It may be the era of prestige TV but my weekly dose of reality shows is the balm my head needs. The sledgehammer subtlety of reality TV storytelling thankfully doesn’t require following intricate storytelling, making it perfect for switching off. It has its place as a specific genre of TV and though it’s an easy target for scorn (I’m thinking of one Irish journalist who wrote a whole column on how bad Love Island was while admitting he’d never watched it) it’s also often very enjoyable. This month The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills returned for its ninth season and I was excited to get into the drama.
This season, fuelled by headlines that happened during filming, promises some real tension splits in long held friendships. For long-time fans it’s the kind of pay off these shows often deliver on brilliantly. For all the hand-wringing about how unscripted TV is made, franchises like The Real Housewives are ultimately soaps. And like soaps they sketch in broad details while providing the human moments that draw us in.
A common criticism of The Real Housewives franchise is that it thrives on pitting women against each other. And there’s no doubt that part of its DNA are the explosive confrontations. But the broad spectrum of stories in these shows are what make you come back week on week whether it’s the mundanity of seeing what cast members order in restaurants to how they react when they get bad news. Like all storytelling, the detail, the build-up and the resolving of tension (yes, sometimes through a fight at a lavish function) are all part of the fun.
Still, it’s important to consider it with the remove I have. As a gay man, I feel a kinship with straight women but it doesn’t mean I can’t say the wrong thing or participate in a culture or conversations that doesn’t do them any favours. Watching shows like The Real Housewives with a critical eye is important. It helps that there is a savvy and smart fandom around these shows. The popular podcast Bitch Sesh straddles a neat line between gossipy recaps of the shows and noting moments when they misrepresent women while a show like Come Thru Queen is a thoroughly queer take on a franchise that often doesn’t have that perspective itself.
And frankly the bright moments on shows like The Real Housewives of New York featuring physical comedy you truly couldn’t script or the devastating reads on Real Housewives of Atlanta that would shake even the most hardened drag queen remind you just how vibrant and exciting these shows can be. The best moments on any Real Housewives shows illustrate that there’s power in letting flawed, messy and sometimes shocking women unfurl their stories. While stereotypes and cringe-inducing moments occur, I’ve had intense and fascinating conversations about the latest dramas on the shows with friends here and abroad, some I know solely from the internet. If I can keep my critical thinking whirring in the background then I think my reality TV escapism will stick around.
MUST READ A fictional oral history of a ‘70s rock band may sound like an obvious idea for a novel but Daisy Jones And The Six shows that it’s also a genius one. Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel smartly weaves together multiple characters with vivid and compelling writing. I read it earlier this year and have been obsessed with it ever since. It’s out this March
MUST LISTEN It may seem obvious to highlight a blockbuster pop album but the work Ariana Grande puts in on thank u, next deserves all the praise. An album that somehow manages to feel hyper personal and honest while filled to the brim with pop hits, it’s the kind of confident work only a star at the top of her game can deliver
MUST FOLLOW Kacey Musgraves on Instagram. Her 2018 album Golden Hour scored her four Grammys this February and I’ve been obsessed with it. But I’m equally obsessed with Kacey the person too. Funny, warm and massively talented, her Instagram @SpaceyKacey is a glittery journey into the mind of a pop genius. Expect rainbows, sparkle and next level selfies.
This story originally appeared on GCN’s March 2019 issue. Read the full issue here.
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