There’s nothing more useless in this universe than a Real Housewife who is also boring—yet The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills has shockingly lowered the bar this year, delivering a season mostly built around homophobic shock-and-awe at the idea that women sometimes have sex with each other. Now Denise
Richards, its primary drama fixture, has abandoned the series completely, leaving what was once a flagship series for Bravo flapping in the wind. The only remedy here is to blow up the franchise and fire Erika Jayne, Kyle Richards, Lisa Rinna, and Teddi Mellencamp.
On Wednesday, Variety reported that Denise Richards had exited RHOBH, an obvious conclusion to a “dramatic” storyline that’s been building since December: That she, and friend of the Housewives Brandi Glanville, maybe slept with each other. Viewers, expecting some sense of resolution in the season’s denouement during Wednesday night’s reunion, received none. Apparently filmed back in July, perhaps Richards had already made up her mind not to elaborate when she sat down in her little pink reunion dress; she gave her castmates, and viewers, absolutely nothing. Glanville never even materialized, sans an appearance on Watch What Happens Live! which aired directly after the
reunion. (This was equally unfulfilling.)
The most successful seasons of the Real Housewives operate as collaborations. Think The Real Housewives of New York Season 9, circa Bethenny, Luann, Carole, Ramona, Sonja, Tinsley, and Dorinda, before things went to shit and Luann got arrested. Or The Real Housewives of New Jersey’s third season, with Teresa, Melissa, Caroline, Kathy, and Jacqueline. Or, more recently, The Real Housewives of Potomac’s current season, which is a fabulous example of the ephemeral alchemy that makes a cast work. It has its shining stars, like Monique’s attack parakeet (parrot?) and Grande Dame Karen Huger with her still-fake house—but they elevate their lesser cast members like Candiace and Robyn, not outshine them.
If RHOBH is going to survive another season, with viewers permanently exhausted by its inconsistent pacing and unfulfilled promises—like the premiere’s assertion that Richards had completely abandoned the show—it’s going to need a serious shaking up. How serious? I’m thinking a cataclysmic firing, like the transition from The Real Housewives of New York Seasons 4 and 5, when Jill Zarin, Alex McCord, Kelly Killoren Bensimon, and Cindy Barshop were all fired.
Producers need to start with Kyle Richards and Teddi Mellencamp, who, for two seasons, have provided viewers with literally nothing but the instigation of meaningless beef. Two seasons ago, the Kyle and Teddi got Lisa Vanderpump to loosen her death grip on Los Angeles. This season, they got Denise Richards to retreat back to Malibu. But for what, really? So Kyle can finally ascend as the matriarch of the franchise? Boring! Axe them.
After offing Kyle, the producers need to point that headsman’s axe at Lisa Rinna. Not only is her very presence off-putting, she has a nasty habit of overwhelming any particular conversation with her cop-like antics, screaming and shouting for castmembers to “hold accountability” and “be honest.” When is Rinna going to be honest about what she didn’t want Kim Richards to bring up in Amsterdam—enough to break a wineglass and threaten Richards with it? It’s been seasons, and I don’t particularly care for the answer. But this show only works—as Rinna asserts, but fails to live up to—when these antics go both ways.
And then, and perhaps this is my most controversial opinion, Erika Jayne also has to go. I don’t have anything against Erika. For a few seasons, I appreciated her pop star machinations, as she flung her Rapunzel-like clip-ins around in music videos and on stage. But there have been enough seasons of her, alone in a closet with stylist and confidant and employee Mikey Minden, or in a hotel room with the glam team she flies around the globe. Her most consistent trait is being late to every cast dinner. Viewers can see that Erika Jayne has run her course.
In the wake of these dramatic firings, I’d point to Garcelle Beauvais as a shining star in the Housewives multiverse, who provides a handy blueprint for what The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills should eventually look like. She doesn’t come from an acting family like Kyle Richards, nor is she a fabulously wealthy, out-of-touch white Londoner like Lisa Vanderpump, who seems to believe Swarovski Crystals are replacements for either a personality or an engaging storyline. Nor is she the tough-on-crime Rinna, who circles the cast like an LAPD attack helicopter. It’s funny, because where Rinna’s “brutal honesty” with Richards often read as invasive and homophobic—the same goes for Kyle and Teddi—Beauvais perfectly captures the elusive Real Housewives ideal of the “real”-seeming castmate. Here, “realness” stands in for: honesty, seeming genuineness, self-confidence, individual identity, and insides that appear to match the outsides.
But the entire future of RHOBH cannot be pinned on its first, and only, Black cast member. Nor should it! I’d then upgrade Sutton Stracke, and her many updos and ugly Dolce & Gabanna dresses, from “friend-of” to full Housewife—just so I can relish in a few more seasons of Beauvais asking where she got all her money from, at the very least. Dorit Kemsley is also spared by the shakeup. For all that viewers and blogs accuse her and her husband of faking—their finances, their businesses, their housing situations—I’m genuinely delighted by her presence on camera. And as her behavior this season illustrated, she has the rare ability to work towards some sense of cooperation between her costars, consistently asking Kyle, Teddi, and Rinna to at least see things from Denise Richards’s perspective.
But with Kyle, Teddi, and Rinna fired, there’s a gaping hole that needs to be filled. Kris Jenner has been floated as an option, but Andy Cohen has smartly pointed out that the leader of the Kardashians’ Fit Tea Federation would never stand to lose that much control over her personal image. Especially with Keeping Up With the Kardashians shambling towards the grave.
This show also needs something a bit more desperate, and controversial, than Kris Jenner. Instead, let’s circle back to former Real Housewife Yolanda Hadid for a second: Might I instead suggest Katherine McPhee, her ex-husband David Foster’s new wife, as a cast member? I’d also bring in Felicity Huffman, whose life is a bounty of drama post-college admissions scandal. It would also provide her the perfect opportunity to rehabilitate her Hollywood image, since she blissfully escaped her sentencing as the least-hated participant in the debacle. Now I’m on a roll. Next, producers need to hit up Sherri Shepherd, who would bring some much needed comedic levity to the franchise, as well as child support drama. Also, what’s Megan Fox doing, when she isn’t galivanting around with Machine Gun Kelly? Or better yet, Countess Vaughn. With Moesha back on streaming services—the time is ripe for Kim Parker’s comeback! Besides, she already has a stint on Hollywood Divas under her belt. How hard can the Real Housewives be?
Still, the world is changing quite rapidly around the Real Housewives. Even though next season’s The Real Housewives of Atlanta promises it will center conversations about nationwide uprisings against police brutality, I’m not sure how much can be expected of a city like Beverly Hills, built on fakery and the heedless pining for wealth and fame. Firing half the cast might do nothing to save it, but I can say keeping most of them around will only hurry it to zombification, like its California sister show The Real Housewives of Orange County, and its many MAGA-lite pageant moms and potential COVID-19 superspreaders.
One thing is clear: This show cannot take another season like this one. The Real Housewives will not survive it, and Bravo will not survive without the Real Housewives! The rest of the world, however, can certainly survive without the Real Housewives. If only they could realize how little everyone needs them, and how desperately they need everyone else.