The Newest 'Real Housewives' Season Proves the Franchise Is Growing Up

Source: Bravo
Source: Bravo

Several cast overhauls and one notorious leg-throwing incident later, the Real Housewives of New York has found its footing. Once merely a single pillar of a franchise that's been accused of setting "bad examples" and being "horrible mothers," New York has gone beyond its trashy reputation and become something quite remarkable. 

The theme of the season is transition. The addition of a former housewife, erstwhile talk show host Bethenny Frankel, and featuring several of the women dealing with intimate crises, has made for a noteworthy and layered seventh season. It's not just the series' best — it also proves the franchise has grown beyond the original, shallow premise and has become compelling, mature television. Studied correctly, it could serve as a roadmap to fix the other troubled series in the franchise.

A returning hero: Frankel rejoined the cast of the Bravo series this year after leaving in season three. She's been honest this season about her personal and professional successes and failures, such as her canceled talk show, divorce and custody battle. In airing out her laundry without a sense of ego, it's made her accessible. She may be one of the franchise's most divisive personalities, but her real life drama and inclination to share has made for an endearing watch.

The other women have been just as open this season, especially those you wouldn't expect. Openly discussing the dissolution of her marriage — and the cheating allegations toward Mario — Ramona Singer's vulnerability has made for a liberating arc for the series' typically guarded housewife. Sonja Morgan has been one of the more curious personalities, and her financial issues have dogged her since she joined the show in 2010. In addition to her bankruptcy lawsuit, her alleged drinking has become more apparent.

Widows Carole Radziwill and newest housewife Dorinda Medley have bonded over their late husbands, even traveling to London together to spread Radziwill's husband's ashes. In showcasing the women coming together in a positive light, with moments like Frankel consoling Singer over her divorce and her attempt at helping Morgan, it's clear the Real Housewives franchise can be more than table-flipping.

"Real" women: With most of the women going through a transformational period together, there's been an increased sense of camaraderie. The series has been criticized for pitting women against each other, be it a verbal altercation between the women of franchise OG Orange County or a physical fight between two of the wives on Atlanta.

To be fair, the petty drama between the New York housewives hasn't ceased. Frankel and Morgan had a particularly intense argument in Turks and Caicos that remains one of the defining moments of the season. Yet the unanticipated unity we don't see too often has provided a refreshing counterpoint. Though the negative noise still exists, the positive interactions these women share drown it out.

To an extent, their problems are of their own creation. Merely being on the show has increased the spotlight on their personal lives. But instead of shying away from their issues, like Singer's divorce or Frankel's talk-show cancellation, they embrace them without sensationalizing them. These women are flawed, but Real Housewives accepts them for who they are. By showcasing them accepting the price of fame and their own choices, the series allows the women at the center of the show to take hold of their narratives.

Joe and Teresa Giudice of 'The Real Housewives of New Jersey'
Source: 
Julio Cortez/AP

Roadmap to change: This season's successful revamp can serve as a blueprint to follow for the franchise's other shows. The Real Housewives of New Jersey has been struggling in the ratings, while both it and The Real Housewives of Atlanta star housewives dealing with hefty personal drama. Each could, like New York become absorbing television while not abandoning any expected reality show antics.

Take, for example, New Jersey housewife Teresa Giudice. She's currently imprisoned for fraud, and she and her husband Joe worked out a deal in which one could parent their four children while the other is incarcerated. Her return to the show is unconfirmed, but should the show look at her life after prison, it would tell a very different kind of story. It would be the reset button the series needs.

While Real Housewives of Atlanta is a ratings success, it's the one in the biggest place of change. The show's most famous housewife, Nene Leakes, quit earlier this month and Claudia Jordan has reportedly been fired. There are still interesting stories to tell without them, though. Similar to New Jersey, Phaedra Parks' husband Apollo is incarcerated (also for fraud). Like Giudice, her handling of this situation as it progresses would help reinvent a stagnant series.

Besides, the whole franchise could stand for a bit of freshening up. Orange County is the oldest series, having been on for 10 seasons. Beloved Beverly Hills faced declining ratings in its fifth season. Changing a formula that works can be scary, but sometimes gambling on a shift is the way to avoid greater problems down the line.

These women are flawed, and they've made bad choices. But 'Real Housewives' accepts them for who they are.

Change is a good thing: The theme of transition has played a major part in this season of The Real Housewives of New York. The women have been going through life shifts together; including those changes as part of the series' arc is a sign of embracing evolution. The show has been able to still include the drama that the Real Housewives franchise is known for, but that drama isn't just petty. It means something.

Hopefully, if the franchise takes its cues from this season, that meaningfulness will spread.

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Jordan Appugliesi

Entertainment journalist.

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