If you thought Season 1 of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” was bonkers, wait ‘til you see Season 2.
“Before everything happened with Jen, we were already off to a very intense season,” said cast member Lisa Barlow. “That just was another layer.”
Whoa! The arrest of cast member Jen Shah on federal fraud charges that could put her away for 30 years is “just another layer” to Season 2?
And sure enough, the producers of “RHOSLC” don’t waste any time getting into it. The first 2½ minutes of the Season 2 premiere show what happened on March 30 when Jen got on a party bus with four of her castmates — she gets a call from her husband telling her the feds are looking for her; she exits the bus and drives away; police descend on the remaining women; Jen’s house is searched by the authorities; the women discover online the charges Jen facing; Jen exits the courthouse — and then there are a few clips from later in the season as the Housewives argue and worry and speculate about Jen and how her arrest might affect them.
That introduction turns out to be just a flash-foreward — a teaser of things to come. The episode then jumps back two months, when most of the cast members are mad at Jen but nobody suspected she was going to be arrested and charged with running a fraudulent telemarketing scheme that allegedly took advantage of hundreds of “vulnerable, often elderly, working-class people.”
Jen, by the way, calls the charges “bull----.”
(Season 2 begins Sunday — 7 and 8:46 p.m. on Dish and DirecTV; 10 and 11:46 p.m. on Comcast.)
Everybody is back
All six first-season Housewives return for Season 2 — Jen Shah (inspite of everything), Lisa Barlow, Mary Cosby, Heather Gay, Meredith Marks and Whitney Rose. Production began a couple of months after they got together for the highly emotional, confrontational, three-part reunion that capped off Season 1, and it’s clear that emotions are still running high.
Not surprisingly, Jen is at the center of the narrative as the new season begins. Although it appeared that Jen and Heather were at least on the road to repairing their relationship, they’re on the outs. Meredith and Mary have nothing but contempt for Jen, and Whitney’s also on Team I-Hate-Jen.
Jen’s one friend in this group is Lisa. And Lisa and her longtime friend, Meredith, aren’t seeing eye to eye.
“I feel like even with Jen and Meredith’s woes, I was able to be a great friend to both of them and defend what I thought was right for both of them,” Lisa said. “And understand all sides. Going into Season 2, I just kind of had the same philosophy.”
If you’re surprised by any of this drama, you clearly didn’t watch any of Season 1. (If you’re looking to catch up or need a refresher, Season 1 is currently streaming on Peacock.)
The new Housewife in town
Enter Jennie Nguyen, who joins the cast as one of the main Housewives. She’s been “best friends” with Lisa for a decade, and she’s an “awesome woman.”
So … is Jenny going to be Lisa’s ally on the show?
“I hope so,” Lisa said with a laugh. “I’m good at having everybody else’s back and I don’t really need anyone to defend me. But it’s nice to know you’ve got someone that’s on your side.”
A major plotline in Season 1 was all about Meredith’s marriage — she and her husband, Seth, separated for a while, and there seemed to be serious doubt that they’d avoid divorce.
They reconciled before season’s end, but … let’s just say that that story hasn’t ended.
Another of the Housewives is physically separated from her husband as Season 2 begins.
And — no spoilers here! — yet another one of the Housewives will be going through marital drama of her own. The dreaded d-word might even come into play.
Family members we heard about but never saw in Season 1 will finally appear in Season 2.
Meredith’s daughter, Chloe, who’s a student at the University of Colorado, shows up in the first episode.
We meet Whitney’s three stepsons — Austin, 29, McCade, 26, Trey, 23. (Whitney was 34 during production of Season 2; she turned 35 on May 9.)
And we meet multiple members of Jen’s family. Not just her mother, but the aunt who sparked the Odor-gate controversy in Season 1.
Give us that old time religion
Viewers will see Meredith and her family celebrate some Jewish traditions. They’ll quickly find out that newcomer Jennie is Catholic. Heather will continue to try to separate herself from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and her choices will affect her three daughters and their own journeys.
Lisa will continue to be “Mormon 2.0” — she’s an active member of the LDS Church who also drinks and owns alcohol companies. She remains unapologetic about both.
The biggest religion-related drama, however, won’t involve Utah’s predominant religion. Viewers will see more of Mary’s role as “first lady” of the Faith Temple Pentecostal Church in Salt Lake City, which is forced to shut its doors because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mary starts her own religious podcast and, as she becomes more vocal about expressing her religious views, she faces criticism that she’s a cult leader.
Filming during the pandemic
Season 1 of “RHOSLC” completed production just under the COVID wire — filming ended just days before the country shut down in March 2020. Season 2 started filming in Utah in early 2021 before COVID-19 vaccines were available to all adults.
“The main thing that changed is how many times a week we got COVID tested,” Lisa said. “It was quite a few. We were definitely all very safe and followed the strictest of filming rules.”
As a result of the coronavirus, those fabulous events “RHOSLC” because known for were somewhat less fabulous. Or, at least, less well attended. There’s social distancing and minimum capacity instead of maximum capacity. And restaurants, already struggling to attract customers, were less anxious to shut down so that “Real Housewives” could film there.
Who’s a racist?
In July, Mary accused Heather of being a racist in an Instagram post she later deleted.
“She’s a #karen if your [sic] not African American then you will not know! I speak Truth! I don’t tolerate haters! I would have never said anything if she would have #keepyourmouthshut.”
Mary’s July Instagram post came well after production was completed on Season 2, but we know the subject of racism come up during the season.
In Season 1, Jen accused Mary of racism for refusing to go to a convenience store if Black men were out front — a charge Mary denied even though there was footage of her admitting it was true. This season, one of the women is not happy that another Housewife retweets people who have accused her of being racist.
And, of course, Jen’s legal drama
Jen’s arrest and the fraud charges against her are going to be a huge Season 2 storyline. Whether she’s guilty or not, Jen is the driving force behind a lot of what happens on “RHOSLC,’ and she will continue to be just that.
In a recent conversation with some “Real Housewives” fans, I said, “You know, Jen could be innocent” — and the conversation came to a sudden halt. It was obvious that thought had never occurred to the people I was talking with.
Don’t get me wrong. Most of what I knew about the law comes from watching approximately 3 million episodes of legal dramas. But, yes, it’s possible that Jen is not guilty of the fraud charges.
The one thing we know for certain is that the criminal charges Jen is facing weren’t resolved during filming of Season 2 — and will remain an open question the whole time Season 2 is airing. (Expect new episodes to extend into early 2022.) Her trial has been pushed back until March 7, 2022 – and there’s always the possibility that it could be further delayed.
It’s conceivable that part or all of a Season 3 of “Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” could be produced before she goes to trial. Then again, Bravo’s producers might decide to factor in the anticipated timing of her trial into their production planning. But stay tuned ... anything can happen.