It’s an incredibly sad but illuminating thing when a Real Housewives series reaches a dead end.
Last Wednesday, during part two of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ at-home reunion, host and executive producer Andy Cohen revealed to the cast that former housewife and season 10 guest star Brandi Glanville, who provided one of the show’s only explosive moments this year, was denied a Zoom invite to rehash the drama of the season with the women, specifically Denise Richards. According to Cohen, who’s usually discreet about what goes on behind the scenes of the show, it was Glanville’s graphic outburst toward the end of the season about her alleged hook-up with Richards that left producers thinking, “We’ve kind of heard enough, and what more can we add to this conversation?”
“What more can we add to this conversation?” is possibly the most stark and depressing thing you can hear in the middle of a Real Housewives reunion stated frankly by Bravo’s relentless mascot. And yet that sentiment sums up much of the fan response to a season built on the promise of one shocking allegation that left us all wondering why same-sex affairs are still meant to be shocking in the year 2020.
It’s easy to blame the disaster that was RHOBH’s landmark season solely on its cast. Kyle Richards, Teddi Mellencamp, Lisa Rinna and Erika Jayne, in particular, have seemingly exhausted all aspects of their reality-television personas. And actress Garcelle Beauvais’ grand entrance onto the show, although genuinely refreshing, hardly sparked any tension amongst the group—which she wisely attributes to being the first and only Black woman on the show. But the season’s most heightened storyline about Glanville and Richards’ alleged lesbian affair, which needlessly became group fodder amid a mostly unrelated argument, feels like a tipping point, not just for Beverly Hills but the entire Real Housewives franchise and its reliance on gay panic-bait.
Despite the fact that Real Housewives has practically become synonymous with gay culture in America over the past decade, the Bravo juggernaut has dealt with notable occurrences of homophobia and transphobia across different shows, usually rumors about a cast member’s husband’s sexuality if not spontaneous outbursts of gay panic.
During its last season, Real Housewives of Orange County alum Vicki Gunvalson rubbed viewers the wrong way when she reacted disgustedly to her castmates Tamra Judge and Braunwyn Windham-Burke kissing at a dinner. She also received criticism for alleging that Judge’s husband Eddie was gay a few years prior. The Real Housewives of Atlanta has also seen its share of queerphobic remarks, from Kenya Moore spreading rumors about ex-castmate Kim Fields’ husband Chris being called “Chrissy” to asking ex-housewife Kim Zolciak about her “gender reassignment surgery.” The series’ unforgettable ninth season pretty much thrived on lesbian panic, as accusations about Kandi Burruss being closeted and planning to drug fellow castmate Porsha Williams with her husband Todd, all planted by now-terminated Phaedra Parks, became the focal point of the series. At the reunion, Cohen referred to the entire debacle as “lesbian-gate.”
Then there’s The Real Housewives of Potomac, which has an equally messy storyline involving accusations of sexual assault and homosexuality. Last season, when Ashley Darby’s husband Michael was charged with sexual assault for groping a cameraman’s butt (the charges have since been dropped), it was hard to tell whether the housewives were more put off by his alleged sexual misconduct or rumored interest in men. Likewise, this last season of RHOBH left viewers and even certain housewives wondering whether the alleged rendezvous reported by Glanville, as an aside to other claims that Richards was badmouthing the women, warranted a public discussion/interrogation of the Baywatch actress, who has now left the show.
While Real Housewives will never be a totally socially-conscious platform as long as the franchise portrays problematic, insensitive people—which most of these rich, oft-conservative women are—more work can be done by the producers to address the salacious treatment of queerness that has now become a show fixture (along with lying about housing situations and starting random singing careers). It would be nice to see the producers who administer confessionals plus Andy Cohen, who hosts all the reunions, actually press the housewives about their motivations in speculating about cast members’ sexuality rather than encourage this tired sensationalism that, as the producers are seemingly starting to notice, leads nowhere.