Season 12 of The Real Housewives of Atlanta opens with cameras wandering around Kenya Moore’s large, empty mansion. Her voice pierces through the silence, and suddenly I am reminded that arguably the most iconic star of the franchise had a kid since the last time she graced my television screen. It’s almost nefarious how easily the actress/producer/entrepreneur and all around mogul slots herself back into the mechanics of the show, effortlessly delivering a one-liner in her first confessional of the season—in which, by the way, she looks amazing. (Although, note the yellow rug in the background that’s extremely bright and distracting. Fix it, Bravo!) It also doesn’t take long for her to build a storyline for the coming season out of a crumbling marriage to restauranteur Marc Daly, whom she wed two seasons ago in a secret ceremony on a beach. (Neither Bravo nor the Housewives were present to witness the alleged nuptials.)
The Real Housewives of Atlanta, a ratings juggernaut for Bravo, has a lot to live up to this season. Coming off what many viewed as a wasted season, with meaningless plot lines and visibly manufactured drama and relationships, expectations were low on whether or not the Atlanta housewives—many divorced now—could deliver. After Sunday night’s premiere, I still haven’t decided! The wizards in Bravo’s editing booth certainly set up the potential for drama with a dramatic flash forward to a physical brawl between the women, but nothing in the premiere signaled that it was where we were headed. The most pressing scandals were Kenya’s and Porsha’s crumbling relationships, while Cynthia’s delusions of wedded bliss to the most regular man to grace Bravo’s airwaves took up the majority of the episode’s runtime. Even Nene, one of the most famous Housewives to ever be gif-ed by millions, was nowhere to be found! (Where is Nene!?)
To say the episode was light on drama is not to say it was bad. I enjoyed myself! For 12 years I’ve been invited into the lives of the Atlanta Housewives, and (symbolically) crossing the threshold of Cynthia’s Lake Bailey estate still fills me with a warmth I can’t get from other franchises. (Mostly, RHOC.) It’s also obvious the women who form the core cast—Cynthia, Kenya, Porsha, and Kandi—are seasoned veterans, who validate their existence on the show much easier than newcomers like Eva Marcille can.
Speaking of Porsha, it looks like her stint as a spin-off star with her pregnancy mini-series has cemented her role as the leading lady of RHOA. Early in the episode, viewers spend five minutes with her mother and her yoga-mat-wielding sister before we ever see Porsha. Color me shocked! It’s a treatment usually reserved for RHOBH’s Kyle and her many, many kids. (Or RHONY’s Ramona, who insists her now-grown daughter get filmed at every opportunity. It’s also clear that Kenya’s return will be the best thing to ever happen to Porsha, as the two’s relationship struggles and motherhood will be the perfect complement and centerpiece of the season. While there’s something incredibly dark about Porsha’s demeanor this season—your hot dog king boyfriend cheating on you will do that—I couldn’t help but smile at how genuinely happy she is to be a mother. Same with Kenya!
In other baby news, Kandi and Todd finally secured a surrogate, who’s now pregnant. (It’s revealed that she was originally carrying twins before one of them expired early in the womb.) In the absence of any storylines besides her kids and businesses, Kandi doesn’t take long to stir up drama between the other women. While grabbing lunch with Cynthia and Eva at Kandi’s Old Lady Gang restaurant, the woman who Porsha’s man allegedly slept with, Sincerely, waltzes up to their table to plead her case. She begins by saying she happened to be in the area when she spotted Kandi (and Cynthia, Eva, the camera crew, sound technicians, and a horde of producers and equipment.) She insists to the women that she’d never even met Porsha’s husband, before twirling away into the mass of onlookers at the bar behind them. This felt staged in an un-fun way. Aa note for Kandi: If you’re going to invite the centerpiece of a cheating scandal to your restaurant, maybe have her show up without full hair and makeup. Just a thought!
I’d also like to thank Cynthia for never failing to make me laugh. After 12 years on the show, she’s committed to being as goofy as humanly possible. (Which I suspect is what she’s like when the cameras are off.) Her big storyline this season involves the “will they/won’t they” tension with new boyfriend Mike Hill, a sportscaster from Los Angeles. She’s dubbed their relationship “Chill,” an average pun she employs frequently, and she spends much of the episode begging him to commit to getting engaged. While this is normally behavior described as desperate, I do wonder if he told her he would propose before the cameras started filming. Her funniest moment is when she shows up to Kenya’s “baby doll” party dressed like “Thirsty Bride Barbie.” Theme parties always deliver!
While we’re on the subject of Kenya’s “baby doll party,” can someone please explain to me if it’s normal to describe your baby as a “doll?” Seems bad! Regardless, the women file in to the party in various tulles and skirts and funky wigs. Kandi makes the immediate mistake (or calculated move) of telling Kenya about the interloper at OLG. Why anyone would tell Kenya anything after all these years is still confounding to me, but thank god for it! She immediately runs to tell Porsha, who makes the correct assumption that Kandi staged the entire thing. And while it’s completely beside the point, I burst into tears when the two reconciled while dressed in complementary pink and red tulles, holding their newborn children. Housewives are often kept in tightly controlled boxes, with fabricated personalities and pre-determined roles. To see two of the franchises greatest enemies genuinely experience growth in their own lives and grow back together because of it was beautiful. I might not know where this season is headed, but damn will I have a good fucking time on the ride wherever!