Orange County. New York City. Atlanta. New Jersey. D.C., for a hot minute. Beverly Hills. Miami, for a spell. Potomac. Dallas. And now: Salt Lake City. That’s right, after 15 years and nine previous iterations — not to mention all of the international variants — the Real Housewives franchise is headed to Utah.
Premiering Wednesday November 11, the latest installment in the reality empire follows six women from Salt Lake City and the surrounding area through their trials and travails as a group. Having screened the first episode, I can confidently report that SLC is set to fit in quite nicely with the greater Housewives landscape. But considering, well, everything that’s been taking our attention, RHOSLC has been bubbling under the radar a bit. Let’s fix that, and get you up to speed on everything you need to know about the series.
Lisa Barlow is a New Yorker by birth, but has lived in Utah for two decades. She went to BYU and is Mormon, but she and her family also own a tequila distillery. (That’s different!) She’s closest with Meredith and Jen, particularly the former, and gets off to a bad start with her college classmate Heather.
Speaking of: Heather Gay was married to an absurdly wealthy Mormon man for 11 years. Their divorce changed everything, including her relationship to the church. She now owns Beauty Lab and Laser, a med-spa that is already a fixture of the show in its the first episode. This is a remarkably well-balanced cast, so it’s hard to pin any of them as "the" star, but in the premiere Heather feels like a narrator and anchor for the series.
Mary Cosby, on the other hand, gets the least focus in the premiere, but what we get is pretty amazing. She’s a Pentecostal First Lady who entered into quite a strange arrangement for her inheritance: she married her step-grandfather after her mother’s death. They’ve been married for over 20 years, so it’s working, I guess? Regardless, she’s definitely the outsider of this group at the get-go, and her repeated brand name-dropping when it comes to her fashions is not likely to endear them to her.
Meredith Marks lives part-time in Utah and part-time in Chicago, but she’s primarily in the former now while her husband Seth is mostly in Chicago. Meredith appears to have good bonds with most of the women, but her son Brooks, a makeup and social media aficionado, is her closest confidante. Her jewelry shop in Park City is apparently a big hit with celebrities, but Bravo'spromotional materials suggest her long distance marriage will suffer this season.
Whitney Rose is one of the quieter women in this group, although her backstory is wild enough to make up for it: she was excommunicated from the Mormon church after she left her husband for another woman’s man. They’ve been together 10 years now, and start off the show by renewing their vows. Lots of unconventional relationships on this show.
Finally, we have Jen Shah, who is the biggest personality of the lot. Raised Mormon, but having converted to Islam for her husband, Jen is known for lavish parties and being a dominant force in business. She has the highest potential for drama in the group, but her family (husband Sharrieff and two sons) helps keep her grounded.
As you may have already surmised, this is a remarkably diverse cast. Jen is Tongan and Hawaiian, and converted to Islam after previously being Mormon, while Mary is Black, making her the rare Black Housewife on a show that has a non-predominantly Black cast. (Others include RHOBH’s Garcelle Beauvais, RHODC’s Stacie Scott Turner, and the recently joined Eboni K. Williams on RHONY.) You’ve still got your fair share of white women, but there’s even some diversity in upbringing there: Heather considers herself a "good Mormon gone bad," while Whitney was fully ex-communicated from the church after she left her husband to be with another man. NYC import Lisa is also a Mormon — albeit one who owns a tequila distillery — while Meredith, who lives part-time in Chicago, is Jewish.
A lack of racial diversity is often the headline when it comes to how homogenous Real Housewives shows are, so it’s nice to see Jen and Mary included here. Additionally, RHOSLC avoids the trap of having too many Housewives who represent the same kind of experience. (On RHOC, a Housewife mostly stands out for not being blonde or a Christian — God forbid both.) From the premiere alone, it seems like the differing backgrounds of this cast will create interesting tensions between the women. After so many seasons of the same conflicts on a few of the other Housewives shows, this already looks like a drastic improvement.
While Mary is Pentecostal, Jen is Muslim, and Meredith is Jewish, Mormonism does loom largest in RHOSLC — often literally, as we get lots of shots of the temple buildings in downtown Salt Lake. Much is made of church drama, like Whitney’s excommunication and Heather’s distance from the church after her divorce. It’s an interesting development, since no previous Housewives series have centered their narratives around an organization. (Although reportedly the then-titled Potomac Ensemble was originally going to be about women connected through the organization Jack and Jill of America. That association never made it to air.)
More than just promising religious differences and conflicts, this close connection through a community is a way to directly connect the women. So many other Housewives shows only bond the women by being "high society," or as "powerful people." The Mormon church gives several of these women a clear link, even if they have different relationships with their faith. And will that make those who are not Mormon feel like outsiders? It’s a unique dynamic, and promises to set the stage for some fraught relationships.
If the first episode is any indication, hoo boy are we in for a hell of a season. Divides immediately emerge between several of the women for slights both minor (one Housewife not remembering the other from school) and major (an issue Jen has with one of the women that truly has to be seen to be believed). None of these conflicts are easily resolved, with every woman holding their ground. There’s also some marital drama promised in the end-of-episode supertease. The Real Housewives of Potomac is the current standard-bearer for great drama; will the Salt Lake City women be able to hold a candle? We’ll soon find out.
The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City premieres Wednesday November 11 at 10:00 PM ET on Bravo.
People are talking about The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City in our forums. Join the conversation.
Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer, host, and RuPaul's Drag Race herstorian living in Los Angeles.