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Cultural Capital

Our Long National ‘Real Housewives of New York City’ Nightmare Is Over

My personal and professional trial ends with a whimper.

Ubah Hassan, Brynn Whitfield, Jessel Taank, Andy Cohen, Erin Lichy, Jenna Lyons, Sai De Silva.
(Clifton Prescod / Bravo)

There's an obvious element of voyeurism that undergirds all reality television consumption. It's fun to watch people live a warped facsimile of normal life—fall in love, work at a terrible restaurant, bake a sponge cake in a tent in England, launch a singing or modeling career, get a makeover from some gay people, whatever—under the distorting influence of a camera crew. The reality TV cast member knows they're operating in front of the eyes of the other, that they're destined to be edited into and broadcast as whatever caricature a production company decides is the most entertaining, and they accept that loss of control in exchange for all the potential fame that being on TV provides. Successful examples of this programming abound: see the Kardashian empire, schlocky 2000s VH1 and MTV shows, TLC's wretched American heartland docudramas. But, artifice aside, these shows don't work if the people at their core aren't interesting, and aren't interested in leaning into the devil's bargain.

This season of "The Real Housewives of New York City" was, broadly, devoid of that kind of leaning in—the work it takes to be a successful reality TV figure—and that made it an absolute fucking slog of a watch. 

On the season finale, as is grand and storied "Real Housewives" tradition, the cast members got together to fight at someone's unnecessarily fancy event—this time, Brynn Whitfield's birthday party. Not only were the arguments tired—sniping about Jessel Taank's marriage, Ubah Hassan's secret boyfriend living in Connecticut, whether or not Sai De Silva would have enough food to eat—the women seemed tired too. Tired of fighting, tired of being on camera, tired of being around each other at all, which made for a pretty exhausting episode of TV to cap off the "I will never get these hours of my one life on this earth back" viewing experience that was RHONY season 14. 

God, I hated it so much.

At the blessed end of it all, I have existential questions. Not just for myself (although "Why do I watch this shit?" frequently sprang to my mind over the past few months), but for RHONY itself. This season on RHONY, the outfits were luxurious, the vacations were exotic, the husbands were loaded, and the apartments were palatial, but at approximately no point did anyone seem to be enjoying any of it—not in a "Yes, this is my glamorous life and I'm living it publicly" way or in a "Wow, I'm not used to this and boy is it electrifying" way. 

Was this a failure to cast people who were truly willing to play the game? Probably. But it also calls into question whether the end of Bravo's model of casting rich and beautiful people who behave disgustingly is nigh—because at the end of season 14 of RHONY, I am walking away with one thought: Is that all there is to being a wealthy New Yorker? Is the authentic New York City Housewife a boring and tedious person? 

I don't watch RHONY to feel better about my Brooklyn studio apartment, credit card debt, warehouse rave, stoop sale, natural wine, Hinge date, Metrograph membership-ass existence! And yet, that's exactly what happened: Choosing private preschools, throwing theme parties where nobody dresses on theme, bickering with your friends about sponsoring their Christmas gifts, going to Casa Cipriani with a frequency entirely disproportionate to how good the food is? (It's like, fine.) Pass! This show made me feel like I am having more fun living in New York City than women who own a brownstone. How do you mess up lifestyle porn this badly?

But, since RHONY is a big enough entry in the "Housewives" canon that it's likely to limp on for at least another season, I have some suggestions. Andy Cohen, if you're reading this, feel free to kick me a consultation fee or a note of condolence for all my troubles. 

1. Eric Adams cameo

I'm actually shocked this hasn't happened yet. He loves to paint the town red at various nightclubs and fine dining establishments, the Housewives are allegedly Big Apple socialites, and it would be great for one of the girls to throw an event at Zero Bond. Win-win.

2. Pick cool things for the cast to do

This season, the women made wreaths at a weird craft store, shopped at some bizarro boutiques, went to a hellish indoor mini golf course, and, in this last episode, Lichy and Hassan rode around in bumper cars. What is this, "The Real Housewives of Columbus, Ohio"?????? These activities suck dick, and do not represent the rich tapestry of what New York City has to offer. I am begging on my hands and knees for someone to send whoever is in charge of filling the cast members' schedules a link to Leave Your Apartment.

3. Childhood trauma moratorium

Can these girls have carefree fun for like, one freaking minute? Based on this season, that can only happen if talk of their formative years is verboten. I'm not sure this is something Bravo could contractually mandate, but at the very least, it can be done in the editing suite. 

4. No more Jenna Lyons

This might be controversial, but Lyons clearly does not like being on this show. She's visibly nervous when she has to spend time with the rest of the cast, runs away at the first sign of conflict, and doesn't bring a lot to the table when she deigns to be on camera. I bet she's actually a really interesting person to spend time with, but I do not need to see more of her in this setting. You can be extremely successful and still act like a freak on TV! Ask Bethenny Frankel! 

5. Replace her with Esther Wang, beloved Hell Gate co-founder and writer-editor

The only person who could potentially hate RHONY more than I do is Esther, so casting her on the show would be funny to me, and I think she would be an excellent foil for the rest of the cast. Imagine Erin Lichy going fishing with Esther in Prospect Park…that's untapped small screen gold.

Anyway, all of this is to say that I will not be tuning in to season 15 of RHONY, unless my colleagues at this esteemed publication make me. Until then, I'm sticking to highbrow entertainment experiences—the kind with voice, heart, and sophistication—like "The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City."

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