Thank God and Andy Cohen: The New ‘RHONY’ Isn’t a Disaster

As a longtime fan of the original Real Housewives of New York, a Dorinda Medley warrior and Ramona Singer apologist, I mourn the loss of the veteran cast on my television like a deceased relative. (I’m only slightly kidding).

After 13 years on the air, one of the oldest and highest-rated Housewives franchises came crumbling down after a staggeringly bad and borderline-unwatchable Season 13. Already hampered by filming restrictions due to pandemic, the season was largely defined by uncomfortable racial conversations—guided by the show’s first Black castmate Eboni K. Williams—a glaring lack of chemistry, and a lot of random outbursts from Leah McSweeney.

Leading up to the ultimately axed reunion, it seemed like there were some tricky behind-the-scenes tensions at play. Apparently, things were so messy that the easiest choice at the time was to completely disband and rebuild the show from scratch.

The more time has passed, though, the more this decision seems hasty and uncalled for, given that the central cast has remained tight. Bravo viewers will forgive an utterly terrible season, as long as the next one is even just slightly better. This new excellent season of Real Housewives of Orange County is currently proving that. Meanwhile, three abysmal seasons of Real Housewives of Atlanta in a row have made me wonder why Bravo couldn’t give RHONY one more chance.

But what’s done is done. The new season of RHONY with its completely rebooted cast premieres Sunday night on Bravo, whether viewers are ready for it or not.

And there’s no point in moping about the old RHONY cast when Bravo seems determined to keep them on our screens one way or another—Sonja and Luann: Welcome To Crappie Lake being the latest example. Bravo has also given viewers a new group of younger, more diverse and utterly fabulous women to fill their void in the Housewives universe. Do these new ladies necessarily accomplish this? No. Is that the point of the reboot? It doesn’t seem like it.

Let’s get this out of the way: there’s no use in comparing the new with the old. Like the recently launched Real Housewives of Dubai, you can tell RHONY Season 14—not sure we’re not starting at “Season 1” since it’s a reboot—exists on a completely different, aspirational plane.

These new cast members, including former J. Crew creative director Jenna Lyons, are the sort of wealthy women you actually want to be–at least, as far as their gorgeous apartments and quiet-luxury fashions go. They’re not the genre of “rich” women Bravo typically likes to poke fun at, delusional divorcees who are hanging onto every last dime of their alimony and living like Gwenyth Paltrow while going into crippling debt.

Instead, we’re given your stereotypical New York go-getters and #girlbosses, like Manhattan native Erin Dana Lichy, a former real estate agent who now runs her own home design firm. There’s Jessel Taank, a UK import of Indian heritage, who’s a fashion publicist and brand consultant. (This was the woman who apparently vomited at the premiere party). If you can’t immediately tell by her perfectly symmetrical face, Ubah Hassan is a fashion model. Sai De Silva, an unexpected Brooklyn resident—save for O.G. Alex McCord, RHONY stars typically live in Manhattan—works in digital content. And pot-stirring redhead Brynn Whitfield works in branding and marketing, but aspires to be a more traditional, “kept” Housewife.

Lyons doesn’t feel quite like the ringleader of the group, but you can tell she holds a disproportionate amount of power, given that she’s the most successful and visible figure. Notably, she’s also the first openly gay original Housewife. Presumably, her status is why the first episode ends with her hosting a dinner party in her chic, lavish apartment. The women describe her as an “enigma,” which seems accurate based on how reserved she is. We’ll find out later if she’s genuinely just an introvert or some sort of puppeteer working behind the scenes.

A photo of Jessel Taank, Erin Lichy, and Sai De Silva in Real Housewives of New York City.

The entire premiere is quite enjoyable, despite having the tedious task of introducing us to six, brand-new faces and making them appear like people who are worth tuning in for. There’s still a lot more to be revealed about these women’s personal lives and dynamics within the group. But right off the bat, we understand that Whitfield will be the show’s primary menace and the most stereotypical Housewife. Every season of Real Housewives has to start with some off-screen drama, and this woman is already spreading gossip about cheese boards to kick things off.

If you were worried this show wouldn’t have an absurdity element, it certainly does. In the original iteration of the show, it was the irony of the women’s self-proclaimed “class” compared to. how they actually behaved around one another that made for the series’ biggest laughs and most meme-able moments. In Season 14, the women’s Instagrammable lifestyles and attitudes towards things like two-ply toilet paper and out-of-trend dining establishments are meant to be mocked.

Of course, these moments occur more often in organic conversations, as opposed to the pre-meditated dinner table chatter Bravo producers force onto their reality stars. You can only watch grown-ass women play Two Truths and a Lie so many times!

A photo of Jessel Taank, Ubah Hassan, Brynn Whitfield and Erin Lichy in Real Housewives of New York City.

Over the course of Season 14’s first three episodes, the women fall into a rhythm and increasingly seem less aware of the camera. But as I previously alluded, they never reach the comedic and/or melodramatic heights of their foremothers—granted, there’s still plenty of time to do so.

Overall, the new RHONY is definitely more geared toward the Selling Sunset/docusoap crowd, who tune in, first and foremost, to observe a certain lifestyle as opposed to nail-biting drama. Whether this new version can sustain an audience with RHONY’s old cast members still roaming around Bravo and evoking a sense of nostalgia will be fascinating to watch.

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