. I can’t stop watching the two of them, mostly because I can’t figure out what the hell either of them are doing on the show. (Jenna says it’s to sell her line of fake lashes, but the question mark hanging over Mary is so big that the Riddler would try to turn it into a butt plug.) Maybe this unraveling is a good thing. We’ve entered a post-Scandoval world where the biggest draw for the new season of RHOBH isn’t the women, but their adjacency to tabloid drama. It’s a time-honored Kardashians strategy: We tune in to finally hear the true story of what we’ve been reading about (and obsessively TikToking) for months.
This all seems like the Housewives’ next evolution, a pendulum swing away from the savviness of current reality fans to something messier, something more genuine. Now that we all know how the sausage is made and the fourth wall keeps getting lower and lower, it becomes clear what we’ve been missing from Housewives is its other operative word: Real. You can’t say Jenna and Mary aren’t playing themselves, just like you can’t say that Whitney didn’t expose the fakery of a contractually obligated trip invitation. Maybe Housewives isn’t falling apart at all, maybe it is about to emerge from a chrysalis renewed and reshaped, ready for us to spend another two decades fascinated by it. I sure hope that’s the case, because I haven’t enjoyed something coming unraveled this much since Scary Island.
The Name Game
Don’t be like Shannon Beador and forget these Housewives’ kids’ names
In part one of the Real Housewives of Orange County reunion, Gina Kirschenheiter cleared Shannon Beador by asking her to name her children and Shannon failed like it was a breathalyzer. (Too soon?) In celebration of that, here is a little quiz for you: Can you tell the Housewife based only on her kids’ names?
To add a little twist, we used only groups of children with the same initials, a naming convention Housewives love more than Gucci print and telling a co-worker to “own it.” There are a few tricky ones where a woman had a child or two from a previous marriage before she got the alphabet bug; those children were omitted, so be careful. Also, they get progressively harder. Are you ready to play? Click on the names to reveal their Housemom.
4. Jax and Jaid
12. Roman and Ronald
Andy Cohen’s acting gigs, ranked.
Bravo’s dark lord keeps himself booked and busy, not only doing Watch What Happens Live five nights a week, but also appearing as himself in just about any television program that asks. He currently has 23 IMDb credits as an actor; compare that to his bestie Anderson Cooper, who only has five (but they’re like, all Marvel movies.) In almost all instances Andy’s playing himself, and in many of them he’s either hosting a faux reunion or interviewing a fictional celebrity on his flagship talk show — as he did last month when he made a splash in the first episode of the new season of American Horror Story: Kardashians. In celebration of that, we here at the Institute decided to have an Andy Plays Himself retrospective ranking all of his on-screen roles (sorry, voice acting doesn’t count) from worst to best. Maybe if he ever Pleads the Fifth, we can ask him which the most terrible one is.
Pilot Season (S1, E6) and The Premise (S1, E3): The first was a 2004 show on Trio (the network where Andy worked before Bravo) and the second is BJ Novak’s Hulu show, which was scrubbed from the service earlier this year. These are clearly the worst because you can’t see them anywhere.
History of the World: Part II (S1, E7): Here he’s playing Andy Khan, the moderator of a fictional reunion of the Real Concubines of Kublai Khan. Andy seems very low energy and like he can’t even be bothered, maybe because the sketch isn’t all that funny. We do get a cameo from Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Crystal Kung Minkoff, which is nice.
Gossip Girl (S2, E10): This is the Max reboot, not the original, and it’s the rare instance where we get Andy out in the wild. In the series finale, Andy runs into Obie (Eli Brown) at the Met Gala (?!?!?!) and they have a meta conversation about Chuck and Blair. Andy is a much better host than an actor, so they probably should have let him sit down for this.
The Best Man: The Final Chapters (S1, E1): Andy is at the very top of the very first episode of this continuation of the popular film series and he gets to introduce star Shelby Taylor (Melissa De Sousa) and what she’s been doing with her life. It’s great for exposition, but it’s not Andy at his strongest.
