Let’s be honest here. I watch “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” because it’s my job. If this wasn’t a Utah-based show, I wouldn’t be tuning in.
Few people were more scathing than I was when Bravo confirmed that “RHOSLC” would become a thing this year.
And at times, watching Lisa Barlow, Mary Cosby, Heather Gay, Meredith Marks, Whitney Rose and Jen Shah fight has been utterly exhausting. I get that there has to be conflict, but people screaming at each other is not my idea of entertainment.
But as we near the end of Season 1, I can honestly say that I’ve learned a few things from watching it. And I’ve learned to be less dismissive of the whole “Real Housewives” phenomenon. There’s more to the cast and show than I ever expected.
There’s an art to “Real Housewives”
There’s clearly talent involved in putting the show together. You’ve got to cast it well, create the dynamics that will build drama, and then edit it to create a show that will suck you in and keep you watching.
It’s not as easy as the producers of “RHOSLC” make it look.
Guilt-free guilty pleasure
It’s one thing to review a scripted TV show; it’s something different to review a “reality” show. This is about the personal lives of six women, and it’s weird and uncomfortable to comment about that.
But my former Tribune colleague, Sara Weber, set me straight. That’s what “Real Housewives” is all about, she said, and everybody involved knows what they’re getting into. Or they should, given that the franchise has been around for almost 15 years and more than 1,100 episodes. They’ve given us permission to have opinions about their lives.
It’s not altogether real
The Housewives admit they weren’t all close friends before filming began. They were thrown together specifically to create chaos.
It’s like the long-running “Real World,” which cast people they knew were going to come into conflict. If everybody gets along, there’s no show.
And you will never, ever convince me that Whitney decided on her own to blow up the surprise birthday party Jen threw for her husband, Sharrieff. It was so incredibly dumb she had to have at least been pushed in that direction.
You will also never convince me that the emotion Meredith showed about her separation from her husband wasn’t real, that her tears over how her marital problems affected her children weren’t genuine.
And, while Heather is brash and funny, what we’ve learned about her divorce and the pressure she’s felt to conform to her “Mormon” upbringing has been touching and heartfelt.
Surprise! I like them
Yes, I came in to this show with preconceived notions about the type of person who would sign up to be a “Real Housewife.” But when I had a chance to interview five of the six women (everyone but Mary), I found myself liking them.
(At first, I wondered if Mary dodged interview requests because she didn’t want to talk about her marriage to her step-grandfather. Now I wonder if it was at least in part because she came across as racist in Episode 5 and she has largely disappeared from the show in recent episodes.)
Just say no
Heather was flattered to be asked to join the cast, and this is a big deal for her. Meredith hopes it will help her jewelry business. And it’s free promotion for all the Housewives’ businesses.
And then there’s Mary. Why is she there? She had to know that her arranged marriage would be front and center, and she’s cried over that. She’s retreated from the show because of her ongoing feud with Jen.
Whether you’re on Team Jen or Team Mary, there’s no getting away from the way Mary has come across. She’s the “first lady” of the Faith Temple Pentecostal Church, and it’s been incredibly off-putting to see her obsession with possessions — her designer clothes, her enormous wardrobe, her multiple homes.
It’s not good or bad for Utah
Some are under the impression that “RHOSLC” is great for the city and the state. And, yes, viewers have seen that Utah is beautiful, more diverse than many believe, and there are a lot of cool things here.
But it’s not exactly a travelogue.
On the other hand, there are (predictably) those who think “RHOSLC” is slandering the city, the state and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And, yes, Whitney, Jen and Heather all have issues with the church, which is why they left/are leaving.
Rather than condemn them, it’s worth listening to their stories to understand them.
Lisa’s story is more complicated. She’s a Latter-day Saint, but she sort of picks and chooses which church standards to keep. For Utahns and other members of her church, that’s pretty clear. For others, it’s muddled.
And, no, there are no fully active, temple recommend-holding Latter-day Saints on “RHOSLC.” How would that work?
But the show is not going to rock the foundations of the church. And there’s little chance it’s going to change the perceptions of those who aren’t members; I think most people are smart enough to realize the women don’t represent the church.
It’s an escape
Why get caught up in the often over-the-top lives of the Housewives? It’s not because they’re role models or cautionary tales. It’s not because they have more money than most of us, and it’s a chance to see how the other half lives.
It’s an escape. It’s a chance to forget about our own problems for an hour a week — more, if you’ve got friends/family with whom to discuss episodes — and focus on other people’s problems. As ridiculous as those problems might be at times.
In the middle of a pandemic, that’s a big deal.
Episode 13 of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” airs Wednesday on Bravo — 8 p.m. on Dish and DirecTV; 11 p.m. on Comcast.