Bravo is expanding the reliably entertaining “Real Housewives” universe with its first new installment in four years, this time with a show set in, of all places, Utah. “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” sticks to the same tried and true formula, following a group of women as they throw extravagant parties, fight amongst themselves, pretend their marriages aren’t on the brink of collapse, and barrel through life lacking any self-awareness.
Though “Real Housewives” has been called out for its shameful history of segregating series by race, “Salt Lake City” features one of the franchise’s more diverse casts. Sadly, the bar is so low statistically that the show clears it by starring only two non-white women out of a cast of six — pastor Mary Cosby is Black and marketing CEO Jen Shah is Tongan and Hawaiian, making her the first Pacific-Islander Housewife. While the “Salt Lake City” cast is still and dominated by white women, starting this new installment with even a minimally inclusive cast is a notable step in the 14-year-old franchise’s long overdue reckoning when it comes to race and representation. (“Beverly Hills” and “New York City” only added their first Black cast members in the 10th and 13th seasons, respectively.)
“Salt Lake City” also leans hard into emphasizing the cast’s religious differences, which is a new angle for a “Housewives” show. In addition to two Mormon women of varying dedication (Heather Gay and Lisa Barlow), “Salt Lake City” features Pentacostal (Cosby), Jewish (Meredith Marks), and Muslim (Shah) women. Rounding out the cast is Whitney Rose, a former member of the Mormon Church who was excommunicated after marrying her older boss, with whom she had an affair.
The women’s religious differences make “Salt Lake City” feel refreshingly different from the nine other U.S. installments, opening up new topics for the show and its six supersized personalities to explore. In the series premiere, former Mormon Jen reveals she left the faith after her husband, who is Black, pointed out the Mormon Church’s racist legacy. It was then, Jen tells the cameras, that she realized she couldn’t be a part of a religion that didn’t accept her husband or two sons. “That’s the point when I was like, OK, I’m converting to Islam,” she recalls, before animatedly shouting, “As-salamu alaykum, bitches!”
Women in this franchise have always clashed due to their opposing value systems, so it will be interesting to see how the “Salt Lake City” cast’s differing religious backgrounds will influence the typical “Housewives” storylines — particularly given the Mormon Church’s history of discrimination, strict views on morality, and stance against alcohol consumption. (Interestingly enough, one of the two Mormons in the cast, Lisa, owns multiple liquor brands, which we expect will get as much on-screen play as Kyle by Alene Too, Cut Fitness, and every other “Housewives” business we know far too much about.)
While the focus on religion adds a unique spin to this proven formula, “Salt Lake City” still promises the run-of-the-mill pettiness viewers hope to see in any “Real Housewives” show. Within the first hour alone, two women fight over one saying the other “smells like hospital” after attending to an aunt who had both legs amputated; another tells off the doubters of her marriage in a confessional before swinging on a stripper pole at her vow renewal while her father cheers her on; and a woman so successfully steals the spotlight of the birthday party she’s throwing for a co-star that a guest shows up with a gift for the host and not the birthday girl.
And then there’s Mary, who is married to her late grandmother’s second husband — an arrangement that she says was stipulated in the grandmother’s will if Mary was to inherit the family-founded evangelical church. The unorthodox relationship, as well as previous criminal allegations against her husband/step-grandfather, have already made headlines and piqued viewers’ curiosity about this Pentacostal first lady. While the season premiere only briefly touches upon Mary’s marriage, it seems that this eccentric preacher will be at the center of quite a lot of the drama this season, along with the over-the-top Jen and self-proclaimed “good Mormon gone bad” Heather — a trio whose big personalities seem destined to clash in dramatic, and likely quite dark, ways.
As seasoned Bravo viewers know, the nature of any new “Real Housewives” series — in which the central friend group is constructed more on strategic casting decisions than on preexisting relationships between the women — means it can often take a few episodes, if not an entire season, until the women have built enough shared history for the show to hit its stride. But right out of the gate, “Salt Lake City” presents a rich and twisted mythology tying its characters together — including family ties, old college drama, and Sundance gatekeeping — which will only grow as new layers are added to the feuds and friendships playing out on screen.
“Salt Lake City” already promises enough off-kilter absurdity and compelling chaos to think it could one day rival the “Housewives” crown jewels of “Atlanta,” “New York,” and “Potomac.” And with other “Housewives” installments catching up to the coronavirus pandemic, the fact that “Salt Lake City” finished filming before lockdown is a welcome relief, offering on-screen drama that feels blessedly distant from the problems many viewers are facing in their own lives. Fans of the franchise can rest easy knowing that if they tire of anti-masker Kelly Dodd spreading misinformation on “O.C.,” there’s a new, far more enjoyable corner of the “Housewives” world to escape into this winter.
“The Ral Housewives of Salt Lake City” premieres Wednesday, Nov. 11 at 10 p.m. ET on Bravo.
Best of Variety