Alpha House (S2, E9): It mustn’t have been hard for Andy’s BFF Mark Consuelos to get him to do this Prime Video comedy about politicians sharing the same house. But they make Andy interview two Real Daughters of D.C. in a living room. Sorry, Andy doesn’t do Jennifer Convertibles.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (S3, E12): When Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) stops by Andy’s Bravo office for an interview, he gets some great lines about a “gift basqué” and an assistant named Samjamin. Too bad Andy doesn’t quite have the comedy chops to land the jokes they give him.
The Stand In: The only movie on this list, but sadly it’s a Drew Barrymore Prince and the Pauper redux that was critically reviled. Here Drew’s character, a former star, is watching Andy and cabaret star Bridget Everett talking about her new face. It’s not much, but Andy is best when he’s bitchy.
The Other Two (S1, E6): Here Andy is in his comfort zone, the Clubhouse, hosting actor Patrick Wilson (promoting Lord Licorice from a fictional Candy Land movie) and Pat Dubek (Molly Shannon) while Cary Dubek (Drew Tarver) is the shirtless bartender. Strangely, Andy seems less engaged and energetic than he does on the real show.
Riverdale (S2, E16): Another visit to a show starring his bro Mark Consuelos, this time to hang with Mark’s on-screen wife Hermione Lodge (Marisol Nichols), who became a Real Housewife between seasons one and two, and to endorse her for mayor of all things. He also takes hunky teen Kevin Keller (Casey Cott) to “Clubhouse Heaven.” Andy, he’s in high school!
Difficult People (S3, S10): In the series finale (and his second appearance on the show), Andy hosts Marilyn Kessler (Andrea Martin) in the Clubhouse because she is the Countess’s former therapist and Sheree Whitfield has been trapped in an elevator for 45 mins so she gets to be on the couch. Andy is nice and natural but also a little pissed off, which is the only emotion he can really convey, acting wise.
American Horror Story (S12, E1): Once again he’s on WWHL, talking to Emma Roberts playing a former teen star who is making an unexpected indie comeback. We can def see this happening in real life, but if only they could have paired her with rabid Housewives fan Jennifer Lawrence.
Lady Gaga’s “G.U.Y.” Video: While still in her maximalist pop-star phase, Mx. Germanotta has Andy nodding from heaven as Zeus while Carlton Gebbia strums a harp. It’s pure unadulterated camp brilliance.
Inside Amy Schumer (S4, E9): Since this finale is a highlight reel of the best of the season, the writers turned it into a mock reunion where Andy can barely keep Amy and her co-stars (including Andy bestie Bridgett Everett) contained. Again, pissed off and bitchy proves to be his acting sweet spot.
Women of SNL Special: Much like the Amy Schumer episode, a fake reunion is the excuse to get everyone together for the highlights of female comedy on the venerable late-night staple. Andy is underplaying it a bit, but it’s a big part and he’s smart to let a bunch of geniuses — Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss — have their drama-filled moment.
Difficult People (S1, E3): Andy’s signature bitchiness is on display here when he has to disinvite Billy (Billy Eichner) from being a bartender because Chelsea Handler hates him and won’t talk to Julie (Julie Klausner) because she called him an “Organ Grinder in Gucci” in one of her RHOBH recaps. For Andy bonus points, it stars his good pal John Benjamin Hickey and, yes, Bridget Everett.
The Comeback (S2, E1): Playing himself enjoying lunch at the Chateau Marmont with RuPaul, Andy is assaulted by Valerie Cherish (Lisa Kudrow) who wants to pitch him on a new reality show. Andy confesses to smoking dope to her sitcom in college and his portrayal of one of the “laughing snakes” of L.A. is his most nuanced performance to date.
Sex and the City (S6 E13): Nodding while putting a pair of pumps onto Carrie Bradshaw (duh, you know who plays her) will be the most iconic thing Andy ever does.
A selection of the best Vulture’s Bravo Recaps Industrial Complex had to offer this month.
Real Housewives of Salt Lake City: This entire confrontation is happening while Meredith wears a cream turtleneck and cape set, giving us an idea of what it would look like if Nancy Meyers directed a superhero movie. And faster than a speeding bullet, she’s gone as soon as Angie accuses her of being the only person stepping out on their marriage.(Season 4, Episode 6)
Real Housewives of New York City: I mean, look at Pavit. He is handsome, he seems wonderful and supportive, but this guy has no game. He has the opposite of game. He has rain delay. (Season 4, Episode 13)